Adjusting to playoff rotations, or holy moly Warriors and Cavaliers!

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The Trail Blazers played more than 2,000 minutes with Wesley Matthews on the floor. The Cavaliers spent 786 minutes of their season trying to make Dion Waiters work. The Hawks gave Elton Brand nearly 500 minutes as they rested players on back-to-backs and deep into routs.

How much does that time matter now?

Matthews is injured. Waiters was traded. Brand will likely fall short of the rotation.

Yet, those minutes – and others like them – cloud statistical evaluations of teams’ playoff chances.

So, I’m parsing the numbers with a system I’ve used the last two years:

In an attempt to get better data, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only the lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s post-season rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for opponent or weigh lineups based on how often they’ll be used in the postseason, and it’s impossible to precisely predict a team’s playoff rotation.

In the two years I’ve used this formula, it has successfully predicted 22-of-30 series – one more than straight seeding. Here’s where the system and seeds differed:

Formula was correct:

  • 2014: Trail Blazers over Rockets
  • 2014: Wizards over Bulls
  • 2013: Grizzlies over Thunder
  • 2013: Grizzlies over Clippers

Seed was correct:

  • 2014: Thunder over Clippers
  • 2014: Clippers over Warriors
  • 2013: Heat over Spurs

As always, it’s important to remember the following numbers are not meant to comprehensively predict series. Many other factors are involved that are not accounted for here. But this data is a reference point, one of many to consider.

Here are the ratings for each team in the 2015 postseason adjusted from full season to using only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 118.2
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 101.0
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +17.2

6. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Offensive rating: 103.3 to 106.1
  • Defensive rating: 102.8 to 98.5
  • Net rating: +0.5 to +7.6

5. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 104.3 to 107.7
  • Defensive rating: 103.5 to 101.1
  • Net rating: +0.8 to +6.6

3. Chicago Bulls

  • Offensive rating: 107.7 to 108.6
  • Defensive rating: 104. 4 to 103.3
  • Net rating: +3.3 to +5.3

1. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 109.9
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 104.9
  • Net rating: +5.8 to +5.0

4. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 111.6 to 112.2
  • Defensive rating: 108.3 to 108.0
  • Net rating: +3.3 to +4.2

7. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 105.3 to 105.8
  • Defensive rating: 105.2 to 105.1
  • Net rating: +0.1 to +0.7

8. Brooklyn Nets

  • Offensive rating: 105.0 to 107.7
  • Defensive rating: 108.1 to 114.2
  • Net rating: -3.1 to -6.5

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 116.4
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 95.7
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +20.7

3. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 113.2 to 117.5
  • Defensive rating: 106.3 to 105.9
  • Net rating: +6.9 to +11.6

4. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 108.7 to 117.2
  • Defensive rating: 104.2 to 106.2
  • Net rating: +4.5 to +11.0

6. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 109.2 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 102.6 to 100.7
  • Net rating: +6.6 to +9.3

2. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0
  • Net rating: 3.5 to +9.1

7. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 109.8 to 111.1
  • Defensive rating: 106.8 to 105.7
  • Net rating: +3.0 to +5.4

5. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 106.2 to 108.0
  • Defensive rating: 102.7 to 102.7
  • Net rating: +3.5 to +5.3

8. New Orleans Pelicans

  • Offensive rating: 108.8 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.9 to 107.3
  • Net rating: +0.9 to +2.8

Observations:

