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Projecting final standings in wild West playoff chase

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It’s going to come down to the little things: a lucky bounce here, a sprained ankle there, a made three from the corner under pressure. Unpredictable things — but that’s not going to stop us.

And it’s going to take 46 wins to make the playoffs in the West (last season Portland got in at 41-41).

The West playoff chase is compelling because it is so deep and tight. Right now Houston and Golden State are playoff locks, but after that just 3.5 games separate Portland as the three seed and the Utah Jazz, currently 10th. With just under a month to go in the season, anything can happen.

I sat down and projected out the rest of the season, and here’s what I got, down to projected final record and remaining strength of schedule — it’s going to take those 46 wins to get into the dance (which may be too much for Los Angeles and Denver). But one bounce, one ankle could change this entire dynamic.

 
Rockets small icon1. Rockets: 64-18 proj. record; .483 remaining opponent winning percentage. It’s going to be a coin flip at the end of the season between Houston and Golden State for the top record in the NBA. I’ve put Houston on top for a less-than-empirical reason: Houston wants the top seed, James Harden wants the MVP, and Mike D’Antoni will push for those things while the Warriors will not care about seeding. The Rockets will get what they want.

 
Warriors small icon2. Warriors: 63-19 proj. record; .447 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Warriors have by far an easier schedule the rest of the way than the Rockets, however, they also care less about getting the top seed and will rest guys down the stretch (such as Curry with this ankle, Andre Iguodala with his wrist, and Kevin Durant will get some nights off, too). Coach Steve Kerr cares far more about getting Iguodala and Jordan Bell back healthy than he does the team’s playoff seed.

 
Blazers small icon3. Portland, 48-34 proj. record; .538 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Trail Blazers are seventh in the NBA in defense on the season, and since the All-Star break they are second in the league giving up less than a point per possession — that (and the fact they have outperformed their point differential for the season) is why this team stays at the three seed. We know they can get buckets with Damian Lillard at the helm (especially in the clutch, where he’s been special), but it’s the other end of this floor that makes Portland more of a threat. This team not only gets home court in the first round, they could well win that and advance to the second.

 
4. Minnesota 47-35 proj. record; .474 remaining opponent winning percentage. One of the hardest teams to project from here on out because they don’t have Jimmy Butler, who got them buckets and solidified their defense. That said, in this scenario the T-Wolves get the four seed over OKC because they won the head-to-head tiebreaker (3-1). Butler or no there still a lot of talent on this roster — they need to keep feeding Karl-Antony Towns like they did Sunday against the Warriors — but the Timberwolves have a tough stretch coming up at the Wizards, at Spurs, then home to Houston. They lost two-of-three before the Warriors, if they struggle in the next three does it get into the head of a young team? Their schedule softens up after that.

 
Thunder small icon5. Oklahoma City 47-35 proj. record; .556 remaining opponent winning percentage. It’s difficult to project where this team lands because they are so wildly inconsistent. Watch the Rockets destroy them as happened last Tuesday (attacking Carmelo Anthony mercilessly) and you think the Thunder will be in trouble against any team in the West in the first round, or just getting into the postseason. Watch them shred the Spurs as they did Saturday night and you’re reminded of the elite talent on this team and why they can be such a tough out in the playoffs. Oklahoma City is simply not as good as we thought preseason (especially without Andre Roberson), but they are good enough to make the postseason, and maybe make the second round depending on the matchup.

 
Pelicans small icon6/7/8. New Orleans 46-36 proj. record; .549 remaining opponent winning percentage. In a conference race this tight, why wouldn’t there be a three-way tie for the final playoff spot? There are too many scenarios to get into the three-way tiebreaker for this ending, so for the purposes of this projection, we will call them all even. Anthony Davis only missed one game with his tweaked ankle, this is a team that looks like its recent run was enough to get back to the postseason (the Pelicans are 7-2 since the All-Star break but only have outscored teams by 1.1 per 100 possessions, they’ve been a little lucky). They need a little more luck the rest of the way.

 
Spurs small icon6/7/8. San Antonio 46-36 proj. record; .566 remaining opponent winning percentage. If the Spurs don’t make the playoffs, does the league even still hold them? This is the hardest team to project for a couple of reasons. First is they have the toughest schedule of any West team chasing the postseason, including two more against the Rockets and one against the Warriors. Second is Kawhi Leonard. He is reportedly going to return on Thursday vs. New Orleans, but for how many minutes? And how long does it take him to shake off the rust? If he gets back to form, both the Warriors and Rockets would like to avoid the Spurs in the first round, Leonard is that good, he changes everything. But the Spurs have to make it first, and that’s far from a given.

