HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — On Monday afternoon, the Charlotte Bobcats were 7-5. On Monday night, the ‘Cats lost by 45 points in Oklahoma City.
The result may not have been a big surprise given how bad the Bobcats were last season. It also wasn’t a big surprise given how inflated that 7-5 record was.
Wins are wins and losses are losses, but all 7-5 records aren’t the same. When you add context, specifically point differential and strength of schedule, to a team’s record, you can get a better idea of just how good they are.
Six of the Bobcats’ seven wins were by four points or less. And though you give them credit for executing better than their opponents in those close games, you also have to acknowledge that results in close games should (mostly) even out over time. Indeed, the ‘Cats lost by three in Atlanta on Wednesday.
And before that game in Oklahoma City on Monday, Charlotte had played the easiest schedule in the league. So, even at 7-7 after Wednesday’s loss, the Bobcats still have one of the most inflated records in the league. They’re tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but their chances of staying there are pretty darn slim.
Who else might be better or worse than their record says they are? Here are a few teams of note…
Not as good as their record
1. Philadelphia (9-6)
The Sixers are tied for the eighth-best record in the league, but they have the 15th best point differential per 100 possessions, having been outscored by 15 points over their 15 games. Eight of their nine wins have been by 10 points or less and they’ve been blown out three times.
This is a complete reversal of the Sixers’ fate last year, when they were absolutely awful in close games. They were the eighth seed in the East last year, but had the fifth-best point differential in the NBA. Yes, they benefited from Derrick Rose‘s injury in the first round, but they weren’t nearly as mediocre as their seeding indicated.
So, if you look at it in a macro scale, the Sixers are more than due for some late-game fortune. But they’ve also played the second-easiest schedule in the league. They’ve played 10 of their 15 games at home, and they’ve played five against the Cavs, Pistons and Raptors.
We’ll see exactly whose record is more inflated on Friday, when the Sixers visit Charlotte.
2. Utah (9-7)
The Jazz were a playoff team last year and should be improved with their talented youth and new 3-point shooters. Maybe they are, and their point differential (11th in the league at +1.3 points per 100 possessions) is on par with their record. But they’ve also played the easiest schedule in the league thus far.
Though they’ve played 10 of their 16 games on the road, the Jazz have also played 10 of the 16 against teams under .500. That includes six games against the four teams (New Orleans, Sacramento, Toronto and Washington) at the bottom of each conference.
3. Memphis (11-2)
It’s hard to knock the team with the best record in the league, especially when they’ve got wins over the Heat, Thunder, Knicks and Lakers. The Grizz have the league’s third-best point differential (+7.7 points per 100 possessions) and aren’t benefiting from a bunch of close wins like the Bobcats.
Furthermore, if you just look at opponent winning percentage, Memphis has played a relatively tough schedule. But when you factor in location and days of rest, they’ve actually played the third-easiest schedule in the Western Conference.
Eight of the Grizzlies’ 13 games have come at home, and they’re the only team in the league to have played just one back-to-back. They’ll play their second this weekend when they host the Pistons on Friday and visit the Spurs on Saturday.
Better than their record
1. Toronto (3-13)
This is an obvious one, given the Raptors’ failures in close games. They’re 1-8 in games determined by eight points or less. They have the second-worst record in the league, but have only the seventh-worst point differential, even after getting blown out in Houston and Memphis this week.
The Raps have also played the second-toughest schedule in the league. They’ve played a league-high six back-to-backs already and have faced only one opponent on the second night of a back-to-back.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Raps are a playoff team, but they’re certainly a better team than their record suggests. And they can be expected to turn their season around somewhat, perhaps in the second half of December and early January, when eight of their games in a nine-game stretch are against the Rockets, Cavs, Pistons, Magic, Hornets, Blazers and Kings.
2. L.A. Clippers (9-6)
The Clippers are tied with the Sixers for the eighth-best record in the league, but they’ve been almost six points per 100 possessions better. They’re one of only five teams that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but they’ve lost four games by seven points or less.
The Clips have played nine of their 15 games at home, but they’ve also played a pretty tough schedule, with only two games against truly bad teams (Cleveland and New Orleans). Of course, they lost both of those.
Their schedule really lightens up over the next few weeks. Ten of their next 12 games are against teams currently at .500 or worse. And the other two are at Utah and Milwaukee. You could argue that they don’t face a real tough opponent until they play the Nuggets on Christmas night.
3. L.A. Lakers (7-8)
Even when you put Steve Nash‘s injury, the coaching change, and all-around drama aside, the Lakers should be better than 7-8. They have the league’s sixth-best point differential (+5.5 points per 100 possessions) with a losing record, thanks to blowout wins over the Pistons, Warriors and Mavs.
The Lakers’ schedule hasn’t been too tough, but they’re the only team in the league that has yet to play a team on the second night of a back-to-back. They’ll get their first chance to do so on Friday, when they host the Nuggets. The Portland Trail Blazers already played eight games against teams on the second night of a back-to-back.