  • The Cavaliers and Warriors are JUGGERNAUTS with the adjusted ratings. They should absolutely be favored to reach the NBA Finals.
  • Neither team’s ascendance should be a surprised. Golden State has dominated all season, and Cleveland has soared since acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to complement LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
  • The Warriors and Cavaliers make huge gains on both sides of the ball, Cleveland more so offensively and Golden State defensively. The Warriors’ defense just looks untouchable.
  • This system predicts two first-round upsets: Bucks over Bulls and Wizards over Raptors.
  • Maybe Milwaukee’s post-deadline problems were due more to Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo getting hurt than a trade altering the roster. With everyone healthy, the Bucks look dangerous.
  • The Wizards rated favorably here last year too, and they upset the Bulls in the first round. Washington has flaws, but leaning on a balanced starting lineup and a limited bench can work for this squad.
  • The Hawks and the Nets are the only teams with worse net ratings after the adjustment. Atlanta misses Thabo Sefolosha, whose defensive loss is noticeable and makes this deep team more susceptible to upset. The Nets just go from bad to worse, strengthening their position as poster child for playoff reform.
  • The Raptors’ defensive problems don’t seem to be caused by players who can just be dropped from the rotation. That’s a problem for Toronto.
  • The Celtics are probably a tougher out than their adjusted rating indicates. Isaiah Thomas, coming off the bench, played too much with lesser role players – which limits his impact here. Those other players will be dropped from the rotation, and Thomas could help Boston steal a game if Cleveland loses focus.
  • Once Doc Rivers trims the fat from his rotation, the Clippers make nice gains. This team is strong at the top, which I think bodes well for the playoffs.
  • Predicting whether injured players make their teams’ rotations is the hardest part of this exercise. This is mostly guesswork, but here are a few key decisions. In: Arron Afflalo, Chandler Parsons, Mike Conley, Tony Allen. Out: Tiago Splitter.
  • The Trail Blazers climb much higher than expected, but their sample is the smallest size. Their players projected to be in the playoff rotation just didn’t play much together without someone out of the rotation. Matthews obviously mucks up a lot of lineups, and Afflalo barely registers. So, Afflalo’s health wouldn’t affect much for this projection. But, with or without Afflalo, the sample is too small to draw many conclusions.
  • The Spurs get a nice bump with the adjustment, but not as large as I anticipated. Swapping the hobbled Splitter for Aron Baynes doesn’t swing it, either. San Antonio might have just run out of luck getting pitted against the Clippers in the first round. The Spurs have the NBA’s fifth-highest adjusted net rating – with the small-sample Blazers ahead of them – and might not win a single playoff series.
  • The Rockets make a bigger leap but don’t climb quite as high as San Antonio. However, claiming the No. 2 seed and getting a much easier first-round matchup should make all the difference for Houston.
  • The Mavericks (even with Parsons), Grizzlies (even with Conley and Allen) and Pelicans all get better with the adjustment, but not enough to challenge the West’s top teams. Again, though, Portland’s rating is least reliable. So, don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies – especially if Conley and Allen ge healthy, but maybe even if they don’t – win that 4/5 matchup.

Report: FBI investigating Big Baller Brand co-founder Gregory Alan Foster

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It’s sad that people take advantage of athletes. A lot of people do it when these guys are very young and clearly talented, and Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is no stranger to that.

Ball cut ties with his Big Baller Brand earlier this year, even covering up his “BBB” tattoo with a bad-looking pair of dice. This was because Gregory Alan Foster, one of his confidants and business partners, allegedly stole money from the company to the tune of several million dollars.

Now the FBI is reportedly investigating Foster for his involvement in bilking money from Ball.

Via LA Times:

The FBI is now investigating whether Foster defrauded the Ball family out of millions of dollars, according to two law enforcement sources. While it’s unclear when exactly the official investigation began, one of those sources said it is at least two months old.

Lonzo Ball and the family’s shoe and clothing business recently accused Foster in a lawsuit of taking more than $1.5 million out of the company’s bank accounts and accepting “substantial undisclosed referral fees” from at least eight loans he arranged on behalf of the company.

“[Foster is] like my second dad,” Lonzo replied. “So when he came to me, I just talked to him and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He just gave me his story. Now, looking back at it, obviously I wish we would have jumped at it back in October.”

According to the Times, Foster’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Hopefully Ball will be able to recover some kind of financial damages from all of this.

Spurs’ smart defense, veterans force Game 7 with 120-103 win over Nuggets

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Nikola Jokic had a career night — 43 points, a personal and franchise playoff best, plus 12 rebounds and nine assists. Once again the two-man game, the pick-and-roll with him and Jamal Murray got into the lane and carved up San Antonio.

The Spurs lived with that. What they did, however, was not collapse off Denver’s shooters to help in the paint — to try to contest twos but give up good-look threes. Denver got its buckets inside — they won the points in the paint battle 72-36 — but shot just 8-of-31 outside the paint on the night.

