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Numbers preview: Hawks-Celtics


VIDEO: Hawks vs. Celtics: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Atlanta Hawks took a step backward this season. After leading the Eastern Conference with a franchise-record 60 wins last season, they were unable to recapture the magic they had on the offensive end of the floor.

But while Atlanta isn’t the offensive team that it was a year ago, it has become an elite team defensively. The Hawks ranked second in defensive efficiency, and first since late December. And because they’re healthier this year, they may be a better playoff team than they were in 2015.

You can say the same thing about the Boston Celtics, who, like the Hawks, got swept out of the 2015 playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics made one key addition (Amir Johnson) this year, but also got better with internal improvement. And like the Hawks, they’ve done their best work on the defensive end of the floor.

The Hawks are making their ninth straight playoff appearance, a streak that began with a first-round loss to Boston in 2008. This is a much different Celtics team, one that seemingly has more steps to take in the future. Atlanta has home-court advantage and won the season series, but these teams were even in the Eastern Conference standings.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 4-5 series in the East, 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 (48-34)

Pace: 99.4 (8)
OffRtg: 103.0 (18)
DefRtg: 98.8 (2)
NetRtg: +4.1 (7)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Hawks notes:

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Boston Celtics (48-34)

Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 103.9 (13)
DefRtg: 100.9 (5)
NetRtg: +3.0 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Celtics notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 3-1 (2-0 in Atlanta)
Nov. 13 – Celtics 106, Hawks 93
Nov. 24 – Hawks 121, Celtics 97
Dec. 18 – Hawks 109, Celtics 101
Apr. 9 – Hawks 118, Celtics 107

Pace: 103.3
ATL OffRtg: 107.0 (4th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 99.3 (15th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Warriors-Rockets


VIDEO: Warriors-Rockets: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — It was a record-setting season for the Golden State Warriors: 73 wins, 24 to start the season, 1,000 3-pointers, and a full, 82-game slate without ever losing two straight.

These Warriors will stand as one of the best teams in NBA history no matter what happens in the next nine weeks. But if they don’t cap this historic season with another championship, all those records will come with a mental asterisk.

At no point in the season did the Warriors lose more than twice in any seven-game stretch. So it’s difficult to imagine them losing four in seven in the playoffs. But stranger things have happened. The quest for a repeat begins with 4-7 games against the league’s most disappointing team. The Houston Rockets are lucky to be here after 15-game drop in the standings from last season.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 1-8 series in the West, 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 (73-9)

Pace: 101.6 (2)
OffRtg: 112.5 (1)
DefRtg: 100.9 (4)
NetRtg: +11.6 (2)

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

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Warriors notes:

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Houston Rockets (41-41)

Pace: 100.1 (7)
OffRtg: 105.5 (8)
DefRtg: 105.6 (21)
NetRtg: -0.2 (15)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Rockets notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 3-0 (2-0 in Houston)
Oct. 30 – Warriors 112, Rockets 92
Dec. 31 – Warriors 114, Rockets 110
Feb. 9 – Warriors 123, Rockets 110

Pace: 102.1
GSW OffRtg: 113.9 (3rd vs. HOU)
HOU OffRtg: 102.0 (13th vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Raptors-Pacers


VIDEO: Raptors vs. Pacers: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Is this the year the Toronto Raptors get it done?

In their 21-year history, the Raptors have never won a best-of-7 playoff series. Their only series victory came in 2001, when the first round was a best-of-5. Each of the last two seasons, they had home-court advantage in the first round, lost it in Game 1, and got knocked out by a lower seed. So, after a third straight year of setting a franchise record for regular-season wins, there’s added pressure on Dwane Casey and his team to finally take the next step.

The Indiana Pacers are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. They said goodbye to the frontline that helped them get to the conference finals twice and tried to change their identity, but eventually settled back into being a team that played two traditional bigs, did its best work on defense, and struggled to score.

