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Adjusting for playoff rotations shows Trail Blazers’ and Celtics’ vulnerabilities

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Most team statistics used for playoff predictions – from won-loss record to more-complicated metrics – rely on full-season data.

But by the time the playoffs begin, teams often look radically different than they did at various points of the regular season.

The Clippers traded Tobias Harris. Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a season-ending injury. The Nuggets will likely drop Trey Lyles from their postseason rotation.

Yet, those players, and many others like them, heavily influenced their teams’ regular-season results.

So, I measured team performance when the entire five-man lineup is comprised of players projected to be in the first-round rotation. It’s a glimpse into the effectiveness and chemistry of the players who’ll actually be on the court in these series.

It’s only one data point among many that should be considered. I don’t know precisely how each team will set its rotation, so I must predict. The playing-time distribution among players in the rotation can change into the postseason. Opponent quality varies. Some sample sizes are larger than others.

Still, I find it a useful indicator.

Here’s each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings from Basketball-Reference adjusted from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the first-round playoff rotation:

Western Conference

1. Golden State Warriors

Offensive rating: 115.9 to 121.9

Defensive rating: 109.5 to 106.2

Net rating: +6.4 to +15.7

4. Houston Rockets

Offensive rating: 115.5 to 117.3

Defensive rating: 110.7 to 107.2

Net rating: +4.8 to +10.1

5. Utah Jazz

Offensive rating: 110.9 to 113.9

Defensive rating: 105.7 to 104.5

Net rating: +5.2 to +9.3

2. Denver Nuggets

Offensive rating: 113.0 to 116.1

Defensive rating: 108.9 to 108.1

Net rating: +4.1 to +8.1

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Offensive rating: 110.3 to 116.0

Defensive rating: 107.0 to 108.2

Net rating: +3.3 to +7.8

7. San Antonio Spurs

Offensive rating: 112.9 to 116.9

Defensive rating: 111.2 to 110.3

Net rating: +1.7 to +6.6

3. Portland Trail Blazers

Offensive rating: 114.7 to 114.0

Defensive rating: 110.5 to 109.1

Net rating: +4.2 to +5.0

8. L.A. Clippers

Offensive rating: 112.4 to 115.3

Defensive rating: 111.5 to 111.9

Net rating: +0.9 to +3.4

Eastern Conference 

2. Toronto Raptors

Offensive rating: 113.1 to 122.4

Defensive rating: 107.1 to 106.5

Net rating: +6.0 to +15.9

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Offensive rating: 113.8 to 115.7

Defensive rating: 105.2 to 107.1

Net rating: +8.6 to +8.6

3. Philadelphia 76ers

Offensive rating: 112.6 to 115.8

Defensive rating: 110.0 to 107.3

Net rating: +2.6 to +8.5

7. Orlando Magic

Offensive rating: 108.9 to 114.0

Defensive rating: 108.1 to 107.9

Net rating: +0.8 to +6.1

8. Detroit Pistons

Offensive rating: 109.0 to 114.7

Defensive rating: 109.2 to 110.2

Net rating: -0.2 to +4.4

5. Indiana Pacers

Offensive rating: 109.9 to 110.3

Defensive rating: 106.5 to 107.4

Net rating: +3.4 to +2.9

6. Brooklyn Nets

Offensive rating: 109.7 to 112.2

Defensive rating: 109.7 to 111.7

Net rating: 0.0 to +0.5

4. Boston Celtics

Offensive rating: 112.2 to 110.6

Defensive rating: 107.8 to 110.4

Net rating: +4.4 to +0.3

Observations:

  • The Trail Blazers really miss Nurkic. Portland’s adjusted net rating would have been about twice as good with him. As is, Portland falls behind its first-round opponent – Oklahoma City – after the adjustment.
  • Marcus Smart‘s absence affects the Celtics nearly as much. He has been so good as a glue player with higher-usage teammates. Put more of those ball-dominant players on the court together, and Boston’s chemistry could get bumpy.
  • The Pacers also their net rating drop with the adjustment, though. They rank ahead of the Celtics but might not be good enough to pull an upset without homecourt advantage.
  • The Raptors and Warriors improve the most with the adjustment. I trust that more with Golden State, which I project with a deeper rotation that can be trimmed if necessary. Toronto might need to go deeper into its bench with OG Anunoby sidelined.
  • The teams with the second- and third-best adjusted net ratings in the West, Houston and Utah, play each other in the first round. The winner advances to face the team with the conference’s best adjusted net rating, Golden State. That’s a brutal section of the bracket.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell are banged up for Milwaukee. As they get healthier, expect the Bucks to vault toward the top of the league.
  • Joel Embiid is included in the 76ers’ rotation. If he can’t play, Philadelphia’s adjusted offensive/defensive/net ratings drop to 110.2/109.3/+0.9. Yikes.
  • The Spurs and Magic could be punchier than expected.

Giannis Antetokounmpo aggravates ankle, leaves game vs. Clippers (VIDEO)

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to fight through a right ankle injury that has hampered him over the last two weeks.

But the Milwaukee Bucks forward may need some rest to get fully healthy before the playoffs start in mid-April. And his status was of prime concern after the Bucks’ 128-118 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and grabbed nine rebounds before aggravating his ankle injury in the fourth quarter as the Bucks snapped Los Angeles’ six-game winning streak. Milwaukee (57-19) reduced its magic number to two for clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Antetokounmpo went to the floor and held his right ankle after dunking with 7:46 left in the game, and he immediately went to the bench and didn’t return. He missed two games last week with a sprain to the same ankle, initially suffered on March 17 vs. Philadelphia.

“I’m definitely working on it, trying to get it healthy, stronger,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m trying to get my mobility back. It’s not going to be easy.

