Eight Questions For The Final Quarter

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Friday marks the 3/4 mark of the 2012-13 season. Teams have played an average of 61 games, with 21 to go. What better time for a Q & A, where the Qs and As come from the same source?

1. Who will be the No. 1 overall seed, with home-court advantage through The Finals?

Miami.

The Heat’s winning streak has to come to an end at some point, but it has already put them even with the Spurs in the loss column. And Miami has the easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to cumulative opponent winning percentage. Their six remaining back-to-backs ultimately make their schedule a little tougher than that of a couple of other teams, but it’s still much easier than that of the Spurs or the Thunder.

2. Who wins the West?

Oklahoma City.

The Spurs have a two-game edge in the loss column, but don’t have Tony Parker for the next four weeks. The Thunder play easier opponents, but the Spurs play 13 of their final 20 games at home and have fewer back-to-backs (3 vs. 6).

OKC’s trump card is two games against the Spurs in the next month. They play Monday in San Antonio and April 4 in Oklahoma City. With Parker out, you’d have to give the Thunder the advantage in both matchups. Oklahoma City also has the advantage in the conference record tiebreaker should they split the final two meetings.

3. Will the Lakers make the playoffs?

Flip a coin again.

L.A. is just two games in the loss column behind the Jazz and seemingly has the momentum to make the playoffs.

L.A. also has the easier remaining schedule. Ten of their final 20 games are against teams over .500 and their remaining opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of just .484, the second-lowest mark in the Western Conference. The Jazz play 12 of their final 21 games against winning teams, and their remaining opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of .537, the third-highest mark in the West.

But Utah has the tiebreaker, having won the season series, 2-1. So the Lakers have to lose three fewer games than the Jazz over the final six weeks. Furthermore, though the Lakers are 10-5 over their last 15 games and the Jazz are 7-8, Utah has actually had a better point differential (NetRtg: +2.1) than L.A. (NetRtg: +0.0) in that time. While the Lakers have won a lot of close games in the last month, the Jazz have lost a lot of close ones. So, the momentum isn’t as strong as it may seem.

Both teams have three back-to-backs remaining, but Utah has one additional game (5 vs. 4) against teams on the second night of a back-to-back.

4. Shouldn’t we include Golden State and Houston in this conversation?

No. The Warriors have lost 10 of their last 15 games, but they still have four fewer losses than the Lakers and play 14 of their final 20 games at home. And they’re struggles have primarily come on the road. They’ve won eight of their last nine at Oracle Arena. They only have three back-to-backs remaining and play five opponents on the second night of a back-to-back. When you factor all that in, the Warriors have the easiest remaining schedule in the West.

Factoring in home/road and back-to-backs, Houston has the second easiest remaining schedule in the West, with 12 of its final 20 games at home. The Rockets also have the ninth best point differential in the league overall and sixth best (along with the No. 1 offense) over the last 15 games. They’re better than their record says they are.

If the Lakers grab a playoff spot, it’s the one that belongs to the Jazz.

5. Who gets the 2 seed in the East?

Indiana.

The Pacers have the momentum. They’re 11-4 over their last 15 games, outscoring their opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions. They’ve maintained their league-best defense, and have the league’s seventh best offense since late January. The Knicks are 8-7 over their last 15, with a differential (NetRtg) of 2.7 points per 100 possessions.

The Pacers also have the easier schedule. Compared to the rest of the league, both Indy and New York have a relatively tough remaining schedule, with three more road games than home games. But the Pacers play slightly easier opponents and they have one fewer back-to-back (6 vs. 7).

The Pacers also have a wild card in Danny Granger, who can help them if he can put his knee soreness behind him. Of course, the Knicks are basically a wild card every time they take the floor, essentially living and dying by the three. They’re 28-5 when they shoot better than 36 percent from beyond the arc and 9-17 when they don’t.

So if they get hot again, they’ve got a chance, because the two teams meet for the fourth and final time in New York on April 14.

6. How do East seeds 4-8 shake out?

Great question.

A fourth team in the East is going to get home-court advantage in the first round and a fifth team is going to avoid the Miami/Indiana/New York trio. But if the five teams that currently have between 26 and 29 losses have dreams of making the conference finals, they’d probably prefer to be a 6 or 7 seed. That puts you on the half of the bracket opposite the Heat.

The Celtics have the momentum. They’re 11-4 over their last 15 games, with a NetRtg of +5.3. Atlanta is hanging in there at 8-7 in its last 15 with a NetRtg of +1.9. The Nets (8-7, -2.4), Bucks (6-9, -3.2) and Bulls (6-9, -4.9) all have negative point differentials over their last 15 games.