This is the only first-round matchup between a team that ranks in the top five in offensive efficiency and one that ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency. And it may be determined by the Pacers’ ability to score against what has been an improved Toronto defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 2-7 series in the East, 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

Toronto Raptors (56-26)

Pace: 95.3 (29)
OffRtg: 107.0 (5)
DefRtg: 102.7 (11)
NetRtg: +4.3 (6)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Indiana: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

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Indiana Pacers (45-37)

Pace: 99.0 (10)
OffRtg: 102.4 (23)
DefRtg: 100.2 (3)
NetRtg: +2.2 (11)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Pacers notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-1 (2-0 in Toronto)
Oct. 28 – Raptors 106, Pacers 99
Dec. 14 – Pacers 106, Raptors 90
Mar. 17 – Raptors 101, Pacers 94 (OT)
Apr. 8 – Raptors 111, Pacers 98

Pace: 98.5
TOR OffRtg: 100.2 (14th vs. IND)
IND OffRtg: 98.9 (19th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Analytics Art: Derrick Rose bouncing back to form despite Bulls meltdown

By Ben Leibowitz, special to NBA.com

Amid the Chicago Bulls’ ill-timed slump and fall from the Eastern Conference playoff picture (they’re one game back from the No. 8 seed Indiana Pacers heading into action on April 2), Derrick Rose has been playing his best basketball in years.

The 2011 NBA MVP has dealt with a barrage of injuries since establishing himself as one of the league’s best players. He’s missed 224 of a possible 403 regular season games since being named Most Valuable Player, primarily due to devastating knee injuries.

He’s already played the most games in a season since 2010-11 this year, and staying healthy has allowed Rose to knock off years of rust. While he struggled throughout the first half of the season, he’s mostly shined since the All-Star break. In fact, his stats since All-Star Weekend are actually somewhat comparable to his MVP season.

After averaging 21.9 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds throughout February, Rose has continued to play well via efficiency through March. In the “Shooting” tab within the visualization, you can see Rose was particularly dead-on from beyond the arc. He drained 40.5 percent of his attempts from distance in 15 games — significantly better than his career mark of just 30.4 percent from three-point territory.

That marksmanship from distance is unheard of for Rose, who has always been more of a slasher who uses his pure athletic talents to get to the bucket and score. But he’s reinvented himself of late by scoring with efficiency from inside and outside the arc.

Unfortunately, Rose was ruled out for the second half of Chicago’s most recent game against the Houston Rockets. He went scoreless on zero shot attempts in 12 minutes of action before being shut down to nurse an elbow ailment.

The Bulls have work to do if they’re going to make it into the playoff picture by season’s end. They play a big game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, but it remains to be seen if D-Rose will be back to action and playing as well as he has been of late. Coupled with struggles from Jimmy Butler — who has reached the 20-point plateau just twice since returning from injury on March 14, Chicago fights an uphill battle.

Note: This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz (https://twitter.com/BenLebo) is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

 

Offensive improvement in Charlotte


VIDEO: NBA Rooks: Frank Kaminsky — Taking Stock

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Charlotte Hornets have been the league’s most improved offensive team this season, having scored 6.8 points per 100 possessions more than they did last season. That’s a bigger jump than the Oklahoma City Thunder have made by getting more than twice as many games from Kevin Durant as they did last year.

The Hornets are the only team that has gone from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in offensive efficiency.

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There are two big factors in the Hornets’ improvement. First is the additions of Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin. Second is the improved shooting of Kemba Walker. And the two really go hand in hand.

Through his first four seasons, Walker had the lowest effective field goal percentage (44.0 percent) among 151 players who took at least 2,000 shots over that time. And he hadn’t shown much improvement from year to year.

This season, though, Walker is one of the league’s most improved shooters. Among 109 players who have taken at least 500 shots both last season and this season, only Kenneth Faried has seen a bigger jump in effective field goal percentage.

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The additions of Batum and Lin have certainly had an effect on Walker. In fact, Walker has an effective field goal percentage of 54.4 percent on passes from Batum or Lin, and just 46.2 percent on passes from any of his other teammates.

“They give me more space,” Walker said after the Hornets’ win in Brooklyn on Tuesday. “I’ve always been good at creating my own space and those guys just help me get extra space.”

It makes sense. With extra playmakers and better shooters, there’s less pressure on Walker to carry the offense. And when the initial action of a possession is taken away by the defense, there is somebody on the weak side who can better take advantage of a close-out.

What doesn’t necessarily correspond with the additions of Batum and Lin is that Walker is shooting off the dribble as much as he did last season. According to SportVU, 75 percent of his jump shots have been pull-up jumpers, a slight increase over last season (74 percent). Only 32 percent of his buckets have been assisted, down from 35 percent last season.

