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Numbers preview: The Finals


VIDEO: The Starters preview The Finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers each made history in reaching The Finals.

Since the NBA starting counting turnovers in 1977, no team had made The Finals after leading the league in pace — like the Warriors did — or after ranking as low as 20th in defensive efficiency — like the Cavs did — in the regular season. That’s 37 years of trends that have been bucked, in two different ways.

These are special teams. Statistically, the Warriors are the best team we’ve seen since the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, outscoring their opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. The Cavs, meanwhile, have fought through a myriad of changes (via trades and injuries) to get here, improving defensively along the way.

And the Cavs have been statistically better, both offensively and defensively, than the Warriors in the playoffs, even when you account for weaker competition. Cleveland has better marks in adjusted efficiency (taking their opponents’ regular season marks) on both ends of the floor.

This is also a matchup of the MVP and the world’s best player, the two guys who lead the league in postseason usage rate. Stephen Curry and LeBron James won’t be guarding each other and have very unique games, but some of their playoff advanced stats are very similar.

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Curry has been the more efficient scorer, while James has provided more for his team on defense and on the glass. Curry has the deeper supporting cast, but James has been here before.

When this series is done, he’ll either be 3-3 or 2-4 in The Finals, and either the Cavs will have their first championship or the Warriors will have their first one in 40 years.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more. (more…)

Bulls fire Thibodeau

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Chicago Bulls announced Thursday afternoon that they have fired coach Tom Thibodeau.

The rift between Thibodeau and Bulls management — specifically vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman — has never been a secret. In the news release, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf made it sound like Thibodeau refused to listen to other people in the organization and leaked information about the team’s internal issues.

While the head of each department of the organization must be free to make final decisions regarding his department, there must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions. These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private.

Thibodeau came to Chicago from Boston, where, as an assistant, he was the architect of one of the best defenses in NBA history. The Bulls had a top-five defense in each of his first four seasons, but fell off on that end of the floor last season.

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Chicago dealt with major injury issues in each of the last four seasons, starting with Derrick Rose‘s ACL tear in the 2012 playoffs. Thibodeau loaded his best players with heavy minutes at times, and the input that he refused to welcome likely had to do with injury prevention.

Still, he can probably have another job as soon as he wants one. Denver, New Orleans and Orlando are all looking for new coaches and all ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency last season.

Hawks not hitting their open shots


VIDEO: GameTime: Korver out for remainder of playoffs

CLEVELAND — Diagnosing just what has gone wrong for the Atlanta Hawks is not easy.

Maybe they peaked too early, going 33-2 between Thanksgiving and Jan. 31. Maybe they lack a go-to guy to get them a shot when they really need one. Maybe they’ve been undone by untimely injuries. And maybe they just aren’t ready for this stage.

Whatever it is, the Hawks need to figure things out quickly. They’ve arrived in Cleveland for Game 3 of the conference finals (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) in an 0-2 hole, facing a team that is 24-2 at home since mid-January.

They were tied 2-2 with the 38-44 Brooklyn Nets and trailed 2-1 to the John Wall-less Washington Wizards, but this is obviously the most desperate situation the Hawks have been in. And never have they had fewer answers for what’s been going wrong.

The Hawks have had issues on both ends of the floor. But despite LeBron James‘ brilliance and some hot shooting, Atlanta has held the Cavs to almost five points per 100 possessions below a regular season mark that ranked fourth in offensive efficiency. It’s on offense where Atlanta has struggled most, scoring just 95 points per 100 possessions through the first two games.

In the regular season, 79.4 percent of the Hawks’ jump shots were uncontested, a rate which led the league by a pretty wide margin (New Orleans ranked second at 75.9 percent), according to SportVU. And their effective field goal percentage on those uncontested jumpers was 52.9 percent, a mark which ranked third (behind only the Warriors and Clippers).

The Hawks have yet to match those two numbers in any of their three playoff series. And they’ve hit new lows in the conference finals.

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The Cavs deserve some credit. They were a pretty awful defensive team early in the season, and even after showing improvement with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert, they got chewed up by the Atlanta offense in their March 6 meeting. Cleveland finished 20th in defensive efficiency for the season.

Since the league started counting turnovers in 1977, no team has reached The Finals after ranking that low. But the Cavs been much improved defensively in the playoffs. In this series, they’ve denied the Hawks’ primary options, and have backed that up with multiple efforts and sharper rotations.

And while the Hawks are still getting a decent amount of open looks, it’s not hard to see that their offense isn’t nearly as sharp as it was in December and January. Open looks aren’t necessarily in-rhythm looks.