The Nuggets stars took the shots they were given — Jokic and Murray combined to take 51 percent of Denver’s shots, up from 34.6 percent and 40.5 percent in the previous two wins — but the ball movement and transition buckets that characterize the Nuggets were missing. The Spurs took that away.

Combine that with veterans LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points on 10-of-18 shooting), DeMar DeRozan (25 points on 12-of-16 shooting), and Rudy Gay (19 points on 7-of-11 shooting) stepping up and you end up with the Spurs pulling away for a 120-103 Game 6 win on their home court.

It forces Game 7 Saturday in Denver. The winner advances to take on Portland in the second round.

“We didn’t defend tonight, from the jump ball,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “They came out and scored 34 points in the first quarter, shot 70 percent or close to it [66.7 percent in first], and to give up 120 points in a potential elimination game, 57 [percent shooting]. It just wasn’t good enough.”

The game was decided by a 22-4 San Antonio run that spanned the end of the third and into the start of the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets pulled away.

“It was turnovers for us, it was offensive rebounds for them, and just no defense,” Malone said of the run.

The other difference in the game was the three-point shooting, an area where the Nuggets have dominated through the first five games. Thursday both teams took 24 shots from three, but the Spurs made 10 and the Nuggets six. That’s a dozen points to San Antonio in an area Denver needs to win.

It was like that all night.

San Antonio came out playing like the desperate team on the brink of elimination, playing with energy and staring out 7-of-10 from the floor. The Spurs built up a 10-point point first-quarter lead behind Aldridge, who had 13 points in the first quarter, 6-of-9 from the floor, plus the team shot 65.4 percent for the quarter.

Denver was not phased (this was the fifth time in six games they lost the first quarter), and after shooting 0-of-7 in the first quarter hit 4-of-5 to start the second. The Nuggets got back to playing the kind of ball-movement hoops — with a lot of Murray and Jokic playing off each other and scoring — and the Nuggets grabbed the lead back in the quarter. However, after a DeRozan putback bucket off his own missed free throw at the buzzer gave the Spurs a 64-60 lead at the half. That hustle play seemed to signify the Spurs night.

The game was close through much of the third, but the trends favored San Antonio.

Then the late-quarter run started, and Denver faded. Now they need to find their mojo on the plane home, because Saturday is win-or-go-home for everybody.

Chris Paul doesn’t like anyone touching the top of his head (VIDEO)

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Chris Paul is listed at six feet tall, and he’s definitely not any shorter than that. Nope, no sir. To even suggest as much would be ridiculous!

In any case, Paul is shorter than most of his teammates because he plays in the NBA. As such, Paul has probably had a lifetime of everyone towering over him despite his obvious incredible talent surpassing those of his compatriots.

So maybe being touched on the top of the head is a weird “thing” for him? At least, that’s what it appeared to be from this video.

Via Twitter:

You know somebody has a trigger when they are ready to turn around and fight you after a playoff series win, especially when they’re your own teammate.

Note to everybody: don’t touch the top of Chris Paul’s head.

Hall of Famer and Celtics hero John Havlicek dies at 79

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Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics Legend John Havlicek has died.

According to the team, the 13-time All-Star passed away peacefully in his home in Jupiter, Fla. The Celtics released an announcement on their website marking Havlicek contribution to the team.

Via Boston Celtics:

John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments. He was a great champion both on the court and in the community, winning 8 NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP, while holding Celtics career records for points scored and games played. Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, he is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame and his retired #17 hangs in the Garden rafters. His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self. He was extraordinarily thoughtful and generous, both on a personal level and for those in need, as illustrated by his commitment to raising money for The Genesis Foundation for Children for over three decades through his fishing tournament. John was kind and considerate, humble and gracious. He was a champion in every sense, and as we join his family, friends, and fans in mourning his loss, we are thankful for all the joy and inspiration he brought to us.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released this statement:

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA.  He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history.  A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players.  We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

No matter what kind of basketball fan you are, if you know anything about the history of the game you at least have the phrase “Havlicek stole the ball!” burned into the folds of your brain.

That famous steal came in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals to seal a Game 7 win against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston would go on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Finals that season.

Thoughts are with Havlicek family and Celtics fans, who of course will remember him in their own special way today.