But Walker has shot a higher percentage of those pull-up jumpers from 3-point range, and and shot 32.0 percent on pull-up 3s. That’s still below the league average (35.3 percent), but is a big improvement from his pull-up 3-point percentage last season (25.6 percent). Walker isn’t exactly Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard, but he already has more than twice as many pull-up 3s in 2015-16 (70) as he had in 2014-15 (32).

“A lot of the credit does go to those guys for giving me the opportunity to get open shots,” Walker said. “But at the same time, I still got to make them.”

“He put in the work,” Al Jefferson added. “Playing with Nic and playing with Jeremy is one thing, but he’s still able to knock down shots and get his shots off.”

The Hornets have been a top-10 defensive team in each of Steve Clifford‘s three seasons in Charlotte. But in the Bobcats/Hornets’ first 11 seasons in the league, they never ranked better than 23rd in offensive efficiency. Now, with the league’s most improved offense, they’re one of only five teams (and one of only two in the Eastern Conference) that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor.

Those are the makings of a team that will be a tough out in the playoffs.

Numbers notes: Close games have kept Grizzlies afloat


VIDEO: Antetokounmpo’s 15 points and 11 assists lead the Bucks over Memphis on Thursday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies are having a weird season. Right now, they’re just trying to survive with Marc Gasol out for the season and a plethora of other injuries. Seven other Grizzlies missed Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee and only three guys — JaMychal Green, Ryan Hollins and Jarell Martin — have played all 10 games in March. Hollins was signed in January and Martin had played in four games prior to this month.

On Monday, with eight guys out, the Grizzlies lost by 49 points in Houston. It was the second time this season that they’ve lost by at least that many points, having lost 119-69 at Golden State in their fourth game of the season.

The Grizzlies are 2-9 in games decided by 18 points or more and have been outscored by 112 points this season, the ninth best mark in the Western Conference. Yet, they’re 39-30 and in fifth place, despite a four-game losing streak.

Only the Warriors (24-1) and Spurs (15-6) have been better in games that were within five points in the last five minutes than the Grizzlies, who are 25-12 in those games. Memphis has both a top-five offense and a top-five defense in clutch situations.

The Western Conference point differential standings would have the Spurs as the top seed in the West and the Jazz as the five seed, with the Grizzlies in the Lottery. In the East, the Pistons would be in and the Bulls would be out.

With all their injuries, the Grizzlies are seemingly sinking in the real standings, and they have the toughest remaining schedule among teams currently seeded 5-9 in the West. But they still have a four-game lead for fifth place, because the teams behind them haven’t posed much of a threat to move up. The sixth-place Blazers have lost six of their last eight games, struggling against a tough schedule. The seventh-place Rockets are 9-12 since late January and the eighth-place Mavs have lost six of their last seven.

Defensive discrepancy in and out of Utah

The ninth-place Jazz have won four straight after a 3-10 stretch and are just a game behind the Rockets and Mavs. But the Jazz play their next five games on the road, where they haven’t defended nearly as well they have at home. In fact, no team has a bigger home-road differential in defensive efficiency than Utah.

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Even since they got Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back from injuries, the Jazz have struggled to get stops away from home. They’ve allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions over the 11 road games since Favors returned in late January.

After trading Enes Kanter and promoting Gobert to starting center, the Jazz were the league’s best defensive team, by a wide margin, after the All-Star break last season. They’ve been a good defensive team this year, but haven’t been able to replicate last year’s late-season success.

Utah’s five-game trip begins Saturday in Chicago and includes two games against top-10 offenses, including a critical game in Houston next Wednesday.

The Jazz, though, do have a much easier remaining schedule than the Mavs, who look like the pick to miss the playoffs.

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Backing their way in

The Grizzlies’ season-long mark of minus-112 wouldn’t be close to being the worst plus-minus for a playoff team. Last year’s Nets (minus-236) claimed eighth place in the East by winning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Indiana, who had a positive plus-minus (plus-23) for the season.

The Nets’ mark was the worst raw point differential for a playoff team since the 1991-92 Miami Heat (minus-345). That Heat team (38-44) is one of two since the 1970-71 season that won 10 more games than their point differential said they should. They made the playoffs with a point differential of a 28-54 team.

The 1985-86 Clippers also had a 10-game differential between their actual wins (32) and “expected” wins (22), a mark that could be eclipsed by this year’s Grizzlies with another loss by 40-plus. And with four more games against the Spurs and Warriors, that’s a real possibility.

Numbers notes: Thunder get stagnant with the game on the line


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s 33 points lift Warriors past Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Oklahoma City Thunder had some problems down the stretch of games against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. The Thunder were outscored 18-7 in the final 4:33 of the fourth quarter against Golden State and 22-3 in the final 4:59 at L.A.

Ugly endings, of course, put the Thunder’s late-game offense under scrutiny. It was the story when Scott Brooks was coach and it’s still the story with Billy Donovan now on the bench. In those two games, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot a combined 3-for-16 in the clutch (last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points).

The Thunder rank last in passes per game overall, so it’s not like they play like the Spurs before the game gets late. But it sure seems like things get even more stagnant with the game on the line.

The numbers back that up. According to SportVU, the Thunder were averaging 2.68 passes on non-clutch possessions, but just 2.23 on clutch possessions through Wednesday. 3. Only three of Westbrook’s 33 clutch-time baskets and only 16 of Durant’s 42 clutch-time baskets have been assisted.

Both those passes per possession numbers (clutch and non-clutch) rank in the bottom two of the league, but the drop-off of 17 percent is about the league average. Other teams see a greater reduction…

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The Jazz are that team that throws 2-3 passes at the beginning of most possessions that do nothing. So ball movement is definitely going to go down when they’re more purposefully looking to get the ball into the hands of Gordon Hayward or Rodney Hood to run a pick-and-roll.

The Cavs? Yeah, you can see that.

On the other end of the list are the Spurs, of course. They move the ball whether the game is on the line or not. They rank third with 3.50 passes per possession on non-clutch possessions and first with 3.36 on clutch possessions.


VIDEO: Dissecting OKC’s late-game woes

Bench issues in OKC

Though the Thunder are 2-6 since the All-Star break, their starting lineup has been the league’s best five-man unit that has played at least 250 minutes, having outscored its opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions. In their two games against the Warriors in the last week, the OKC starters were a plus-23 (outscoring the champs 81-58) in 32 minutes.

But all other OKC lineups were a minus-41 and Dion Waiters was a minus-42 in 51:34 in the two games. No other Thunder player was worse than a minus-17.

Donovan has been staggering the minutes of Durant and Westbrook over the last six games, keeping one of them on the floor at all (non-garbage) times. Instead of playing the entire first quarter like he typically had done through the first two games after the break, Durant has been taking a few-minute break midway through the period.

It’s too early to tell if it’s working, but Thursday’s game seemed to be lost in 7:43 stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, where only one of Durant or Westbrook was on the floor. When Durant subbed out at 4:38 of the third, OKC led by nine and by the time both were on the floor together again with 8:55 to go in the fourth, the Thunder were down five.

Would things have been different if they both stayed on the floor together longer and the Thunder played a few minutes of the fourth with neither in the game? Who knows.

In the six games that Donovan has been staggering his stars’ minutes, the Thunder are a plus-4 in 159 minutes with both on the floor and a plus-6 in 130 minutes with only one of the two on the floor. The offense has been great and the defense has been terrible no matter who has been on the floor. More study is needed.

55-5, playing at a disadvantage

There are plenty of numbers to explain how good the Warriors have been this season. Here’s another data point that makes their ridiculous 55-5 record look even more impressive than it looks on the surface…

Thursday’s win over the Thunder was just the sixth game this season in which the Warriors had a rest advantage, where they didn’t play the day before, but their opponent did. Only the Boston Celtics (5) have had fewer such games.

The Warriors have played twice as many games (12) with a rest disadvantage, where they played the night before, but their opponent didn’t. That’s the biggest negative rest-advantage-to-rest-disadvantage differential (-6) in the league.

Of course, they haven’t lost in either situation. The Warriors are 6-0 with a rest advantage and 12-0 with a rest disadvantage. All five of their losses have come when both teams were on the second night of a back-to-back (2-1) or when both teams didn’t play the day before (35-4).

The champs’ differential will be reduced a bit before the end of the season. They have seven games remaining with a rest advantage and five remaining at a disadvantage.

Not taking advantage

On the other end of the spectrum are the New York Knicks, who have played eight more games with a rest advantage (14) than they have with a rest disadvantage (6). No other team has a positive differential of more than three. But the Knicks are just 5-9 with an advantage, having allowed 108.1 points per 100 possessions in those 14 games.

Teams with a rest advantage (160-115) have the same winning percentage (.582) as home teams (530-381) do this season.

Point differential per 100 possessions…
Rest advantage: plus-2.2
Home court: plus-2.3

Remaining schedule breakdown


VIDEO: Damian Lillard a nominee for Kia February Player of the Month

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Portland Trail Blazers are the hottest team outside of Oakland or San Antonio. The Blazers are 21-8 since Christmas and have won 13 of their last 15 games with the league’s fifth-ranked offense and seventh-ranked defense during that stretch.

The Blazers’ run has been impressive, and that they’re even in the mix for a playoff spot is a surprise to almost everyone around the league. They’re currently in seventh place in the Western Conference, three games in the loss column ahead of the ninth-place Jazz, against whom they hold the tiebreaker with three wins in their four head-to-head meetings.

But it’s fair to say that the Blazers have taken advantage of a soft schedule over the last five-plus weeks…

  • Only six of the 15 opponents they’ve played are currently over .500.
  • Only four of the 15 games were on the road.
  • The stretch included only one back-to-back (in Chicago and Indiana this past weekend), but five of the Blazers’ 15 opponents were playing the second night of a back-to-back.
  • Only four of the games were against top-10 defenses, but eight were against bottom-10 defenses.

With the run they’re on and with Utah having lost six of its last eight games, the Blazers’ playoff ticket appears pretty safe. But if the Blazers are going to make their third straight trip to the postseason, they’re going to have to navigate a much tougher schedule over the final six weeks of the season than they have over the last five.

When you take opponent strength, home/road, and back-to-backs into account, only one team — Oklahoma City — has a tougher remaining schedule than the Blazers, who will spend most of March on the road. The trip that started Saturday in Chicago continues this week, and not only are 10 of the Blazers’ next 13 games away from Moda Center, nine of the 13 are against teams with winning records and eight are against top-10 offenses.

Things get a little easier over the final three weeks of the season, when the Blazers will play seven of their final nine games at home and five of those nine against teams with losing records. If they’re still in playoff position on March 25, they’re in great shape.

Here’s a breakdown of the remaining schedules for all 15 teams in the Western Conference…

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A few more Western Conference notes from the remaining schedule…

  • The Warriors haven’t lost a regular season game at home in more than 13 months, and will play 17 of their final 24 games at Oracle Arena. No other team has more than 15 remaining home games.
  • Nine of the Clippers‘ remaining 11 games against top-10 offenses are in a 12-game stretch starting Wednesday. Their schedule gets much easier after March 24, when only four of their final 11 games are against teams that currently have winning records (and one of those is against the Gasol-less Grizzlies).
  • The Grizzlies are the only team that doesn’t have any more games against opponents that are playing the second night of a back-to-back. Every other team has at least two of those games remaining. Memphis has three more soft games this week, but their schedule gets much, much tougher starting next Monday. Seventeen of their final 20 games are against teams over .500 or on the road.
  • The Spurs lead the league in defensive efficiency by a wide margin and have allowed 7.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, the fifth best mark of the last 39 years. But the San Antonio defense will be challenged over the next six weeks more than it has in any other stretch of the season. Only four of the Spurs’ final 23 games are against bottom-10 offenses, while 12 are against to-10 offenses. That includes six games against the teams that rank No. 1 (Golden State) and No. 2 (Oklahoma City) in offensive efficiency.

The bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is even more crowded than it is in the West. Only four games separate the fourth-place Miami Heat from the 10-place Washington Wizards.

The Charlotte Hornets are in the middle of that seven-team pack with a record of 30-28. They’ve been one of the league’s five most improved teams despite injuries to Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as well as what has been the league’s fifth toughest schedule (toughest amongst those East teams in spots 4-10).

Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t coming back and Jefferson has yet to make much of an impact upon returning from a 23-game absence, but the Hornets’ schedule is about to provide some relief. Charlotte has the league’s easiest remaining schedule, with 15 of their final 24 games against teams under .500 and eight of those 15 against the six teams who rank in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Hornets need to start building a cushion right now, though. Eight of their next nine games are at home (where they’re 19-9) and the other is against the Philadelphia 76ers. Things start to get tougher on March 11, when they begin a stretch of eight games in 12 days. They’ll also play nine of their final 12 games away from Time Warner Cable Arena.

