Adjusting for playoff rotations: Warriors soar, Mavericks rise, and Cavaliers expand lead in East

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Meyers Leonard played 1,333 for the Trail Blazers this season. Courtney Lee got 1,489 with the Grizzlies. Ian Clark saw 578 with the Warriors.

Any full-season metric used to predict the playoffs will factor those three players.

But Leonard (injured), Lee (traded) and Clark (likely dropped from the rotation) won’t affect those teams in the postseason.

There are numerous other players around the league who skew the full-year data and will have zilch to do with the playoffs. So, to account for that, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s postseason rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It’s hard to predict a team’s exact playoff rotation. Even if you know it, teams have used their playoff-rotation players against different opponents and in varying combinations during the regular season.

But this is another data point, one I find useful, for predicting the postseason.

Here’s each team’s rating, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.4 to 116.4
  • Defensive rating: 105.1 to 106.0
  • Net rating: +6.3 to +10.4

2. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 110.9 to 112.2
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +4.9 to +7.6

6. Charlotte Hornets

  • Offensive rating: 107.9 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 105.1 to 103.2
  • Net rating: +2.8 to +6.9

5. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 107.2 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 104.8
  • Net rating: +3.2 to +6.6

3. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 107.2 to 111.1
  • Defensive rating: 105.3 to 104.7
  • Net rating: +1.9 to +6.4

4. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 105.9 to 106.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.0 to 101.8
  • Net rating: +2.9 to +4.7

7. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 104.9 to 104.5
  • Defensive rating: 103.3 to 101.6
  • Net rating: +1.6 to +2.9

8. Detroit Pistons

  • Offensive rating: 106.7 to 108.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 105.7
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +2.6

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 114.9 to 119.7
  • Defensive rating: 104.1 to 98.8
  • Net rating: +10.8 to +20.9

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 109.8
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.7
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.1

4. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 115.4
  • Defensive rating: 104.3 to 105.0
  • Net rating: +4.6 to +10.4

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 114.5
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 105.9
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +8.6

6. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 106.7 to 113.6
  • Defensive rating: 107.2 to 105.4
  • Net rating: -0.5 to +8.2

8. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 108.8 to 111.4
  • Defensive rating: 108.6 to 107.2
  • Net rating: +0.2 to +4.2

5. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 108.9 to 111.0
  • Defensive rating: 108.2 to 107.9
  • Net rating: +0.7 to +3.1

7. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 105.7 to 108.9
  • Defensive rating: 108.3 to 116.4
  • Net rating: -2.6 to -7.5


  • The Warriors posted the best record in NBA history, but they project to be far better in the playoffs. Their top players are incredible. Golden State’s adjusted rating is similar to last year, when the Cavaliers came somewhat close at +17.2. This year, nobody even nears the Warriors.
  • The Mavericks are the next-biggest riser, improving on both ends of the floor. But they still rank behind their first-round opponent, the Thunder, who also hold home-court advantage. That could be a better series than anticipated, especially with Rick Carlisle facing an untested Billy Donovan.
  • The Cavaliers had the East’s best net rating in the regular season, and they expanded their advantage over the rest of the conference when the ratings got adjusted. It’ll be tough to keep Cleveland out of the Finals.
  • The Hornets and Celtics are the only lower seeds to have better adjusted ratings than their first-round opponents, but that’s hardly surprising. The Heat, Hawks, Celtics and Hornets all finished 48-34. Boston topped Atlanta and Charlotte topped Miami in net rating before the adjustment. These teams are close. Again, the Heat and Hawks holding home-court advantage matters in a way not reflected by this formula.
  • The Grizzlies are the only team to get worse with the adjustment, though that’s hardly surprising. They lost contributions from key injured players like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Though their sample is the smallest, it matches what’s expected of Memphis.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help


Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones


Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.