Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

One Stat, One Play: A defensive lineup in Cleveland


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Cavs Starting 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday’s Warriors-Cavs game on TNT (8 p.m. ET) is a matchup of the two best starting lineups in the league.

Golden State’s starters have been fantastic all season, leading them to a league-best 44-10 record and top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Cleveland’s starting lineup has been together for just six weeks, but it’s been the league’s best lineup that has played at least 200 minutes.

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Like the Warriors’ starters, the Cavs’ group has been great on both ends of the floor. But the defense has been more important. Cleveland has been a bottom-10 defensive team all season, but they rank 13th since LeBron James returned from his two-week break on Jan. 13.

James has come back with more energy on both ends of the floor. And the addition of Timofey Mozgov have given the Cavs some much-needed rim protection.

Since he arrived from Denver, opponents have shot just 45.0 percent at the rim when Mozgov’s been their to defend it, a mark that ranks sixth in the league and is down from 48.8 percent in his 35 games with the Nuggets.

And Mozgov’s presence has allowed his teammates to defend the perimeter better. Cavs opponents have shot less and worse from 3-point range since James’ return, especially against the Cleveland starters.

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The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a defensive possession where the Cavs are active, aggressive on the perimeter, and on a string, forcing a 24-second violation out of the Washington Wizards.

The Cavs still have a long way to go defensively. They still rank 22nd through Wednesday. But with how good their offense has been (it ranks No. 1 since James’ return), a little improvement on defense can go a long way.

There are a lot of reasons to watch Warriors-Cavs on Thursday. And the success of both starting lineups should have you tuning in right at 8:00.

Heat, Thunder could benefit from easy remaining schedules


VIDEO: GameTime: Will the Thunder make the playoffs?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The unofficial second half of the season gets underway Thursday night with a TNT doubleheader featuring four Western Conference teams looking to improve their position in the standings.

With about 2/3 of the season complete and 432 games left to play, there’s still much to be determined. It will mostly be determined by how each team plays, but also by who each team plays and where each team plays.

With that in mind, we have a breakdown of each team’s strength of schedule going forward.

First, a little explanation. Basic strength of schedule looks at the cumulative record of a team’s opponents. To get a little more advanced, we can look at the average NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of those opponents. A team’s point differential is more indicative of future success than its record.

But there are other factors to how easy or difficult a team’s schedule is. There’s home vs. away and there’s back-to-backs, both for the team and their opponents.

We can account for those by adjusting the opponent’s NetRtg in either direction…

  • plus-2.6* for a road game.
  • minus-2.6 for a home game.
  • plus-2.3** when the team is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the opponent isn’t.
  • minus-2.3 when the opponent is playing the second night of a back-to-back and the team isn’t.

* Home teams have outscored road teams by 2.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
** When one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the rested team has been a plus-2.3 this season.

So the toughest game a team could play would be vs. the Warriors (+12.3) at Oracle Arena (+2.6) on the second night of a back-to-back, when the Warriors didn’t play the night before (+2.3). Nine different teams, including the Spurs on Friday, play such games.

The easiest game would be vs. the Sixers (-10.3) at home (-2.6), with rest and with Philly playing the second night of a back-to-back (-2.3). Three teams — Miami, Denver and New York — play such games.

There’s some math involved, but it’s not too complicated. With that in mind, here’s a look at the Eastern Conference, sorted by average adjusted opponent NetRtg (toughest schedule at the top, easiest at the bottom), but with traditional measures of strength of schedule as well.

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A couple of notes on the East…

  • The Cavs not only have the toughest schedule in regard to the records of their remaining opponents, they’re also on the road for 16 of the 27 games, including 14 of the next 19. That could make it harder for them to make a run at the No. 2 seed.
  • No team in the league has more remaining road games than the Raptors (18).
  • Of the six teams that have a shot at the last two playoff spots, Charlotte and Detroit have the toughest schedules, while Miami and Indiana have the easiest.