None of the five teams have a particularly easy or tough schedule. Atlanta might be in the best shape, even though it has seven remaining back-to-backs and its remaining opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of .504, highest among this group. They also have nine games against teams playing the second night of a back-to-back, most in the league.

Brooklyn has relatively easy opponents (second lowest cumulative winning percentage in the league), but plays 13 of its final 21 games on the road and has eight remaining back-to-backs.

Derrick Rose, of course, is a wild card The shorthanded Bulls seem to be running out of gas, but could obviously get a boost from the return of their point guard … if that ever happens.

With five teams in the mix, tiebreakers are mostly in the air. Five of the 10 season series between this group are done, and three of those resulted in 2-2 ties. But the Bulls did win the season series (2-1) over the Hawks and the Bucks won the season series (3-1) over the Celtics.

If any tie-breaker comes down to conference record, the Nets (26-12) are in good shape, while the Celtics (19-16) are not.

So here’s a guess:
4. Boston
5. Atlanta
6. Brooklyn (Knicks-Nets in the first round!)
7. Chicago
8. Milwaukee

7. How much does home-court advantage really matter?

It matters, but maybe not that much.

The team with home-court advantage has won 111 (74 percent) of the 150 playoff series over the last 10 years. But that team is almost always the better team.

The team with home-court advantage in a 4-5, first-round series (that is presumably more evenly matched than most other series) has won just 55 percent (11 out of 20) of those series in the last 10 years (since the league changed the first round to a best-of-seven).

The team with home-court advantage in a 2-3, conference semifinals series has won 59 percent (13 out of 22) of those series in the last 15 years.

8. Does late-season success carry over into the playoffs?

Sometimes, yes. But over the 10 seasons previous to the lockout, there was no real correlation between improvement in the final quarter of the regular season and success in the playoffs (or overachieving given a team’s record/seed).

The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace at the trade deadline, went into the playoffs with a ton of momentum (they won 20 of their final 24 games) and went on to shock the Lakers in The Finals.

The following season, the Spurs went without Tim Duncan for most of the final month and won just nine of their final 17 games, getting crushed in a few of those losses. Then they won 14 of their first 18 playoff games and outlasted the Pistons in a seven-game Finals. That same season, the New Jersey Nets won 15 of their final 19 games to grab the eighth spot in the East, and they promptly got swept in the first round.

There was a much stronger correlation between playoff success and what a team did over the course of the entire regular season than what it did in the final 21 games.

35 Comments

  1. Pacers looked wide awake the other night-For one the Celts outscored pacers 25-13 in the 4th quarter @ a point when any team old or young can potentially run out of gas if they’re playing defense-doesn’t sound like Celts ran out of gas in that one, sounds like great defense as they held indy to 36% fg & 22% on 3’s. Nor did they run out of gas back on jan 4 beating indy 94-75. Now of course this is just reg season & you never can take stock in reg seas wins compared to playoffs cause playoffs are a whole different beast all together. People have been saying what you said about Celts for the past 6 yrs & they always prove the nay-sayers wrong. When they have lost, it’s only been because they’ve beat themselves, not happening this year. I think indy will finish 2nd seed, that’ll put them facing heat 2nd round, we’ll see on that seeding. Either way i think indy can definitely beat miami not that i’m rooting for indy-even though i’m die hard Celts fan i have no problem giving props where’s due cause i’m also a fan of the game. However; Celtics can & will beat either one of them! :)
    CELTICS-HORAAH-UBUNTU!!!

  2. Brennbell51 says:

    The Celtics have been playing better last few games. But they will run out of steam in a playoff series Even if its Miami or second best Pacers. They caught Pacers sleeping the other night. That won’t happen again. Right now they might be third in East since Knicks are up and down. And Chicago can’t do any better than thy r right now w/o Rose. It will be Pacers and Heat in finals. And not surprised if Pacers upset them.

  3. @ herp….-u must not have been watching any Celtics game as they’ve been holding any .500 plus teams under 95-100pts in regulation & under 90 in some games when Celts beat them. Celtics beat miami in their 1st game w/o Rondo. Watch a few of their remaining 20something games & you’ll see what i mean by most resilient team. Every opponent to my Celts come this playoff are going to be in for a long night. nuff said!
    CELTICS-HORAAH-UBUNTU!!!