“Usually when you sprain your ankle, you stay out for two, three, four games. But I don’t like missing games. I’ve got to work through it while playing. I’ll be ready to play until coach (Mike Budenholzer) tells me not to play.”

The Bucks open a three-game trip in Atlanta on Sunday before finishing the season with three home games.

“I think we all are hoping he can push through and be healthy going forward,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling after tonight and either bring out the bubble wrap or keep playing.”

Khris Middleton had a season-high 39 points with eight rebounds and five assists as Milwaukee won its fourth straight. Eric Bledsoe added 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and Sterling Brown finished with 15 points.

Middleton hit 16 of 24 shots from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

“I’m feeling good,” Middleton said. “The Houston game was just a dud. I had a lot of great shots and air-balled most of them, I felt like (on Tuesday in the Bucks’ victory). Tonight, I came out with the same mentality, just being aggressive and pick my spots. I was just trying to find a rhythm.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Clippers (45-31) with 21 points, and JaMychal Green added 16 and Wilson Chandler 15. Los Angeles finished its road trip at 3-1.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers was impressed with Antetokounmpo’s play and joked that the Bucks star and Houston’s James Harden should share the MVP award so “everybody in the world is happy.”

“The thing I like about Giannis the most is his temperament,” Rivers said. “He is not messing around. He is not there to put on a show. Every game is a competition for him. I love that. For me, of all the things he does, that is the No. 1 thing that stands out with me.”

The Bucks led 67-46 at halftime as Antetokounmpo had 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Middleton added 15 points and Brown 10 as Milwaukee shot 55.8 percent from the field (24 of 43).

“I think the second quarter stood out,” Budenholzer said after his team outscored the Clippers 39-21, in the period. “We were able to get quite a bit of separation and weather the storm in the second half.”

Los Angeles went on an 8-1 run to open the second half, cutting its deficit to 14 and forcing Budenholzer to call a timeout.

The Bucks led 79-69 before going on a 9-2 run capped by a 3-pointer by Pat Connaughton, putting them ahead 88-71 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.

Middleton completed a four-point play late in the quarter and had 13 points in the period as the Bucks took a 100-77 lead entering the fourth.

Bucks avoid luxury-tax exposure as Pelicans reportedly claim Christian Wood off waivers

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The Bucks’ mission: Win enough to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo long-term.

This summer will present an inflection point. Three Milwaukee starters – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon – will be free agents, and the luxury tax looms. (The Bucks recently signed Eric Bledsoe to an extension, providing some cost-certainty.)

Will Milwaukee pay the luxury tax to keep this team intact? If so, how much tax and for how long? It’s a long way off, but the Bucks ought to start considering the possibility of the repeater tax down the road.

That’s why it was so risky for Milwaukee to waive Christian Wood and sign Tim Frazier. That put the Bucks in jeopardy of paying the luxury tax this season if they won the championship (triggering bonuses in Tony Snell‘s contract) and Wood went unclaimed. Obviously, Milwaukee would probably gladly pay the tax, miss out on payments to non-tax teams and start the repeater clock to win a title this year. But it’s still better to win without those downsides.

Thankfully for the Bucks, they’re off the hook.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/1108474930688155650

This is a nice pickup by the Pelicans. The 23-year-old Wood has looked good in limited NBA minutes and in the NBA’s minor league. His 2019-20 minimum salary is unguaranteed until that regular season begins. So, this is a low-risk addition with solid upside.

Maybe Milwaukee could use Wood in the frontcourt right now. Nikola Mirotic just suffered an injury that will sideline him a few weeks, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is out for tonight’s game against the Cavaliers with an ankle injury.

It’s unclear how quickly Wood will report to New Orleans, but he could step into the lineup if Anthony Davis misses more time.

Report: Bucks signing Tim Frazier, waiving Christian Wood

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Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon is out through the start of the playoffs.

Now, Milwaukee is swapping a big for another guard.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Though a combo guard, Brogdon has primarily played shooting guard this season. Tim Frazier is a point guard. So, this isn’t a clear replacement.

Frazier, who spent training camp with Milwaukee, is a decent backup point guard. He’ll provide depth behind Eric Bledsoe and George Hill – depth missing without Brogdon. But Brogdon was merely insurance at point guard. His main role was off the ball.

Perhaps, with Frazier, the Bucks will use Hill more at shooting guard. More likely, they’ll continue to lean on Khris Middleton, Tony Snell, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown at the position.

Christian Wood is more than a small loss. The 23-year-old has looked good in the minor league and limited NBA minutes. He possesses long-term intrigue.

Milwaukee is rightfully emphasizing the present. I’m just unconvinced Frazier moves the needle now.

Report: Rockets trade Michael-Carter Williams, cash to Bulls

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Trading for Michael Carter-Williams in 2016 was a disaster for the Bulls in hindsight. They sent Tony Snell (a better player) to the Bucks in the deal and, because they acquired another point guard, waived Spencer Dinwiddie (another better player). Carter-Williams’ most memorable moment in Chicago was offending Derrick Rose fans by planning to wear No. 1 with the Bulls.

Chicago reacquiring Carter-Williams now shouldn’t cause as many waves.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Carter-Williams has $365,966 guaranteed remaining on his contract. Presumably, Houston covered that amount plus paid the Bulls extra for their troubles.

The Rockets are in line to save $2,101,934 in luxury vs. just waiving Carter-Williams themselves. So, there’s plenty of room for them to pay the the Bulls and still come out ahead.

Carter-Williams was a flier by a contending team in need of depth. He struggled with Houston, which found a better alternative in Austin Rivers. At this point, the 27-year-old Carter-Williams could be nearing the end of his NBA career.