Here’s the West…

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  • The Mavs play the toughest set of opponents, but a lot of them will be on the second night of a back-to-back.
  • The Grizzlies have the most remaining back-to-backs. Two of the 10 will finish with visits to the Clippers.
  • The Warriors’ 21 games against teams currently over .500 are two more than any other team has.
  • The Thunder not only have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and some pre-break momentum, but they have an easier schedule than both Phoenix and New Orleans in the battle for the eighth playoff spot. They have the most home-heavy remaining schedule in the league.

If you added a recency factor and used numbers from after Christmas instead of the whole season (which would account for improvement from the Hornets, Pistons and Thunder and regression from the Heat, Kings and Lakers), the schedule would look even easier for Oklahoma City. It would look tougher for Chicago and Washington.

Blogtable: Thankful for a break

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEO: Blake Griffin is expected to miss at least a few weeks as he recovers from surgery

> It’s an extended All-Star break this season, with most teams getting at least 7-8 days off between games. Which team needs this break the most?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIt’s easy to look at teams’ records over their past 10 games or so and point to the one(s) limping into the break at 3-7 or 2-8. But there’s no assurance stepping away from the court will fix anything. My answer is Sacramento – the Kings look like they’ll have a new, permanent coach in George Karl, clearing their air and bringing changes for what’s left of this regular season. 

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Rockets and Clippers in the Western Conference can use the break just to keep the clock ticking on the rehab times of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin. But the Rockets have demonstrated all season that they’re still capable of riding James Harden to wins and DeAndre Jordan showed the good things that can happen when he stepped up Monday night. But the team that could benefit most is Miami. The time off will help Dwyane Wade’s hamstring recover and to make sure Hassan Whiteside’s ankle is 100 percent. The Heat will need them both healthy for the stretch drive if they’re going to hold onto a playoff spot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Clippers and Trail Blazers come to mind first. Not because they have hit a bad stretch, although that too, but because of the prominent injuries. Blake Griffin may be back soon and LaMarcus Aldridge gets a few days to rest his injury, too. Being able to heal without missing a game for a week or so is a help. That would be the case anyway, but especially in the cage match that is the Western Conference standings.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Clippers. They just finished up a tough Grammy road trip and when they return from the break, 11 of their next 14 games are against teams with winning records. Oh, and did I mention Blake Griffin needs perhaps three weeks to heal from elbow surgery? Done, then. Doc Rivers needs this time to help them regroup, find a system to use in Griffin’s absence, and also to study who might become available at or after the trade deadline to improve the bench.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comWith a lot of guys picking up injuries in the last couple of weeks, there are a lot of teams that could use the break to reduce the number of games those guys miss. And obviously, the most important of those guys is Blake Griffin, not only because he’s a great player, but because the Clippers’ bench is so awful. He’s still going to miss a lot of games after the break, but every little bit helps and seven days off is seven days closer to Griffin’s eventual return.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe rest that comes with this extended All-Star break will be enjoyed by all 30 teams. But no one needs the time to fine tune things more than the Oklahoma City Thunder. They need to take a deep breath before making their second half playoff charge. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need a little practice time with Mitch McGary, the Thunder’s second-half X-factor, and they need to make sure they get everyone the needed time to recharge their batteries for what is going to be an absolutely wild ride to the finish.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThere must be a dozen title and/or playoff contenders who are going to benefit. But I’m going to focus on the Thunder, who are fighting with the Pelicans and Suns for the final playoff spot and can use these extra days to renew the health of Kevin Durant.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogUm, all of them? Honestly, I can’t think of a team that doesn’t need a break, except for maybe Atlanta and Golden State, who have been so hot they may not want to disrupt their rhythm. I guess one team that may appreciate a rest more than most is Oklahoma City, which faces an uphill task the rest of the way as they try to fight their way not only toward finally getting everyone healthy but also up and into the postseason. And unlike most teams on the outside looking in, the Thunder will the hunted not the hunters, so they’ll have to do this with a target on their backs. Rest up, Thunder. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Blogtable: Future title team in East