The bottom of the above table tells us that their success is less about the number of open looks they get and more about what they do with them. If you’re making a case that this is a make-or-miss league, you can start with the Hawks’ effective field goal percentage on uncontested jumpers in wins (52.1 percent) vs. losses (37.8 percent) in these playoffs.

Now, the Hawks have to play without their best shooter. In the regular season, Kyle Korver had a ridiculous effective field goal percentage of 74.8 percent on uncontested jumpers. And even if he was contested, he was the Hawks’ best option. He shot better on contested 3-pointers (43.4 percent) than any of his teammates shot on uncontested threes.

Korver has seen fewer open looks (per 36 minutes) in the playoffs, and he’s shot worse on them. But his presence on the floor and the attention he gets from the defense is still a huge key to what the Hawks are doing offensively. They’ve scored 102.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in the postseason, and just 95.8 with him on the bench. In this series, Korver is 7-for-15 from outside the paint, while his teammates are 13-for-64 (20.3 percent).

There is no easy answer with Korver out, not that there was one if he was perfectly healthy. What was the Hawks’ strength in the regular season has failed them when it matters most.

Numbers preview: Warriors-Rockets


VIDEO: GameTime: A look ahead to the West finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Houston Rockets are seemingly facing long odds in the Western Conference finals. Their opponent — the Golden State Warriors — was the league’s best team in the regular season by a wide margin, has home-court advantage and a 43-3 record at home, and swept the season series.

But the Rockets faced long odds in the conference semifinals, as well. And they became the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, coming back from 19 points down late in the third quarter of Game 6 along the way.

This is a matchup between the MVP and the guy who finished second. Both averaged between 25 and 26 points in those four regular-season meetings, but Stephen Curry did so much more efficiently than James Harden.

With a healthy Dwight Howard, Harden will have more help than he did earlier in the season. Still, the Warriors look to have a good shot of reaching The Finals for the first time in 40 years.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Western Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Golden State Warriors (67-15)

Beat New Orleans in four games.
Beat Memphis in six games.
Pace: 94.3 (14)
OffRtg: 107.4 (2)
DefRtg: 98.8 (5)
NetRtg: +8.6 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Warriors playoff notes:

Houston Rockets (56-26)

Beat Dallas in five games.
Beat L.A. Clippers in seven games.
Pace: 104.8 (1)
OffRtg: 105.9 (6)
DefRtg: 106.8 (12)
NetRtg: -0.9 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 4-0
Pace: 104.5
GSW OffRtg: 109.6 (2nd vs. HOU)
HOU OffRtg: 95.8 (22nd vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Hawks-Cavaliers


VIDEO: All-access: The top-seeded Hawks and Warriors advance

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Though they both looked vulnerable at times, the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers took care of business to give us the conference finals matchup we’ve been anticipating since the Hawks went on a 33-2 run after Thanksgiving.

This series is a contrast of styles. The Cavs are a team that relies heavily on LeBron James, especially with Kevin Love out for the postseason and Kyrie Irving dealing with leg injuries. The Hawks, meanwhile, like to share the wealth.

While James has been to the conference finals seven times in his 12-year career, this is the first trip there for the Hawks since 1970. Kyle Korver (in 2011 with Chicago) and Paul Millsap (in 2007 with Utah) are their only rotation players who have been here before.

But the Hawks have the knowledge that they tore up what had been an improved Cleveland defense in the final regular-season meeting between the two teams. In the regular season, only one team — New Orleans — scored more efficiently against the Cavs than Atlanta did.

The Cavs scored pretty efficiently against the Hawks too. And the conference finals promises to bring new wrinkles to this matchup. James faced the San Antonio Spurs in the last two Finals. To get there again, he’ll have to get through the Spurs of the East.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Beat Brooklyn in six games.
Beat Washington in six games.
Pace: 96.8 (6)
OffRtg: 102.0 (9)
DefRtg: 98.2 (2)
NetRtg: +3.9 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks playoff notes:

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Beat Boston in four games.
Beat Chicago in six games.
Pace: 92.9 (16)
OffRtg: 108.2 (1)
DefRtg: 98.8 (4)
NetRtg: +9.5 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs playoff notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Pace: 95.4
ATL OffRtg: 114.2 (2nd vs. CLE)
CLE OffRtg: 110.8 (4th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

For Warriors, 15 is the magic number


VIDEO: The Warriors talk about their Game 5 win.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Note to the Memphis Grizzlies and any other team that may cross paths with the Golden State Warriors this postseason: Don’t get down by 15.

After Wednesday’s Game 5 victory over the Grizzlies, the Warriors are 52-0 in games they’ve led by 15 or more at any point. They went 47-0 in the regular season and are 5-0 in the playoffs after leading by 15-plus.