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More Eastern Conference notes…

  • The Celtics have the fewest remaining games (21) among teams in playoff contention, but do have a five-games-in-seven-days stretch starting on March 15. The good news is the last two opponents on that stretch (Philadelphia and Orlando) aren’t nearly as tough as the first three (Indiana, Oklahoma City and Toronto).
  • The Cavs have the first three days of March off, but then play five games in seven days to start the rest of their schedule. They have two more five-games-in-seven-days stretches (March 13-19 and March 31 – April 6) after that.
  • The Pistons have a league-low four remaining games against bottom-10 defenses. Three of those games are part of their longest homestand of the season, nine games between March 16 and April 1.
  • The Pacers play 10 more games against teams over .500 and seven of those 10 come in an eight-game stretch from March 4-19. That stretch, though, includes four straight days off from March 8-11. Only three of their final 13 games are against winning teams.
  • The Heat have a league-high 13 remaining games against bottom-10 offenses, including six straight to start March.
  • The Raptors have a busy, 16-game March. They’re off on Monday and Tuesday this week, but only have two more stretches of two straight days off before the end of the season (March 21-22 and April 3-4). Their seven-game homestand to start March is an every-other-day affair.

Numbers notes: The other great shooting backcourt in the NBA


VIDEO: Stephen Curry scores 51 points in Orlando

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Stephen Curry is following up his MVP season with … another MVP season.

On Thursday, Curry set the record for most consecutive games with a 3-pointer and hit 10 of them for good measure. He’s currently 10 away from his own record for most threes in a season (286), and he has 25 games left to play. He has shot an amazing 35-for-56 (62.5 percent) from 28 feet and out.

Klay Thompson, meanwhile, is quietly having the best shooting season of his career. He’s the only player within 100 threes of Curry and ranks fifth in effective field goal percentage among players who have taken at least 500 shots.

There’s no arguing that the Warriors don’t have the best shooting backcourt of all-time. But here’s a fun comparison …

Backcourt A has shot 44.4 percent from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line).
Backcourt B has shot 46.0 percent from mid-range.

Backcourt A has shot 44.3 percent from 3-point range.
Backcourt B has shot 43.9 percent from 3-point range.

Backcourt A has shot 44.3 percent on all shots outside the paint.
Backcourt B has shot 45.0 percent on all shots outside the paint. (more…)

Thomas-less minutes key to Celtics’ surge up East standings


VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas’ top plays from mid-February

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — On the morning of Jan. 13, the Boston Celtics sat in 10th place in the Eastern Conference at 19-19, having lost four straight games.

The last loss in that streak came against the New York Knicks, who have since gone 3-12. The Boston defense, which ranked in the top five, allowed the Knicks to shoot 53 percent and score 120 points in that game.

The Celtics scored 114 points themselves, 65 in a second half they started with a small lineup. At the time, coach Brad Stevens said that small ball was about defense, but it’s been the Celtics’ offense that has improved since then.

The Celtics were a bottom-10 offensive team through that loss in New York. Since then, they’ve been a top-10 offensive team and have gone 13-4 to go from 10th in the East to third.

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Isaiah Thomas has averaged 21.8 points and 6.2 assists over these last 17 games, leading the team in usage rate by a wide margin. But it’s been the minutes with Thomas off the floor that have been more critical to the Celtics’ improvement.

Through Jan. 12, the Celtics were downright awful offensively when Thomas sat down, scoring 94.3 points per 100 possessions, which is worse than the Sixers have been this season. Since Jan. 13, they’ve jumped to 107.9 points per 100 possessions with Thomas off the floor.

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Improved shooting from Jonas Jerebko, Marcus Smart and Tyler Zeller has been critical. But another key has been Stevens settling on a rotation.

Through Jan. 12 (38 games), no lineup that didn’t include Thomas played more than 31 minutes. But in the 17 games since then, the Celtics have a no-Thomas lineup — Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jerebko and Kelly Olynyk — that has played 113 minutes and outscored its opponents by 16.0 points per 100 possessions. Neither Turner nor Smart can shoot very well, but their playmaking is complemented by two shooting bigs. David Lee had played 41 percent of the no-Thomas minutes before Jan. 12, but hasn’t played at all since then.

Some context: Only four of the Celtics’ 17 games in that stretch before the All-Star break were played against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively. They’ll face 10 top-10 defenses in their final 27 games, and that doesn’t include two meetings against the Utah Jazz, who rank 14th for the season, but fifth in the six weeks since Rudy Gobert returned from injury.

The first of those two meetings is Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The game is more important for the ninth-place Jazz, but it will also be a test of the Celtics’ improved, second-unit offense.