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEOBrandon Knight has proven vital to the Bucks’ revival this season

> If you had to pick which Eastern Conference team will be closer to an NBA title in three years, who would you pick: Bucks, Celtics, Sixers or Knicks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Give me Milwaukee. New York will buy stars, Boston has tradition, Philadelphia is rounding up high draft selections, but I’ve seen up close the changes in the Bucks culture with Jason Kidd and his staff on board. Kidd isn’t a great media guy but he apparently clicks with those in his locker room. The Bucks have several boxes already checked if they keep their guys (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker at forward, Brandon Knight in the backcourt), and more depth than the other three. This isn’t the old Milwaukee culture, either; new ownership has lit a fire under this franchise, with grandiose plans that center on a championship-contending team in a sparkling new arena, with retail and residential development and on and on. The Bucks are thinking of themselves as the little franchise that can.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThis is like asking which three-legged horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby in 2018. Of course, in thoroughbred racing so much is about bloodlines. So without counting in a lottery win by any of the teams this season, I’ll saddle up with a Sixers roster that in three years could include a healthy core of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and Michael Carter-Williams and have the potential of Secretariat. With a foundation of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the continued good work of coach Jason Kidd, the Bucks will have a California Chrome chance. In three years, Danny Ainge’s master plan for the Celtics that began with Brad Stevens as coach could have his team looking like Smarty Jones. And the Knicks, well, that’s why they have glue factories.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Bucks. I don’t know that I would have said that at the start of the season, but Milwaukee has proven that it has the best building blocks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker showed they are real building blocks, not potential in the distant future. They are both better — based on what we saw from Parker in the court, not on his game at this very moment — than any prospect on the other teams you mention. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, but if the topic is three years from now, ‘Melo may be hanging on. Ask again in mid-July. If Joel Embiid looks good in summer league and the 76ers have a good draft and/or add a veteran contributor in trade or free agency, I could see Philly getting close to the front of the line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Bucks, only because I can see more evidence of them turning the corner right now than the Sixers, Celtics and Knicks. The Bucks have at least 2 players with high ceilings, Giannis and Jabari Parker (assuming he returns OK) and a few others with decent ceilings (Khris Middleton, John Henson, Knight). They also own their picks and Jason Kidd seems like he’s made for coaching. Man, if Larry Sanders starts taking his maturity pills … 

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Bucks. They have two young stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker – with high ceilings, more length and athleticism beyond those guys, and a defense that already ranks in the top five. I do like the potential of all the young guys the Sixers have already acquired (with one more top-seven pick on the way), and coach Brett Brown has proven that he can coach defense, too. But there are still more questions to be answered in Philly than there are in Milwaukee.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There is so much that could happen between now and the next three years. Milwaukee appears to be closer than the others to the playoffs, but there is no guarantee they will be anywhere close to sniffing a NBA title. Based on history alone and Danny Ainge’s penchant for rolling the dice on smoething big on the trade and free agent front, I’m going with the Celtics. You have to take risks when you’re talking about contending, and no one is more willing to do that than Ainge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Based on what we know today? It will be the Bucks. They have a young emerging (and inexpensive) roster with at least two future stars and new owners who are promising to adorn their franchise with the best of everything. The big question is whether the owners will be wise enough to recognize what they have in GM John Hammond – or will they want to hire their “own guy?” (If it turns out to be the latter, then I’ll retroactively change my pick to the Celtics.)

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Milwaukee. Only because the Celtics, Sixers and Knicks are all rebuilding with no clear direction to where they are going. At least the Bucks have their core of Giannis, Brandon Knight and, when he gets healthy, Jabari Parker. They have a coach who has shown he can communicate with these players, and new ownership committed to raising everyone’s circumstances. One of these other franchises may come across a pot of gold eventually, but right now they’re still searching for the ends of their rainbows.