  4. Herp derp James says:

    1. Its pretty stupid that the Heat are going to get home court throughout the finals over the west. The east is so weak and honestly the top 7 seeds in the west can all give a heat a run for their money in a 7 game series.

    2.OKC will probably take the west although if the Nuggets stay hot who knows what can happen.

    3. The Lakers will make the playoffs because the NBA wants the Lakers in the playoffs, No other reason than that. The Jazz have earned the spot but are getting it ripped away because of Kobe’s promise.

    4. Theres still a chance the rockets or warriors can slip out of playoff contention, not likely but you never know what can happen, Theres still over 20 games to be played.

    5. Pacers will take the 2nd seed out east and are the only team in the east that can contend with Miami. If they meet in the ECF’s I believe the pacers could pull the upset.

    6. Honestly doesnt matter, no team in the east aside from the heat and pacers are even relevant this year.

    7. Home court is extremely important especially for a younger team like the thunder.

    8. Carrying momentum into the playoffs can be helpful but Its not a huge factor.

  5. NBA Fan says:

    So let me get this straight, Kobe makes some stupid playoff promise and attracts all the attention from the league and media and suddenly the lakers start winning and the Jazz start losing? Hmmm we all know everyone wants to see the Lakers in the playoffs and who really wants to see the Jazz? Jazz have lost their last 4 games by no more than 3 points per game since Kobes promise. The jazz have fought hard all season with wins over the Heat, OKC, spurs, Lakers, Pacers, Warriors, even without a true point guard. I know Utah is a small market team but they deserve to get into the playoffs. Not the drama queen lakers.

  6. Patrickmarc says:

    Lakers are so close to be in play-off, and if they are going into this adventure nobody knows what they are able to do,
    with a great Gazol of course.

  7. Celtics will be the most resilient team in the east & are extremely capable & will beat any top 3 seeded team!
    CELTICS-HORAAH-UBUNTU!!!

  8. Big Al says:

    Iggy would have been the Denver star but he hasn’t lived up to the hype. His performance is still below expectations, so he’s miles away from being a Carmelo replacement. The Nuggets are what teamwork is all about, but having said that, it would be hard to award a Finals MVP crown to any of the players.

    The Heat should take the East by storm; it would be disappointing otherwise. The Thunder just might have the momentum against the Spurs in the long run being a much younger, healthier team. The Lakers are very likely to make it to at least 8th spot, but hopefully, Kobe and company won’t be too tired after working so hard to avoid elimination in the regular season.

  9. willie says:

    miami vs OKC in the finals. Clippers are the darkhorse. spurs will be lucky if they get past the 2nd rd, just like the past few seasons (got booted out by 8th seed memphis a few yrs ago, and by lower seeds years after). nuggets and grizzlies doesn’t have a go to guy during clutch games.

    • DJ3 says:

      Nuggets have many, Grizz only have 1 really (Gasol). Nuggets have Lawson, Galo, Iggy, Chandler, and Faried. Spurs also got to the conf finals last year so they could take OKC to 7-games if Tony comes back healthy.

  10. ballhogger says:

    Lakers won’t make it to the playoffs promise haha

  11. W/E says:

    Nuggets are like the most dangerous team in the whole league, no all stars but their current crew as a whole plays good on both ends and can destroy anyone with their all around game. thats what i call a TEAM.

    • Yer Boy says:

      The Nuggets are a quality team and have the ability to upset one of the top seeds. If they don’t end up beating one of them they have the ability to tire them out to 7 games.

    • DJ3 says:

      Nuggets and Heat are my favorite teams. Heat will get to the finals, obviously, and the Nuggets will either eliminate a top-4 seed or tire them out and therefore indirectly eliminate them. It’s all about whether the Nuggets can make crunch time plays. They have guys who can, Ty, Danilo, Andre, Wilson, Faried, it’s just about who will get the ball and who will knock down the tough, late game shots.

    • xobhcnul says:

      I just don’t see the Nuggets making much noise in the play-offs this year. They might be good as a unit, but when the pressure is on, they don’t have a guy who can step up,. I’m guessing a first round exit for them in 5 or 6 games.

  12. dyranmyjen says:

    it’s all about 18..

  13. Lakers’ probability of making the Playoffs jumped 30% to go beyond 40%, Jazz’s decreased by just as much!

    http://statisticator.blogspot.com/2013/03/crazy-end-of-season-aka-for-100th-time.html

    Exciting drame, I give LA the momentum advantage…

  14. George says:

    Heat are too strong and competition too weak this year

    • xobhcnul says:

      While the Heat will almost certainly win the East, I don’t expect them to waltz through the finals against either the Spurs or the Thunder.

  15. jake s says:

    Thunder win West, Heat win East. If Thunder wants to beat Heat, 2 things must happen: KD elevates to his prime in 60 days, and all Thunder wing men sink 3’s. KD is by far my favorite, but Lebron is next level right now.

    Everyone will do their part but the difference will be made amongst four players:
    -Lebron James ( complete package )
    -Kevin Durant ( nearly complete package )

    -Shane Battier ( 3pt. consistency, draws charges )
    -Thabo Sefolosha ( 3pt. ability, 1on1 defense )

    • Jimmy Buckets says:

      Kevin Martin buddy…..Battier had a hot streak this season nothing more whats worse is that streak has ended

    • My Yammy Heets says:

      The finals (as always) will come down to the team that plays better. James can have monster games put the teams stilll needs to put up a complementary effort. Same for OKC.

  16. Heat #1 says:

    Here are my opinions on the questions:

    1. Miami Heat because this win streak is totally separating the Heat and the rest of the East, 8 games ahead! and the spurs got there best player, Tony Parker, injured for about a month so that gives the Heat advantage.

    2. The Thunder because they are they are only behind by 2.5 games and the Spurs got Tony Parker injured.

    3. Yes because they are playing really good basketball now and can make the Jazz go down to the 9th seed. Plus, there is no playoff action without the Lakers and Kobe Bryant.

    4. We should be talking about the Rockets and Warriors because they are both really good teams and I would really like Stephen Curry and James Harden in the playoffs this year.

    5. The Pacers because the Knicks are not playing like how they were in the beginning of the season and Paul George is playing his best season yet.

    6. I don’t care about this question.

    7. Home-court advantage is good because the home crowd came make the home team get less nervous to do late game heroics, but the other team has to try to steal home-court advantage.

    8. Late-season success can make success in the playoffs. If you remember in the 2010-11 season D-Rose made the Bulls go on 9 game win streak to go in to the playoffs and they made it to the conference finals.

    And I also think that the Heat are gonna win it all for the second straight championship and as always, Go HEAT!!!!!

  17. Spencer says:

    Miami Heat Is Gonna Win It All. ! ! ! ! ! !

    • Game Time says:

      I’m a Miami fan, but sometimes we (fans) get a little too ahead of ourselves. I honestly don’t see anyone beating Miami again…but I also didn’t see the Lakers being a sub 500 team. Anything can happen.

      • true stats says:

        And after what happened last year to the miami heat in the playoffs they were suppose to “sweep” a Boston Celtics team that had a ridiculous amount of injured players last year….but they didn’t…and they heat nearly loss the series in 6 games….so if you ask me Boston is the team to watch out for in playoffs…..They have new acquisitions that weren’t on the team last year in the playoffs….they were basically playing a 6 man rotation against the heat the only people who seen minutes off the bench was stemsma and keyon dooling…..

      • xobhcnul says:

        The Celtics? You’re joking right?

  18. Charles Murray says:

    The Nuggets just beat Memphis 2x, GS 3x, LA 2x, OKC 2x, CLIPs 2x, Indiana 2x, SA 1x. I guess this doesn’t mean anything. I know, home court… But, come on… Not in the discussion?

    • AJ Mills says:

      The Nuggets are the perfect spoiler team. I can’t imagine them taking the West, but they could knock off one of the top seeds–or tire them out in a seven-game series.

      • DIRK-DURANT-KOBE-RONDO-WESTBROOK says:

        Nuggets, Houston, or Lakers are going to upset a higher seed, I CALLED IT

  19. Big Al says:

    1. The Heat may just edge out the Parker-less Spurs, but the Thunder are also pretty much in it.
    2. It would most likely be the Thunder.
    3. For the love of basketball, they should. Utah must be booted out.
    4. The Warriors should be alright if they’re careful enough. Houston is still at risk, but I like Harden to make the playoffs for the first time as a (well-deserved) starter.
    5. Unless Derrick Rose comes back soon, it doesn’t really matter. Only Miami is truly in contention to an otherwise All-West affair.
    6. Going back to #5, the sequence is pretty much insignificant. All that matters is that the Heat make it to the finals.
    7. Having home-court advantage will always be a plus factor, unless it’s a Clippers-Lakers game.
    8. It really depends on the team. Late-season success can sometimes provide the needed momentum to go deep into the playoffs, but can also sometimes see players tired after working so hard right before the final 16.