Adjusting for playoff rotations says Warriors and Cavaliers should be favored to reach NBA Finals

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The Hawks went 60-22, Cavaliers 53-29, Warriors 67-15 and Rockets 56-26 this season.

How much do those record tell us about those teams entering the conference finals?

Something, but definitely not enough.

Players like Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters, Justin Holiday, Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas all factored into their team’s regular-season results. But – due to injury, trade or shortening of playoff rotations – they likely won’t play a part of the conference finals.

So:

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.

We did this exercise before the playoffs and before the second round. I’ve updated the numbers with second-round results and modified projected rotations where necessary. As always, remember, this is only one data point in a complex picture when evaluating teams.

Here are the conference finalists’ ratings – actual regular-season to projected based on expected rotations:

Eastern Conference

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 114.9
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 103.3
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +11.6

1. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 110.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 103.0
  • Net rating: +5.8  to +7.5

Thoughts:

  • The big question: Will Kyrie Irving play? This projection assumes he does.
  • Without Irving, Cleveland actually rates better by this model (114.7 offensive rating/91.4 defensive rating/+23.3 net rating). This doesn’t mean the Cavaliers actually are better without Irving. Of course, they’re not. That stellar play without Irving comes in just 273 minutes, a small sample that was at least partially self-selected by David Blatt. Cleveland surely wouldn’t fare as well if it had to play its Irving-less minutes against the starters of a 60-win team, but that will be the predicament the Cavs would face without him here. This indicates, though, the Cavaliers might fare better than expected without Irving. That’d mean more responsibility for LeBron James, which often works out well. It’s hardly a sure bet, though – just a clue.
  • In the same vein, even with Irving included for Cleveland, the Hawks’ projected rotation players have play more than 2.5 times as many minutes together as the Cavaliers’. Before the playoffs began, Cleveland looked poised to run through the Eastern Conference. But Kevin Love’s injury threw a wrench into the projections. Not only do the Cavaliers rate worse than with Love, we have less information by which to assess them.
  • This model does not account for game location, and Atlanta has home-court advantage.
  • Bottom line: We know the Hawks are good. The Cavaliers – at least those that project to play these Eastern Conference finals – have looked better than Atlanta, but we also know less about them.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 97.9
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +17.5

2. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1 to 112.3 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0  to 101.2 to 104.2
  • Net rating: +3.5 to +9.1 to +11.1 to +7.2

Thoughts:

  • The Warriors’ projection includes includes David Lee and Festus Ezeli, not Marreese Speights, who’s out at least Game 1. If Speights can play, Golden State rates even better on both ends.
  • As noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, the Rockets are the first team since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams to reach the conference finals while being outscored in the postseason. Most teams – at least the ones that avoid injury – see their projection rise as they win during the playoffs, but Houston’s has fallen. The Rockets are still well ahead of their actual regular-season production, though.
  • One big reason this model underrates Houston: Dwight Howard doesn’t factor as prominently because he missed so much time due to injury. As long as he remains healthy, the Rockets will rely on him more than projected here – and they’ll be better for it.
  • Bottom line: The Warriors, as has been the case all along, are the clear favorites.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

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TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Moe Harkless says no buyout with Knicks: “I’ll be here the rest of the year”

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Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.

“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”

If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.

That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.

“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.

Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.

Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.

Lakers reportedly will waive DeMarcus Cousins to clear roster spot

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If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morrisas has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.

That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.

He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.

It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.

Karl-Anthony Towns has fractured wrist, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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Karl-Anthony Towns was a surprise scratch from the Timberwolves last game before the All-Star break, a “left wrist injury” delaying the home debut of him with D'Angelo Russell (they did play a road game together in Toronto). Then came the rumors he could miss a few games when play started up again.

It’s going to be more than a few games, more than a few weeks.

Towns has a fractured left wrist, the team announced Friday. He is out and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. From the team press release:

“While Towns has been diligent in treatment with a goal of return to play, he has been assessed by multiple specialists over the last several days and the team continues to gather information on the optimal management strategies.”

Towns had been playing through wrist pain for a couple of weeks before this diagnosis.

Towns is having a career year on offense, averaging  26.5 points a game while shooting 41 percent from three (on 7.9 attempts per game), plus grabbing 10.8 rebounds a night. That has not translated into wins for Minnesota, however.

Towns being out doesn’t hurt the Timberwolves in the short term, they have fallen far out of the playoff chase in the West. However, this cuts into time Towns and Russell could have used to grow accustomed to each other’s games. It’s time lost for the coaching staff and front office as they evaluate the fit of players they have around Towns and Russell.