Blogtable: Memories of Popovich …

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Team that needs a break? | Top Popovich memory? | East’s future title team?



VIDEO: The Spurs’ superstars reflect on what coach Gregg Popovich has meant to them

> He has 1,000 victories, multiple Coach of the Year awards, five NBA Championships … what’s the one thing (listed or otherwise) that stands out most in your mind about Gregg Popovich’s NBA coaching career?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’ll count down my top three Popovich thoughts. At No. 3, his maneuver to land Tim Duncan largely has been forgotten,but it was a tank job before people even called it tanking; David Robinson was hurt, so Popovich gassed then-coach Bob Hill and took over the coaching reins to make sure the Spurs had a legit lottery shot at their all-time franchise guy. Second, few coaches intimidated me as much when I first started covering him – I felt his early attack mode was driven at least partly by his own discomfort in those media exchanges – but now that we know each other, I look forward to the conversations (not mere interviews) we can have. And my No. 1 thing is Popovich’s resiliency. He went from defensive grinder to offensive innovator in mid-career to adjust to his roster, and he somehow turned the ultimate defeat in 2013 into the inspiration for yet another title with a group whose window allegedly had slammed shut.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: His unwavering dedication to doing whatever is in the long-term best interest of his players. It has cultivated an atmosphere of belief, loyalty, respect and those five championships.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comNone of the above. Nothing speaks to his greatness more than the accomplishments you listed, but I have ways been struck by the emotional more than the tangible. Pop’s ability to know which players need more maturing and which can handle his fury (Tony Parker) is a quality that brings out the best. He has developed younger players, plugged in veterans, completely changed his team’s style of play and hired great assistants because Gregg Popovich knows people as well as he knows an X or an O.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, it’s hard to ignore his championships or longevity, both of which will be written on his coaching tombstone once he retires. But the other thing that strikes me most is his ability to avoid the relationship issues that hurts so many coaches, even the successful ones. With few exceptions, maybe Stephen Jackson in his second stint with the Spurs, I can’t think of any player who ran afoul of Popovich. That’s hard to pull off for a guy who isn’t afraid to, um, express himself.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Popovich often tells his players, “Get over yourself” and he clearly listens to his own advice, because, though he’s won multiple championships, he’s always been open-minded and willing to adjust as the game and his team have evolved. As Tim Duncan got older Tony Parker got better, the Spurs went from relying more on post-ups to relying more on pick-and-rolls. They picked up things from offenses from Europe and from Mike D’Antoni to eventually evolve into the machine we saw in last year’s Finals. And in the summer of 2012, they took a step back and used analytics to figure out how to get back to being a top-five defensive team, which was the biggest reason they got back to The Finals and, on their second try, won a fifth championship. Popovich is an old-school coach in many ways, but he’s smart enough to know that he’ll never stop learning.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The thing that stands out most in my mind about Pop is that he has always found a way to get the best out of guys who someone else either never believed in or gave up on. Boris Diaw is one of the best examples. I watched Boris struggle with his first steps in the league when the Hawks could not figure out what to do with him (was he a point guard or not?). The Spurs have gotten the very best out of Boris, thanks to Pop’s no-nonsense/tough-love approach. He’s a master at the most important part of the coaching game, getting you to operate at your absolute best, no matter what.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: He established the standards of teamwork while bridging the NBA toward its ultimate future as an international league. The day will come – many years from now, but it’s definitely on the way – when Americans will account for less than half of the league’s players. Popovich showed that NBA teams could win not in spite of the international players, but because of them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: That he’s had exactly two head coaching jobs in his life. One at a Division III college, and then the one in the NBA where he’s won five titles and three Coach of the Year awards over two decades. Without naming names, there are coaches who bounce around and get opportunity after opportunity, and sure, sometimes it works and they finally find the right fit. But watching Pop’s success, and that of a guy like his longtime assistant Mike Budenholzer crushing it in his first head coaching gig, it makes me think that maybe there are times when it’s worth it to give the new guy a chance.

One Stat, One Play: Mid-range Aldridge


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Aldridge from mid-range

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The mid-range shot is the worst shot on the floor, worth only 0.80 points per shot across the league. A bad 3-point shooter (30 percent) scores as many points per shot as a good mid-range shooter (45 percent).

No player takes nearly as many mid-range shots as LaMarcus Aldridge, who has led the league each of the last three seasons.

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Aldridge doesn’t shoot mid-range shots well enough for them to be an efficient option by themselves. But the Blazers have been one of the league’s best offenses over the last three years, combining Aldridge’s post-up game with Damian Lillard‘s playmaking and the most prolific 3-point shooting outside of Houston.

Most of the time, the Blazers enter the ball directly to Aldridge in the mid post and let him go to work one-on-one. According to SportVU, Aldridge leads the league in isolations this season.

But the Blazers can get Aldridge better looks by putting him on the move, with Lillard drawing the attention of the defense and getting it to Aldridge in his comfort zone (the left side of the floor) with space.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring a couple of plays where the Blazers do just that. According to SportVU, Aldridge has shot 53 percent off the catch and 45 percent on uncontested jumpers, but just 41 percent off the dribble and 34 percent on contested jumpers this season.

The Blazers host the Phoenix Suns in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

Blogtable: The Suns should root for …?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs’ resurgence | Phoenix should root for …? | Atlanta’s final destination?



VIDEOA challenging stretch of games lie ahead for the Thunder

> The Thunder and Pelicans play a home-and-home set this week (Wednesday and Friday). If you’re the Phoenix Suns, who you rooting for here?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: You always root for the team that’s closer to you in the standings, so you root for OKC now and, if the Thunder start to make a real move, for New Orleans later. Overall, though, I think OKC poses the greater threat to Phoenix by virtue of its two stars (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) vs. one (Anthony Davis) but even more so because of the pressure on and expectations for the Thunder. Desperation is great motivation, and OKC should be desperate to salvage its season lest someone slam its championship window shut.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Definitely the Pelicans. The last thing you want to see if you’re the Suns is for the Thunder to get on a roll. With Durant and Westbrook, OKC has greater firepower and greater potential. We keep thinking that sooner or later the Thunder will rip off a long winning streak. The Suns need to have more weeks on the calendar pass before that happens and hope that OKC just runs out of time. On the other hand, the Pelicans have more weaknesses and inconsistency to their game to believe they can run the table for a long stretch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comOKC to win one of the games in 12 overtimes followed by a dreadful travel delay for both, then New Orleans to win the other in 14 overtimes followed by travel hassles that are even worse. With fire alarms going off all through the night in the hotels of both road teams. That’s my rooting interest if I’m the Suns. It’s too early to scoreboard watch beyond hoping the competition is as worn out as possible for the second half of the season. I think Thunder when it’s OKC-Phoenix, I think Pelicans when it’s NOLA-Phoenix.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe Pelicans must’ve started eating whatever the Hawks were having because suddenly they’re pulling a surprise, beating the Raptors, Mavericks, Clippers and the 19-game-winning Hawks in the last two weeks. That said … if I’m the Suns, I’d take my chances of being chased by Anthony Davis than Russell and Durant. OKC is the more desperate team, in terms of making the playoffs. New Orleans would just be happy to be there.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Pelicans. They have a two-game edge in the standings and they’ve been playing a lot better than the Thunder, with seven wins in their last eight games against other teams in the West’s top 10, along with an impressive victory over the Hawks on Monday. But the Thunder are playing solid defense and just can’t seem to put the ball in the basket. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I think they can figure out how to do that in the next two months. They’ve also won 12 of their last 14 games at home and have the West’s most home-heavy remaining schedule (20 home, 14 away). So, as Tony Montana would say, “C’mon Pelicans!”

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Pelicans. The Suns have enough drama in their lives just trying to hold on to that playoff spot that they couldn’t snag last year. They don’t need Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the Thunder making things even more difficult. The Pelicans, playing better of late with Tyreke Evans finding his groove, don’t scare you the way the Thunder can when they get rolling. The Suns need to handle their own business, of course. But the Pelicans don’t make you nervous in the same way the Thunder can when they are playing desperation ball down the stretch of the season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You are rooting for New Orleans – but in vain, I fear. With more than two months still to play, OKC has plenty of time to get hot and become the most dangerous No. 8 seed in memory. That’s the most likely outcome, so long as the Thunder are healthy, and regardless of their home-and-home vs. Anthony Davis.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogA split? Can both teams lose? The Suns are in a tough spot, with two good teams breathing down their necks with the postseason not all that far away. As great as the Pelicans looked in dismantling the Hawks earlier this week, they’ve struggled to play with that kind of purpose consistently, which to me is mostly a reflection of their youth and inexperience. OKC may be hovering at .500, but they seem oddly calm considering the circumstances, and not really close to hitting the panic button. So if I’m the Suns? I root for the Pelicans to get these two games on the Thunder, then hope that the Pelicans fly closer to earth down the stretch.

 

 

Blogtable: What’s changed for the Cavs?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs’ resurgence | Phoenix should root for …? | Atlanta’s final destination?



VIDEOJason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal discusses the state of the Cavs

> Don’t look now, but the Cavs are on an 11-game streak and seem to have figured out a thing or two about winning in the last few weeks. What has made the difference for this team, and will it last?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m tempted to say sheer time – y’know, the weeks and months many of us talked about that Cleveland would need to get all its who’s, what’s and how’s in order (and then impatiently ignored). Clearly GM David Griffin’s moves to acquire Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have helped. But to me, it was LeBron James’ two-week spa shutdown. James got himself right mentally and physically, while delivering a not-so-subtle message about what life without him might be like again. He came back rejuvenated and the Cavs’ players and coaches closed ranks around him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: A Healthy LeBron and a healthy defense. In the last nine games of the streak the Cavs have held opponents to under 100 points and shooting no better than 44 percent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s too easy to say giving Dion Waiters, the Josh Smith of January, an outbound ticket changed everything. As bad a fit as he was in Cleveland, he was not a central figure on the court. But sometimes trades have emotional impact. It can put pressure on the remaining players that they are out of excuses. And other times, it’s simply a matter of time. The Cavaliers had a lot to figure out and needed time. I was surprised how much figuring out was necessary and how bad things got, but thought it was a team still capable of a playoff run. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are going good while playing together. This isn’t the end result, but it’s a very encouraging midseason progress report for the Cavs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, the main difference is LeBron. Back from injury, and back with a vengeance. He’s more aggressive, unforgiving and business-like than before. The secondary force, of course, lies from the two trades which may have saved the Cavs’ season. Timofey Mozgov is the big fella they needed, especially defensively, while J.R. Smith is very willing to take big shots (and sometimes makes them). If Iman Shumpert can still D-up, the Cavs might be streaking for a while.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The improvement has been on both ends of the floor, and it starts with LeBron James. Upon returning from his eight-game absence, he took on a bigger load offensively (his usage rate is up) and made more of an effort defensively. When he’s engaged, he’s still the best player in the world. The addition of Timofey Mozgov has also helped the D (the Cavs have allowed less than 93 points per 100 possessions with both James and Mozgov on the floor), and the subtraction of Dion Waiters (the team’s least efficient scorer) also helped the O.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The main difference is the tweak the Cavaliers have made to their pick and roll defensive coverages and the way … haha. Come on, you know LeBron James has made the biggest difference for this team in their turnaround. The moment he returned from his injury/rest and rehab hiatus he’s been a different player and the Cavaliers have been a different team. For all the bellyaching folks did about him he appeared to be something other than engaged early on, LeBron is locked in right now. He’s smart enough to know that he can make the difference for a team with aspirations of being a contender (check the rear view for what’s going on in Miami). When he’s plugged in and energized, everything the Cavaliers do looks different and, for the most part, much better. You are welcome David Blatt. Sincerely, LJ.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t it all come down to LeBron’s good health? When fully active he’s able to help everyone else look better, on defense especially. And isn’t it funny how we’re not hearing complaints about David Blatt’s supposed weaknesses anymore …

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogWell, there’s one pretty clear difference that kicked in right around the time this streak started, and his initials are LBJ. But other than being 11-1 since LeBron returned from injury, the main thing I see is that now the Cavs are playing with real speed. After a wobbly start, they’re the running, pace-setting team we expected they would be when they began their extreme makeover this summer. They’ve scored at least 100 points in 11 of their last 13 games and are good enough defensively to have held their last nine opponents under triple figures.

 

Blogtable: The road ahead for Atlanta

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Cavs’ resurgence | Phoenix should root for …? | Atlanta’s final destination?



VIDEOThe Starters point out an area of concern for the Hawks

> The Hawks’ historic winning streak is over, but their season, of course, is not. How will this all end for Atlanta? Will we still be talking about the Hawks in late May? In June?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI still like Cleveland to get out of the East, though a Finals in Atlanta would be a thoroughly unexpected hoot. The Hawks have been good for the league – you don’t need megastars to win, see? – and a conference championship between them and the Cavs would be as much a referendum on modern team-building as it would be a best-of-seven playoff showdown. Can’t say I fully trust their perimeter-based attack in the grinding postseason, and the absence in Atlanta’s rotation of someone like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving to get whistles and earn easy points could swing a game or two at the least opportune time. Anything less than three rounds, though, would be a disappointment now to all concerned, so yeah, I think the Hawks keep flying and ka-kawing till about Memorial Day.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: There is nothing flukey about the Hawks. They’re a solid lineup with three legitimate All-Stars, arguably a deserving fourth in Kyle Korver and with good depth with a fun young wild card in Dennis Schroeder. They’re a top six team in offensive and defensive ratings thanks to the job done by Coach of the Year candidate Mike Budenholzer. They move the ball a la the Spurs, play for and with each other. I’m definitely expecting to see them still playing in late May and, at this point, a push all the way to the NBA Finals isn’t out of the question. The Hawks are for real.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: May, yes. June, maybe. A lot of what happens in the playoffs depends on matchups, so lets wait and see. But if you’re asking if the Hawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwks are legit threats to make The Finals: absolutely. This is no good run. This is a team that has been coming since last season. The first half of 2014-15 is a convincing body of work.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI like the Hawks. When you play good defense, find the open man and make 3-pointers, you tend to go far in the postseason. Provided that there’s no lapse in those areas, I don’t see why the Hawks can’t reach the East finals or even win the conference. Of course, Atlanta’s been healthy. We still haven’t seen the real Bulls, or the real Cavs. Can I reserve my final judgment until then?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I really have no idea. I think they’ll finish the regular season with the best record in the East and it wouldn’t shock me to see them in The Finals. But I still don’t know what to make of Chicago, which has all the tools to be a great team on both ends of the floor, or Cleveland, which has the world’s best player and a strong supporting cast if they can all get on the same page. Especially with the defensive upgrades that the Cavs have made, it’s impossible to dismiss either of those teams as potential postseason roadblocks.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You mean Hawks fans won’t be satisfied with the fifth-best winning streak in league history and a first-round playoff exit? Kidding, of course. The optimist in me can see the Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals and me throwing a monster barbecue here at headquarters for my NBA.com brothers who travel back and forth between Atlanta and Cleveland or Chicago for that series. I think they are that good and the foundation of what coach Mike Budenholzer has built is that sound. It’s a winning formula that translates to the postseason. If you get that far, June is certainly a possibility. I think this is a season where we’re going to get some new blood in The Finals. I’m rooting for new blood on both sides of the conference divide — no offense to the blue bloods.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: You’re asking whether they’ll be maintaining this high level three months from now. That’s a long run for a team that has never been in this position before. If they could pull it off, then it would be one of the most inspiring performances of this era. But think about it – the reason it would be so inspiring is because it would be so unlikely for a team without stars to dominate this star-driven league.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me the key thing here is, “How will all this end for Atlanta?” Because regardless of how this ends for the Hawks, considering the recent history and relationship between the city of Atlanta and the Hawks, this season is pretty much the greatest thing that could have happened. Fans are excited and energized and they are so, so ready to embrace a winner. Winning 19 in a row in the regular season is incredible, no doubt, but if the Hawks lose early in the postseason, you’ll probable hear some grumbles around town of “Same old Hawks…” The only way to keep Atlanta invested? Keep winning.