 
Jazz small icon6/7/8. Utah 46-36 proj. record; .489 remaining opponent winning percentage. The Jazz grab one of the last spots thanks to a soft schedule the rest of the way — although they do have two against the Warriors remaining — and the fact they have had the best defense in the NBA since the All-Star break, allowing well under a point per possession. Rudy Gobert would be the clear Defensive Player of the Year if he wasn’t going to have missed 25+ games this season due to injury. So long as Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio can generate just enough offense, the Jazz will make the cut.

 
Clippers small icon9. Clippers 45-37 proj. record; .553 remaining opponent winning percentage. That the team who lost Chris Paul last summer and traded Blake Griffin in the middle of this one is still in the playoff conversation is a testament to what a good job Doc Rivers has done as coach this season. Lou Williams is going to win Sixth Man of the Year going away, and DeAndre Jordan is still a force inside. But the Clippers have a tough schedule the rest of the way — two each against the Trail Blazers and Pacers that will be key — and almost no margin for error.

 
Nuggets small icon10. Denver 44-38 proj. record; .553 remaining opponent winning percentage. Denver has found a nice young core in Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris, and their offense is top 10. However, their 23rd ranked defense (once you remove gargage time stats, via Cleaning the Glass) is going to leave them on the outside looking in when all is said and done. They have two games against Minnesota and one against Portland remaining, win those and the dynamic changes.

Pistons’ owner doesn’t regret pushing for playoffs instead of tanking

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A first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks showed just how far the Detroit Pistons are from the elite of the East. Even factoring in Blake Griffin‘s injury. On top of that, the Pistons are capped out next season — Griffin $34.5 million, Andre Drummond $27.1 million, Reggie Jackson $18.1 million, and a payroll over the tax with just 10 players locked in on the roster. Improving this summer will be tough.

Landing higher in this draft might have helped add youth and athleticism, but the Pistons pushed to make the playoffs. Which is just want owner Tom Gores wanted, he said speaking to the media after the Pistons were eliminated, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News.

“We have to make more progress. A lot of people talk about the idea of winning or losing — we want to win. This idea of what happens in the league and losing is going to be good for you, well that’s not going to be good for any of us,” Gores said. “We just want to go and win — and we did.

“I just don’t believe in the idea of whatever you want to call it — tanking or losing. We need a winning culture and let’s just see what happens from there. I don’t think sports is about that. You can’t get on the court and think about losing. I just don’t believe in it … I’m not going to get into that business.”

The Pistons would be smart this summer to look at deals to either lower their tax bill or make them more athletic, adding playmakers and shooters to help Griffin and Jackson. Of course, that sounds great on paper but will be very difficult to execute. Gores said he would be willing to go above the tax to add players to help the Pistons win, he would take on salary for the right deal. Again, finding that kind of trade is much easier said than done within the confines of the NBA.

The Pistons have an interesting summer ahead, but with the salary cap tying their hands it will be difficult to make any meaningful changes to this roster. That doesn’t mean tanking for a few draft spots (they weren’t moving into Zion Williamson territory) would have been the right move.

Attorney representing Kelli Tennant, Luke Walton’s accuser, releases statement

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Right now a lot of people around the league — the Sacramento Kings, the Golden State Warriors, and the NBA league office itself — are starting investigations into the allegations that newly-minted Kings’ coach Luke Walton sexually assaulted a female reporter back while an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

These allegations blindsided not only the Kings but the entire NBA, and there is no history with the Santa Monica Police Department (the city where the alleged assault took place) because no crime was ever reported.

Now Garo Mardirossian, the attorney for the plaintiff in the lawsuit Kelli Tennant, has released a statement (and later today will conduct a press conference). Here is his statement, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“As alleged in the lawsuit, women connected to the National Basketball Association have long had to suffer in silence through the indignities of gender abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of famous, wealthy, and powerful men. Aided by their fame, money, and power, and motivated by a culture that tolerates misogynistic gender-bias, too many men in professional basketball inappropriately abuse women. As alleged in the lawsuit, defendant Luke Walton — a former professional basketball player and the former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers — is one of these men.

As alleged in the lawsuit, Kelli Tennant — a former collegiate athlete and star sports broadcaster, is a woman who has had to tolerate and summer in silence from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Luke Walton. By way of this lawsuit, Ms. Tennant is speaking out and saying #timesup to the culture of abusing women in the NBA.”

Walton’s attorney Mark Baute previously released this statement:

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations. The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, & her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

Tennant was a host with the Lakers’ regional sports network when the incident reportedly took place in 2016, before Walton had been hired as the Lakers’ coach. According to the lawsuit, she had written a book and wanted him to write the book’s forward. She met him in the lobby of the hotel, agreed to go up to his room to discuss the book, and it was there he pinned her to the bed, kissed her and tried to force himself on her, according to the lawsuit allegations. She says she screamed and tried to get up, but he pinned her in place. Eventually, she was able to get away, according to the lawsuit.

Walton, through his attorney, denies this is what happened. The Kings have stuck by Walton while the investigation is ongoing.

Right now there are a lot of people trying to find out what happened in that hotel room three years ago, and just as many trying to spin the story as it develops.

NBA television ratings down first weekend of playoffs (following season trend)

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There was some serious competition for eyeballs last weekend when the NBA opened its playoffs with eight games over two days. Most importantly, Tiger Woods was on the leaderboard (and eventually won) The Masters, and that was the big draw for sports fans all weekend. Then by Sunday night, Game of Thrones was all anyone wanted to talk about.

Still, NBA television ratings were down for the first weekend of action, in some cases by more than 40 percent. Paulson at Sports Media Watch broke down the numbers.

Ratings and viewership declined double-digits for all-but-one NBA playoff window over the weekend. The exception was Saturday’s Clippers-Warriors Game 1, which had a 3.0 and 4.83 million on ABC in primetime — up 7% in ratings and 13% in viewership from ABC’s opener last postseason (Spurs-Warriors: 2.8, 4.28M) and up 20% in both measures from its 2017 opener (Pacers-Cavaliers: 2.5, 4.04M). Those games aired in the afternoon.

Versus the same window last year, Heat-Sixers on ESPN, ratings and viewership both increased 20% (from 2.5 and 4.02M)…

The rest of the weekend was a dud. On Sunday, ABC earned a 2.55 and 3.90 million for Thunder-Blazers Game 1 — down 32% in ratings and 34% in viewership from last year (Pacers-Cavaliers: 3.8, 5.94M) and down 31% and 40% respectively from 2017 (Blazers-Warriors: 3.7, 6.52M). It was ABC’s least-watched opening weekend playoff game in four years (2015 Pelicans-Warriors: 3.49M).

While there have been entertaining series in the first round — Brooklyn/Philadelphia and Portland/Oklahoma City in particular — only one series, Denver and San Antonio, will go at least six and maybe seven. That does not help. On the bright side for the NBA, the matchups get far more compelling in the second round, Houston and Golden State out West, and both series in the East (Philly vs. Toronto, Boston vs. Milwaukee).

Also, there is no LeBron James in the playoffs. Stars are draws.

While the numbers (both on traditional broadcast and cable) were down, and were this season for the league, this is more of a broad trend across sports. With the advent of streaming and changing view habits, live NBA games (and sports in general) can provide one of the few “must watch live” moments, which makes it valuable to advertisers and networks. However, capturing those viewers, particularly younger ones under the age of 35, is much more difficult. There’s a reason the NBA started offering streamed snippets of games on their streaming services (you could buy just 10 minutes of league pass, or tune in at the end of a close game just to watch that finale). Getting those viewers in front of a traditional television is not as easy as it once was.

It’s something the NBA thinks a lot about. It’s also something every professional sports league around the globe is struggling with.

Report: Lakers interviewed Jason Kidd for head coaching position Monday

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If you want to know what would really freak Lakers’ nation out, this potential outcome would be it.

While the Lakers have seemed focused on Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams as the frontrunners to be their next head coach (both have second interviews this week), Lakers brass interviewed Jason Kidd on Monday, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Kidd’s interview was with general manager Rob Pelinka, as well as team executive Kurt Rambis and was conducted at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, California. The interview with the Hall of Fame point guard lasted for several hours, sources told ESPN.

Kidd probably would get a thumbs’ up from LeBron James, the pair were teammates for Team USA and LeBron is known to respect Kidd. Maybe it’s for that reason that Kidd’s name came up early as someone the Lakers would consider.

Kidd’s reputation as a coach has seemingly hit a low point after he was let go in Milwaukee, then Mike Budenholzer came in this season and took the same core of a roster to the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer will likely be named coach of the year because he modernized the Bucks attack and defense, taking them out of Kidd’s 1990s influenced style and putting the players in much better positions. The changes and results were striking.

For a Laker team whose roster building and organization have seemed a little stuck in the past in recent years, hiring Kidd would not seem a way forward. He at least got a foot in the door and an interview.