Three other teams never blew a 15-point lead in the regular season, but none of them were perfect in half as many games as the Warriors. The Utah Jazz were 22-0, the Indiana Pacers were 16-0, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were 6-0 after leading by 15 or more points. In total, the league was 734-72 (.911) after leading by 15-plus.

The biggest lead the Warriors had in a game they lost was 14 points. They led an April 7 game in New Orleans by 14 late in the second quarter, but lost it by the middle of the third and eventually lost the game.

They got their revenge in the playoffs, coming back from 18 points down in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the first round on their way to a sweep. That was one of just two playoff games in which a team blew a lead of 15 or more points and lost. The other team to do it was the Milwaukee Bucks, who led Game 3 of the first round by 18 points, before losing in double-overtime.

The Atlanta Hawks have led nearly as many games by 15-plus as the Warriors have. But they’ve blown three of those leads: in Boston on Feb. 11, in Philadelphia on March 7, and in Chicago on the last night of the regular season.

The Clippers were 38-0 after leading by 15-plus in the regular season last year, but blew two leads of 15-plus in the playoffs.

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Small lineup hurts Cavs’ D


VIDEO: An all-access look at the Bulls’ Game 1 victory

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt had a difficult decision to make before Game 1 of the conference semifinals.

Kevin Love was done for the postseason and J.R. Smith was suspended for the first two games against the Bulls. So Blatt needed two new starters on Monday.

Iman Shumpert was the easy choice. And with the fifth starter, Blatt could have chosen to go big (Tristan Thompson), small (Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones or Mike Miller), or in between (Shawn Marion).

He went with Miller, which turned out to be a mistake. In Miller’s 16 minutes, the Bulls outscored the Cavs, 44-24. The score of the other 32 minutes was Cavs 68, Bulls 55.

The Bulls’ 44 points in 16:08 (to be exact) translates into 131 points over 48 minutes. And Game 1 was one of the slowest paced games of the postseason thus far.

It’s no surprise that Blatt was sacrificing defense for offense with the decision to start Miller. For one, the 35 year old isn’t very mobile. And secondly, big vs. small seems to be a defense or offense proposition for the Cavs no matter the specific personnel on the floor, as their no-Love numbers prior to the Bulls series spelled out.

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The Cavs’ defensive issues in Game 1 weren’t all about Miller. There was also evidence of LeBron James being uncomfortable playing power forward defensively and just simple miscommunication. And it all was on display in the first six minutes of the first quarter.

Possession 1 – The hard hedge

After a baseline screen, Jimmy Butler has the ball in the corner, where he gets another screen from Joakim Noah, who’s being defended by James.

James hedges hard to keep Butler pinned in the corner…

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Noah sees this and slips the screen, cutting toward the basket. Butler gets him the ball and Miller comes to help from the opposite corner…

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That leaves Mike Dunleavy all alone and he hits a three to open the scoring.

Possession 3 – The switch

Noah slips a side pick and roll with Butler and then gives him back the ball on the move. Shumpert had been icing the pick-and-roll (getting between the ball-handler and the screener to keep the ball on the side of the floor), so he’s trailing the play. So James switches onto Butler…

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Butler isn’t able to get the ball to a rolling Noah, but he gets by James on the baseline, gets Shumpert to help, and also draws the attention of Timofey Mozgov, so that Pau Gasol is wide open in the paint…

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Butler actually gets the ball to Derrick Rose instead, and Rose hits another three for the Bulls.

Possession 8 – The mismatch

On this play, James has to pick up Butler in transition, and Miller gets caught on Gasol as a result…

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Noah eventually gets the ball to Gasol for an easy bucket.

Possession 10 – The offensive rebound

The Cavs’ initial defense was fine on this possession, but two bigs are better than one when it comes to rebounding…

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Noah reaches over James for the offensive board, which results in a Butler jumper.

Possession 11 – The retreat

When Noah sets a screen for Rose on a secondary break, James switches. And when Gasol sets another screen, Mozgov doesn’t switch…

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… and Rose steps into a wide-open three.

The Bulls’ lead eventually ballooned to 16 points early in the second quarter. The Cavs came back to tie the game, but never got over the hump.

They allowed 99 points in a slow-paced game and were much worse defensively when James was at the four than when he was at the shooting guard (for less than two minutes with Mozgov, Thompson and Marion all on the floor) or small forward (when they allowed 20 points in about 14 minutes).

Miller’s foot speed was certainly an issue. But so were the Cavs’ lack of size, James not being comfortable defending screeners, and miscommunication.