Pacers could take advantage of rough Eastern Conference


VIDEO: Recap: Rodney Stuckey scores 22 points as the Pacers defeat the Knicks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder are fighting for the final playoff spot. And, unless the Dallas Mavericks continue to slide, two of those teams will miss the postseason.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, we’re going to have two playoff teams out of a group that includes …

  • The 20-25 Miami Heat, who are missing Dwyane Wade for the next 2-3 weeks.
  • The 19-27 Charlotte Hornets, who have the league’s worst offense outside of Philadelphia and are without Kemba Walker until at least mid-March.
  • The 18-27 Brooklyn Nets, who are looking to trade their three highest paid players and are 3-17 against teams currently over .500.
  • The 16-28 Boston Celtics, who have already traded two of their three highest paid players and just lost to the 8-37 Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • The 17-30 Detroit Pistons, who are 0-3 with a 20-point loss to the Sixers since losing Brandon Jennings for the season.
  • The 17-31 Indiana Pacers, who rank 28th offensively and are 2-8 in their last 10 games, with losses to the Sixers, Wolves, and Hornets.

Oof.

The good thing about the East is that there’s some fresh blood at the top. The top six teams in the standings won a total of one playoff series last year, so we’re going to have a lot of new faces in the conference semifinals.

But who will take those last two playoff spots? The numbers could help us with the forecast.

First, with apologies to Bill Parcells, let’s accept the notion that the standings don’t tell us everything about how well or how poorly a team has played.

Point differential is a better predictor of future success than wins and losses. And there’s a formula to calculate how many wins a team should have (“expected wins”) based on their point differential. That formula says that both the Pacers and Celtics should have about three more wins than they do.

20150130_expected_wins

Indiana has a better NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) than Brooklyn, but is 2 1/2 games behind the Nets in the standings, in part because the Pacers are 11-18 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, and the Nets are 11-11.

The Celtics, meanwhile, have the eighth best NetRtg in the East (just a hair behind the Heat), but are 8-16 in close games.

Among the group of teams listed above, the Pistons, Heat and Hornets have played the toughest schedule thus far. But the Celtics aren’t fare behind. And going forward, the schedule favors the Pacers.

Indiana actually has more games remaining vs. teams that are currently at or above .500 than vs. teams that are below. But they have six more home games than road games and have 13 games left against teams that are playing the second night of a back-to-back.

When you adjust for those situations, the Pacers have the easiest schedule of the six teams that have between 17 and 20 wins in the East …

20150130_future_sched

Of course, the Pacers are just 9-12 at home and just 4-7 against teams on the second night of back-to-back. As noted above, they’ve lost to both the Wolves and Sixers this month.

But when you take into account some bad luck in close games and a favorable future schedule, they have a decent chance of moving up from 12th to seventh or eighth.