Extra Pass: Should the Eastern Conference elite worry about the red-hot Brooklyn Nets?

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The Miami Heat host the Brooklyn Nets tonight in a matchup of the Eastern Conference’s best team vs. … the Eastern Conference’s best team?

The Heat are 53-23, the conference’s best record. But the Nets are 32-13 since New Year’s, the conference’s best record in the 2014 calendar year.

Should that make Brooklyn the new conference favorite? Do recent results tell us more about playoff chances than results colored by games several months ago?

Probably not and probably not.

Since the NBA adopted a 16-team playoff format in 1984, 42 series have featured one team with a better overall record (what we’ll call the better team) and a different team with a better record since New Year’s (what we’ll call the hotter team).

Of those 42 series, the better team won 28 (67 percent).

This makes sense on a couple levels.

1. More data is usually better. Although it seems the Nets have made real progress by switching to a small-ball lineup, they were still the Nets in 2013. A flip of the calendar – even when it coincides with a pretty big style change – doesn’t completely invalidate those 2013 games. Brooklyn probably comes closer to this reason not carrying water than the average hot team, but I don’t think we can discount it completely.

2. This, I suspect, is more important. The NBA awards homecourt advantage to the team with a better overall record, not the better record since New Year’s. So, the better team always has that advantage over the hotter team. The Nets, zeroing in on the No. 5 seed, probably won’t have homecourt advantage for even a single round.

Here is the complete history of the better vs. hotter matchups since 1984. The better team is blue, and the hot team is red (overall record, win percentage | record since New Year’s, win percentage).

  • 2013 WC Finals: Spurs (58-24, .707 | 33-16, .673) def. Grizzlies (56-26, .683 | 37-17, .685)
  • 2012 EC First Round: Celtics (39-27, .591 | 38-24, .613) def. Hawks (40-26, .606 | 37-25, .597)
  • 2011 WC Finals: Mavericks (57-25, .695 | 33-18, .647) def. Thunder (55-27, .671 | 32-16, .667)
  • 2010 WC Finals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Suns (54-28, .659 | 33-16, .673)
  • 2010 WC Semifinals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Jazz (53-29, .646 | 35-15, .700)
  • 2010 EC First Round: Celtics (50-32, .610 | 27-24, .529) def. Heat (47-35, .573 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2010 EC First Round: Hawks (53-29, .646 | 32-19, .627) def. Bucks (46-36, .561 | 34-18, .654)
  • 2010 WC First Round: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Thunder (50-32, .610 | 32-18, .640)
  • 2008 WC Semifinals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 38-14, .731) def. Jazz (54-28, .659 | 37-12, .755)
  • 2007 EC First Round: Bulls (49-33, .598 | 30-21, .588) def. Heat (44-38, .537 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2006 WC First Round: Clippers (47-35, .573 | 31-23, .574) def. Nuggets (44-38, .537 | 30-21, .588)
  • 2005 NBA Finals: Spurs (59-23, .720 | 34-17, .667) def. Pistons (54-28, .659 | 39-15, .722)
  • 2005 EC Finals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 39-15, .722) def. Heat (59-23, .720 | 35-16, .686)
  • 2005 WC Semifinals: Suns (62-20, .756 | 37-16, .698) def. Mavericks (58-24, .707 | 39-14, .736)
  • 2005 WC First Round: SuperSonics (52-30, .634 | 30-24, .556) def. Kings (50-32, .610 | 32-23, .582)
  • 2004 NBA Finals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 35-15, .700) def. Lakers (56-26, .683 | 35-19, .648)
  • 2004 WC First Round: Kings (55-27, .671 | 34-19, .642) def. Mavericks (52-30, .634 | 34-18, .654)
  • 2003 WC Semifinals: Mavericks (60-22, .732 | 35-17, .673) def. Kings (59-23, .720 | 36-14, .720)
  • 2003 EC First Round: 76ers (48-34, .585 | 29-22, .569) def. Hornets (47-35, .573 | 29-20, .592)
  • 2003 EC First Round: Nets (49-33, .598 | 26-24, .520) def. Bucks (42-40, .512 | 29-22, .569)
  • 2003 WC First Round: Lakers (50-32, .610 | 37-13, .740) def. Timberwolves (51-31, .622 | 34-17, .667)
  • 2002 EC First Round: Celtics (49-33, .598 | 31-22, .585) def. 76ers (43-39, .524 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2002 WC First Round: Lakers (58-24, .707 | 37-18, .673) def. Trail Blazers (49-33, .598 | 36-17, .679)
  • 2001 EC Finals: 76ers (56-26, .683 | 35-18, .660) def. Bucks (52-30, .634 | 36-17, .679)
  • 2001 EC First Round: Raptors (47-35, .573 | 32-20, .615) def. Knicks (48-34, .585 | 29-22, .569)
  • 2000 EC Semifinals: Knicks (50-32, .610 | 32-20, .615) def. Heat (52-30, .634 | 33-21, .611)
  • 1997 EC First Round: Knicks (57-25, .695 | 36-17, .679) def. Hornets (54-28, .659 | 38-15, .717)
  • 1994 NBA Finals: Rockets (58-24, .707 | 34-20, .630) def. Knicks (57-25, .695 | 39-18, .684)
  • 1994 EC First Round: Pacers (47-35, .573 | 37-19, .661) def. Magic (50-32, .610 | 34-20, .630)
  • 1994 WC First Round: Suns (56-26, .683 | 35-21, .625) def. Warriors (50-32, .610 | 36-19, .655)
  • 1993 EC Semifinals: Bulls (57-25, .695 | 36-18, .667) def. Cavaliers (54-28, .659 | 37-16, .698)
  • 1993 WC First Round: Spurs (49-33, .598 | 35-21, .625) def. Trail Blazers (51-31, .622 | 34-23, .596)
  • 1992 EC First Round: Knicks (51-31, .622 | 33-23, .589) def. Pistons (48-34, .585 | 33-19, .635)
  • 1991 WC Finals: Lakers (58-24, .707 | 41-15, .732) def. Trail Blazers (63-19, .768 | 36-15, .706)
  • 1990 EC Semifinals: Bulls (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667) def. 76ers (53-29, .646 | 38-16, .704)
  • 1990 WC First Round: Suns (54-28, .659 | 42-15, .737) def. Jazz (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667)
  • 1988 EC Semifinals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 36-22, .621) def. Bulls (50-32, .610 | 35-20, .636)
  • 1987 WC First Round: Warriors (42-40, .512 | 25-26, .490) def. Jazz (44-38, .537 | 25-28, .472)
  • 1985 NBA Finals: Lakers (62-20, .756 | 40-10, .800) def. Celtics (63-19, .768 | 37-13, .740)
  • 1984 WC Semifinals: Suns (41-41, .500 | 26-25, .510) def. Jazz (45-37, .549 | 25-26, .490)
  • 1984 EC First Round: Nets (45-37, .549 | 31-20, .608) def. 76ers (52-30, .634 | 31-23, .574)
  • 1984 WC First Round: Mavericks (43-39, .524 | 27-25, .519) def. SuperSonics (42-40, .512 | 29-24, .547)

However, there might be a matter of degrees at play. Can a team be hot enough to overcome not being as good at its opponent?

To assess, I came up with a Heat Rating:

((hotter team’s advantage in win percentage after New Year’s) minus (better team’s advantage in win percentage overall))*82

In all three series with a Heat Rating above 3.5, the hotter team won:

  • 5.0, 2003 WC First Round: Lakers (50-32, .610 | 37-13, .740) def. Timberwolves (51-31, .622 | 34-17, .667)
  • 4.8, 1990 WC First Round: Suns (54-28, .659 | 42-15, .737) def. Jazz (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667)
  • 3.9, 1985 NBA Finals: Lakers (62-20, .756 | 40-10, .800) def. Celtics (63-19, .768 | 37-13, .740)

This season, the Spurs, Clippers and Rockets are both better and hotter than the Nets (42-34, .553 | 32-13, .711).

Of the 10 potential Brooklyn playoff opponents with better overall records, just four are on pace to create a series with a Heat Rating above even 0.5. And only three, all in the West, trump the 3.5 standard.

Potential opponent
Heat Rating
Phoenix Suns (46-31, 0.597 | 27-20, 0.574) 7.5
Portland Trail Blazers (50-28, 0.641 | 25-21, 0.543) 6.5
Dallas Mavericks (47-31, 0.603 | 29-18, 0.617) 3.6
Toronto Raptors (45-32, 0.584 | 31-17, 0.646) 2.7

There are many factors, including matchups and injuries, that lead to playoff upsets. But if you’re going to predict the Nets will beat anyone in this year’s playoffs – unless they get to the Finals and play the Suns, Trail Blazers or Mavericks – you better come with a stronger argument than just Brooklyn’s post-New Year’s record.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

Associated Press
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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.