Blatt will likely go with a different starting lineup in Game 2 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), but there is no obvious solution. Smith will give the Cavs more offensive firepower when he returns in Game 3, but (unless Marion turns back the clock) only Love provided Blatt with the combination of floor spacing on offense and defending bigs on defense. Love obviously isn’t a great defender, but he allowed James to play his more comfortable position on that end of the floor.

Numbers preview: Rockets-Clippers


VIDEO: Inside The NBA: Rockets-Clippers Preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Clippers survived a first round series between two of the three best teams in the league. Game 7 on Saturday was one of the best games we’ve ever seen and the best win in franchise history.

But a new challenge begins Monday. The Clips now face James Harden, Dwight Howard, and a Rockets team that cruised through the first round in five games. And L.A. has to start this series on the road, with a hobbled Chris Paul (or without him).

Houston isn’t exactly healthy. The absence of Patrick Beverley makes defending Paul particularly tough. But the Rockets’ own offense has been strong since the return of Howard, who averaged 16.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in the first round.

Neither Paul (in 10 seasons) nor the Clippers (in 45) have ever been to the conference finals. Getting past the Spurs only got them halfway there. And there’s another Texas team standing in their way.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Rockets-Clippers, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Houston Rockets (56-26)

Beat Dallas in five games.
Pace: 104.4 (1)
OffRtg: 108.6 (4)
DefRtg: 106.1 (10)
NetRtg: +2.5 (7)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. L.A. Clippers: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets first round notes:

L.A. Clippers (56-26)

Beat San Antonio in seven games.
Pace: 96.3 (5)
OffRtg: 104.4 (8)
DefRtg: 106.7 (12)
NetRtg: -2.3 (9)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Clippers first round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 in both locations)
Pace: 100.7
HOU OffRtg: 97.9 (23rd vs. LAC)
LAC OffRtg: 101.9 (11th vs. HOU)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Hawks-Wizards


VIDEO: Arena Link: Al Horford speaks about the Hawks’ Game 6 win.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — For much of the season, the Atlanta Hawks were the best team in the Eastern Conference by a wide margin. Then they were on cruise control over the final month of the season and in the first few games of the first round.

But the Hawks may have rediscovered their mojo as they closed out the Brooklyn Nets in six games. The offense had the ball movement and player movement that made it so successful in the regular season, and the defense locked a surprisingly feisty Nets team down in Game 6.

The Washington Wizards, meanwhile, seemingly changed identities once the playoffs began. They played small, spread the floor and shot 3-pointers against the Toronto Raptors, stunning their opponent and anyone who had watched them all season.

Their new-found offensive success gives them some hope for a trip to the conference finals for the first time since 1979. But the Hawks, though they haven’t been to the next round since 1970, are not the Raptors … on either end of the floor.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Hawks-Wizards, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Beat Brooklyn in six games.
Pace: 96.0 (7)
OffRtg: 103.6 (9)
DefRtg: 99.1 (5)
NetRtg: +4.5 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks first-round notes:

Washington Wizards (46-36)

Beat Toronto in four games.
Pace: 96.9 (3)
OffRtg: 112.5 (1)
DefRtg: 95.4 (2)
NetRtg: +17.0 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards first-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Pace: 98.6
ATL OffRtg: 109.1 (3rd vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 100.1 (16th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Cavaliers-Bulls


VIDEO: Inside the NBA: Looking ahead to Cavs-Bulls

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers swept their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, but came out of it in worse shape than they went in.

Kevin Love is out for the rest of the postseason. And J.R. Smith is suspended for the first two games of the conference semifinals. That will make the Cavs vulnerable at home, where they’re 22-1 since LeBron James returned from his hiatus in mid-January. And it will challenge head coach David Blatt to come up with the right lineup combinations around James and Kyrie Irving.

The Chicago Bulls will be a challenge as well. Though they struggled to finish off the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, the Bulls are healthier than ever. The Bucks series was the first time since Jan. 1 that all five Chicago starters played in six straight games.

Cavs-Bulls in the playoffs brings back memories of Michael Jordan game-winners, but Chicago has lost all three times it has met James in the postseason (2010, ’11 and ’13).

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Bulls, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Beat Boston in four games.
Pace: 95.9 (7)
OffRtg: 110.2 (3)
DefRtg: 97.2 (3)
NetRtg: +13.0 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs’ first-round notes:

Chicago Bulls (50-32)

Beat Milwaukee in six games.
Pace: 95.7 (9)
OffRtg: 101.0 (12)
DefRtg: 90.0 (1)
NetRtg: +11.0 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls’ first-round notes:

The matchup

Season series: Cavs won 3-1 (2-0 in Cleveland)
Pace: 95.8
CLE OffRtg: 105.7 (9th vs. CHI)
CHI OffRtg: 105.7 (13th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes: