Posts Tagged ‘Utah Jazz’

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters in the NBA this week


VIDEO: Utah’s Rodney Hood scores 30 points in first half vs. Lakers

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Teams are fighting for their playoff lives as the calendar turns to April. This week, two Western Conference sharpshooters helped their clubs keep pace in the frantic race happening on the postseason bubble. Meanwhile, a veteran experiencing a bit of a down season up north showed he could still make a difference with his shooting stroke.

PointAfter breaks down the three hottest shooters of the week with interactive visualizations.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between March 25-31.  

Guard: J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were briefly out of the Western Conference playoff picture after losing 10 of their first 13 March contests. Their smallest player propped them back up into a tie for seventh place this week by helping them claim two victories to end the month.

J.J. Barea logged a double-double (18 points, 11 assists) in a nine-point road win over Denver on Monday, then poured in 26 points off the bench in a 91-89 triumph over the Knicks, the most scored by a Dallas reserve this season.

The 31 year old has made at least half his shots in Dallas’ last four games, and he finished March shooting 49 percent from downtown. Barea rediscovering his shooting touch after three mediocre seasons from beyond the arc has helped him post a career-best 15.1 PER this year. He could be an unlikely hero for the Mavericks in their quest for the postseason.

 

Wing: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

For this generation of NBA players, the ultimate compliment when you’re playing the Lakers is having Kobe Bryant ask to guard you. Rodney Hood experienced that on Monday night after he dropped 30 points in the first half of Utah’s clash against Los Angeles. Bryant hardly let Hood touch the ball in the second half, and the second-year wing didn’t score a point in the second half.

No matter — the damage was already done. The game ended up as Bryant’s worst loss of his career, a 48-point shellacking that Hood sparked by making 8-of-9 3-pointers in the first half. He was easily the most dangerous scorer on the court, whether you measure by efficiency or raw point total. No other player scored more than 17 points or came close to matching Hood’s astronomical 115.4 true shooting percentage.

Hood also acquitted himself well in Utah’s overtime loss to Golden State, notching 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting. But it was his utter domination of the Lakers that he’ll remember when he looks back on his “sophomore” season in the league.

 

Forward/Center: Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors

Patrick Patterson has taken a back seat in Toronto’s offense this year, and for good reason. He’s posted career lows in usage rate (12.3 percent), field goal percentage (42 percent) and scoring rate (11 points per 40 minutes). However, he can still provide the occasional boost off the bench for the Raptors.

The stretch-four was 7-of-13 from deep this week, including a 16-point outburst in 20 minutes against New Orleans on Saturday that saw him sink all three of his treys.

Patterson impacts Toronto on offense more than most realize. He shoots 39 percent from deep in the Raptors’ franchise-record 50 victories compared to 33 percent in their losses, and the team’s offensive rating increases by 7.5 points when he’s on the court.

With the six-year veteran launching more 3s than ever before this year (3.8 per game) and providing savvy defensive play, he’s still positively affecting the Raptors despite his reduced role.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws 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 players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — March 31


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs won’t chase 41-0 home mark | Warriors set franchise wins record | Report: Chemistry issues dogging Bulls | Cousins, Rondo face suspension | Russell deals with fallout from video incident

No. 1: Spurs won’t chase perfect home record — The San Antonio Spurs had to endure a fourth-quarter push by the New Orleans Pelicans, but held on last night to win 100-92. The victory moved the Spurs to 38-0 at AT&T Center this season, marking the best home start in NBA history to break the 37-0 record the Chicago Bulls compiled in 1995-96. Three home games stand between home court perfection, but in typical San Antonio fashion, going 41-0 at home means nothing to the Spurs. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com has more:

Gregg Popovich’s blank stare on Wednesday previewed what he would say when asked what it meant for the San Antonio Spurs to run off their 38th consecutive home victory and set a record for the best home start in NBA history.

“Absolutely nothing,” Popovich said. “Maybe a cup of coffee. Maybe.”

While observers might view what’s percolating in San Antonio as special, the Spurs consider the regular-season accolades meaningless if they’re walking away in June without a championship trophy in hand. Most made that abundantly clear in a business-as-usual locker room on the heels of San Antonio’s 100-92 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

“The only thing I see is that we can try and win a championship,” point guard Tony Parker said. “I don’t really think about having a good regular season, how many games we won. It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, the only thing you remember is how many championships you won.”

Manu Ginobili hadn’t played since March 25, as the club deactivated him for matchups on Saturday and Monday at Oklahoma City and Memphis. Ginobili’s last extended rest came in February as the result of testicular surgery, which kept him out of 12 games. Upon return from that setback, Ginobili racked up a season-high 22 points in 15 minutes. After this latest two-game rest, Ginobili came back to the lineup and lit up the Pelicans on 5 of 6 from 3-point range for another 20-point night while tying Leonard for the team high in steals at three.

San Antonio faces Toronto, Golden State and Oklahoma City in its next three home games.

Parker said earlier in the week that he doesn’t expect Popovich to play all the front-line players in either of the remaining matchups against the Warriors (April 7 and April 10). Parker reiterated that point at Wednesday’s shootaround and said it “doesn’t matter to me” when asked about the importance of the club’s current home streak.

Ginobili echoed those sentiments.

“No, it really doesn’t [matter],” Ginobili said. “If we would have lost Game 24, and now we are 37-1, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. Having a 38-game streak or 37-1 is unbelievable, anyway. So I really don’t care about streaks. We know we are having a great season. If we would have lost one more or two more, it wouldn’t change that.”


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich talks after the Spurs’ win Wednesday

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Morning shootaround — March 29


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook nearing stats history | Scott blasts Lakers’ youngsters | Pierce suffers knee, ankle injuries | Warriors aim to tighten up defense

No. 1: Westbrook on brink of NBA history — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook picked up his 16th triple-double last night and OKC improved to 16-0 in those games. What’s more amazing than that perfect mark? How about this: that’s Westbrook’s seventh triple-double in March, the most in a single month since Michael Jordan in 1989. The 16 triple-doubles is two off the all-time mark (held by Magic Johnson) for the most in a season over the last 30 years … and Westbrook still has eight games to play. Oh, and entering this season, Westbrook had 19 career triple-doubles. Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com was on hand for Westbrook’s amazing performance in Toronto and has more on his play this season:

Kevin Durant is asked about Russell Westbrook a lot — about the triple-doubles, about the absurd athletic displays and about the punishing dunks. He sticks to pretty much the same line: He’s not surprised. He has seen that for the past seven years.

After Westbrook followed his own missed free throw in the fourth quarter Monday with a one-handed putback layup in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 119-100 win over the Toronto Raptors, Durant put both hands on his head. Even he was stunned this time.

“That was unreal,” Durant said. “You’ve got to time that right, and you’ve just got to be as athletic as him. There’s only a few … ”

Durant stopped himself.

“Well, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that can do that,” he said. “You’ve got to make the free throw, but I’ll take the two points and the acrobatic play instead. But yeah, he’s a freak of nature, man.”

There aren’t many ways to describe Westbrook anymore. “Freak of nature” seems to do just fine, but that might not be adequate.

The putback was the standout play for Westbrook in what has become a nightly crescendo of highlights for the supernova point guard. He notched his 16th triple-double of the season — 26 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — which ties him with Fat Lever for second most in a season over the past 30 years. With eight games to go, Westbrook is just one off Magic Johnson’s record of 17.

It’s an amazing thing for a triple-double to seem routine, but that’s what Westbrook has done. For some guys, it’s a career accomplishment to get one — remember Andray Blatche running all over the court chasing rebounds a few years ago? — so is it even meaningful to Westbrook anymore?

“It’s something I never take for granted,” he said, “but I like winning.”

That’s what the Thunder do when Westbrook notches a triple-double. They’re now 16-0 in such games this season. They have also ripped off eight straight wins by an average margin of 17.1 points, with seven of those wins coming against playoff teams. The Thunder are hitting their stride as they gear up for the playoffs and are peaking with eight games left in the regular season. It has been the goal all season under coach Billy Donovan to work toward a bigger picture, a “better brand of basketball,” as everyone in the organization likes to say.

Just a few weeks ago, the Thunder hit rock bottom when they lost eight of 12 coming out of the All-Star break. That streak was punctuated by blown fourth-quarter leads and head-shaking losses to bad teams. The message internally was to stick with it, to believe they were playing well, despite the results, and trust it would pay off. It appears that it has.

“I tried to tell you guys that when we were going through it, but it was kind of blinded with the fourth-quarter losses and back-to-back losses. But I tried to tell you guys,” Durant said. “Glad you see it now. It was good to kind of figure ourselves out and what we need to do. It was kind of like a splash of water on your face — just knowing you’ve got to wake up and know the second half of the season is important.”

Donovan also offered his take.

“I think sometimes you’ve got to go through some wounds and some scars and some hurt,” the coach said. “You’ve got to get calloused a little bit. I think as you go through a season, you’ve got to get calloused. Sometimes, the harder and the more difficult the struggle, the more calloused you get, the more hardened you get. I think the more you have a chance to learn and grow — I’ve said this about this team — I don’t think it ever needs to be easy for them. It’s got to be hard.”

Confidence is dripping off the Thunder right now, as evidenced by the 48 minutes of swagger they dropped on the Raptors on Monday.


VIDEO: Best plays from Russell Westbrook’s 16th triple-double this season

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Morning shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr won’t keep Warriors from chasing 73 | Young Jazz get big win on road | LeBron discusses his behavior with coach, GM | Casey won’t risk players’ health for No. 1 seed

No. 1: Kerr won’t stop Warriors from chasing 73 — As the Golden State Warriors have rolled through the 2015-16 season, their success has been compared against that of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who set the NBA single-season record for wins. That Chicago crew amassed 72 wins and Golden State is more than on pace to break that mark. Yet questions remained about whether or not coach Steve Kerr (a reserve on that 1995-96 Bulls team) would led the Warriors pursue the mark … or rest his players for another Finals push. Wonder no more, writes Tim Kawakami of The Mercury News, as both Kerr and star Stephen Curry backed the team’s push for history:

The Warriors are going for 73 regular-season victories — to top the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10 — on their way to an attempt at repeat championships.

Because: Why not?

After weeks of hints and evasions, coach Steve Kerr and star Stephen Curry all but made the official announcement in the hours before Wednesday night’s 114-98 victory over the Clippers at Oracle Arena.

That performance raised the Warriors’ overall record to 64-7, their home record to 33-0 (no team has ever gone undefeated at home for a full regular season) and put an exclamation point on their grand stretch-run plans.

It’s all out there, and the Warriors are no longer going to pretend they don’t know it or want it.

“Now we’re right there,” Kerr said before the game. “That’s pretty enticing.

“It’s really the players’ record. I know they want to get it. So we’ll act accordingly.”

The Warriors’ immediate priority is to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, and the Warriors still have to keep winning games to fend off San Antonio.

And most of all, obviously, the Warriors want to maximize their chances to win back-to-back titles.

A more cautious team — a less historic team — might find a game or two of rest Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green over the next handful of games.

There are risks to going after a record that guarantees them nothing for the playoffs.

So stipulated.

But if they’re all feeling good over these next few weeks, the motivation is clear: The Warriors need nine more victories with 11 to play, and it’s right there for them.

The larger point is that this epic season has been fueled by pure competitive fire, and now that the Warriors are on the brink of history, why would they throttle it down now that it’s tangible?

“It’s probably a different answer for each person,” Curry said after the team’s shootaround Wednesday, “but this is probably a good checkpoint.

“Going 10-2 for us is kind of on pace for what we’ve been doing all season.”

“Yeah, this whole idea of setting a record does make things a little trickier,” Kerr said. “It’s the players who are setting a record. It’s not the organization. It’s the players who are doing it.

“So they will absolutely have some say in matters down the stretch in terms of how we approach everything.”

“For us, we don’t want to limp into the playoffs,” Curry said. “We want to continue to play better and fine-tune on both sides of the ball, our execution.

“We want to continue to establish winning habits and a winning mentality as you go into the playoffs.

“Whatever it takes to motivate us at this point, whether it’s just continue what we’ve been doing, searching for that 73, No. 1 seed, whatever it is.”

Also, Curry added: “Sitting out and watching is just boring. I don’t like watching games if you have the opportunity to play in them.”


VIDEO: Golden State tramples the Los Angeles Clippers for win No. 64

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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.

20160318_defrtg_home-road

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.

20160318_west_sos

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.

Morning shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs deny lack of composure in loss | Bogut blasts his ‘dirty’ label | Bosh surprises Heat, sits on bench vs. Nuggets | Anthony: Knicks ‘gotta do something’ this summer

No. 1: Cavs deny lack of composure in loss to Jazz — The Cleveland Cavaliers entered Salt Lake City on a roll, having won three straight on the road as they closed out a four-game West coast road swing. With news that the Jazz would be without leading scorer Gordon Hayward (plantar fasciitis) on Monday, the Cavs were seen as even bigger favorites to win. Yet Cleveland couldn’t contain Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors as Utah won 94-85 in a chippy game at times. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com says although things got physical in Salt Lake City last night, the Cavs do not feel they lost their composure at any point:

A quick glance at the Cavs’ 94-85 loss to the Utah Jazz, and it would seem some composure issues surfaced.

To wit:

  • The Cavs were whistled for three technical fouls, including two on Channing Frye. The third was on, you guessed it, J.R. Smith.
  • Frye headbutted and took a quasi-swing at Utah’s Trey Lyles with 3:57 left in the game and the Cavs trailing by 11. Lyles probably deserved it – he elbowed Frye in the groin and, like Frye, was also tossed from the game.
  • Frye refused to address reporters afterwards.
  • LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were bickering at each other during a timeout with 10:07 left in the third quarter. Some defensive miscues allowed the Jazz to go up by nine, and Irving missed a 3-pointer. He was 3-of-12 shooting at that point.
  • The James-Irving session carried on for several seconds, and both sides had their say.
  • Irving, who shot 7-of-23 for the game, went back onto the court here for about 30 minutes of extra shooting.

When it was all over, as in, the game, the Cavs’ three-game winning streak, this four-game trip out West, and Irving’s apparent therapy session, there were mostly shrugs from the Cavs.

“I don’t look at it as a step back,” said James, who led the Cavs with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “I’ve always said we’ve still got room to improve, and this is another example of it. I don’t think it’s a step backwards.”

Of Frye’s aggression toward Lyles, James said “I loved it.” This was perhaps more interesting because Lyles, a rookie, is represented by agent Rich Paul, James’ agent. James typically doesn’t speak ill of the family.

“It’s nothing personal against Trey, it’s the game and (Frye) being able to stick up for himself,” James said. “But I love that side.”

Last season, Irving scored 34 points but registered zero assists in Cleveland’s game at Utah. That kind of box score infuriated James. On Monday, Irving tallied three assists.

“We want him to be aggressive, for sure,” James said. “We want him to read and react, and however he’s feeling, we want him to be aggressive and take his shot when he has it. I know he had a lot of great looks tonight. I know he doesn’t like his performance and he’ll be better.”

Irving said the dust-up with James was really a defensive “miscommunication between me and Mozzy (Timofey Mozgov).”

“That’s it,” Irving said. “Me and ‘Bron were talking about it.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after the Cavs’ loss in Utah

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Hayward sits against Cleveland with sore foot


VIDEO: Gordon Hayward’s sore right foot will keep him out of the lineup against the Cavaliers

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Utah Jazz will have to deal with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) without their leading scorer Gordon Hayward, who will sit out the game with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. 

Hayward, who leads the Jazz in scoring (20.1 points per game) and assists (3.7), is listed as day-to-day and is missing his first game of the season.

The Cavaliers are playing the finale of a four-game Western Conference road trip that began last week with a win over the Sacramento Kings and weekend wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.

 

Blazers look to continue to follow lead of Lillard, McCollum


VIDEO: Taking a closer look at Damian Lillard’s recent hot streak

NEW YORK CITY — They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but Broadway had nothing on the Portland Trail Blazers’ visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden last week. The Blazers made certain everything was illuminated pregame by setting up a battery of bright lights in the center of the room facing the lockers, which shined into the faces of the players as they prepped to play the Knicks. The lights were supposed to make sure the Portland players were wide-awake and energized for tip-off.

Whatever Portland is doing right now, it is clearly working. The Trail Blazers are 14-4 in their last 18 games, a run that has vaulted them from a team mostly overlooked in the heavyweight Western Conference to a 33-30 squad with a firm grip on a seventh seed. Portland will look to continue its winning play tonight at Detroit (6 ET, NBA TV), the Blazers’ last stop on a six-game road trip.

While Portland’s players and coaches are quick to credit improved play and recognition on the defensive end as a catalyst for this run, it’s tough to overlook the Blazers’ backcourt, which features the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards have combined to average 46.7 points and 11.2 assists through Portland’s first 63 games, and have a lot in common: they’re both in their mid-twenties; both were four-year players at smaller colleges (Lillard at Weber State, McCollum at Lehigh); both were lottery picks by the Blazers.

“They’re both very mature guys,” says Portland coach Terry Stotts. “Not even talking in a basketball context, they’re both very mature. I think partly that’s who they are, but neither one of them had it easy — they had to work to get to this point. Not to say that other players don’t, but they had a different route. I think that helps with their maturity and their mental approach to their game and the team game.”

While Lillard made an impact right away, winning Rookie of the Year in 2013, McCollum’s arrival has occurred at a more measured pace. His first two seasons were hampered by injuries, and when he was healthy, it was hard to get playing time behind veterans such as Wesley Matthews. But with Matthews departed, as well as vets such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, McCollum has stepped into the leadership void and thrived, averaging 20.9 points in 61 starts this season.

“I always knew at some point I’d be an impact player at this level,” McCollum says, “I just didn’t know when. It was more about being healthy and having the right opportunity. Once it came I looked forward to it and I relished the opportunity to perform at a high level, and help my team each and every night. So I always knew there was going to be a time I was going to be able to do this, I just didn’t know when.”

McCollum credits some of his success this season to playing within the same system his entire career: “I know our offense, our schemes defensively, how we like to guard pick and rolls, our off ball screens, things like that. And just having a better understanding of our offense and having run the point, being able to direct guys and put guys in positions, and also to play the two and understand each and everybody’s role. I think as you play in this system under one coach for long periods of time, you begin to understand what they’re looking for.”

By now, it’s pretty clear what you’re going to get from Damian Lillard — over his first three seasons, the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 20.2 points to go with 6.1 assists, and has been named an All-Star twice. Through his first 47 games this season, Lillard averaged 24.3 points, including back-to-back 30-point games before the All-Star break.

Lillard was not named a Western Conference All-Star this season, and while Lillard brushes off talk of a snub being a motivating factor, the numbers suggest otherwise: Since the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 33.6 points in nine contests, including two games of at least 50 points (51 against Golden State, 50 against Toronto). Overall, Lillard has scored at least 30 in 10 of his last 12 games.

“From day one, he’s been a remarkably consistent player,” Stotts says of Lillard. “The only difference I would say is that he — and it’s not necessarily just during this stretch — is he’s accepted the mantle of leadership and being the best player and taking that responsibility. He’s continued to get better in that role. Obviously that stretch of 30-point games is pretty remarkable, but I can’t say he’s doing it differently that he’s done it before.”

“One thing I feel like other people are learning is that I’m always up for the challenge,” Lillard says. “Anything that’s put in front of me, I might not be great at it, I might not do the greatest job to begin with, but I’m going to come around. If I don’t do well at it, I’m going to say I didn’t do well at it, and I’ll be able to say I worked on it. So… just embracing challenges. I’ll stand up to whatever, and I think that’s what’s happened this season.”

For the Blazers to maintain their recent success, and perhaps even make some noise in the postseason, McCollum and Lillard will have to continue to lead the way. While they’re clearly in the conversation when it comes to the NBA’s best backcourts — the Splash Brothers in Golden State have a pretty good argument — McCollum notes they haven’t really had time to appreciate just how good they’ve been this season.

“I know we’re very competitive guys,” McCollum says, “and we’ve been playing well together, 50-60 games into the season, and now we’re establishing ourselves around the league. But we’re just doing what we always knew we were capable of doing. Now it’s just about getting better each day and you don’t take any steps back. Have we looked at it? Not really, because we’re still in season, we’re still trying to complete some of our goals. We’ll evaluate that more after the season.”

Though the Blazers have clearly unlocked a higher level of play over the last few weeks, Lillard believes now the task is to try and sustain this level of play the rest of the way. Houston and Utah are just a few losses behind Portland, meaning many of the young Blazers find themselves in their first playoff race. Lillard, the team’s veteran leader at all of 25 years old, says the Blazers “can’t even look that far ahead.” Instead, Lillard believes the Blazers simply need to continue to perform under the bright lights.

“The season is what, six, seven, eight months?” Lillard asks. “We’ve done it for a month and a half. I think the next step is to be able to sustain it for a longer period of time. At the start of the season we were 4-2 — we had four games we got after it, we did it for a short amount of time. Then we had a seven-game losing streak. Then we picked it up for one game. Then we had drop-offs. Now I think we figured out how to do it for a longer span of time. The next step is to learn how to permanently be this team. As of now, this is who we are.”

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…

20160304_pass_red

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

Analytics Art: Clarkson, Hood, Gasol among worst shooters of week


VIDEO: Gasol, Bulls fall short in Orlando

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

With slightly more than a month left in the NBA regular season, players league-wide are grinding toward the finish line. Some players continue to play at a high level, while others (understandably) slump to varying degrees.

It was a rough shooting week for a pair of 23-year-old, second-year players as well as for a trusted veteran, too.

PointAfter will break down the coldest shooters of the week with help from interactive data visualizations.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games between Feb. 26 through March 3.

Guard: Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers

Rookie teammate D’Angelo Russell caught fire this week, scored a career-high 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets and cited the ice in his veins, but Jordan Clarkson didn’t experience the same good fortune. In fact, the former second-round pick didn’t shoot over 40 percent in any game during this week.

Outside of the restricted area, Clarkson simply could not get his shot to fall. As a matter of fact, he finished the week’s three games at 0 percent shooting from mid-range near the elbows.

Coupled with that ghastly mid-range shooting was a lack of touch from beyond the arc — where Clarkson went just 4-of-20 (20 percent). His 0-of-7 effort from long range against the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 26 set the tone for his lackluster week of shooting.

Wing: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

For the most part, Rodney Hood’s sophomore season has been a promising one for him and Utah Jazz fans. He has started 58 games while buffing his averages in points, rebounds and assists.

But he had a week to forget when transitioning from February into March.

While playing an average of 36 minutes in the week’s first two games against Brooklyn and Boston, Hood finished 9-of-32 shooting (28.1 percent). He was just 3-of-14 from beyond the arc over that span. He played only 13 minutes in the March 2 loss against the Toronto Raptors after suffering a head injury.

Hood was not listed on the Jazz injury report, so he isn’t expected to miss time.

Forward/Center: Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls

Perhaps it’s no surprise the floundering Bulls have a representative among the worst shooters after going 0-4 during the week. Chicago is 3-7 over its last 10 games and has fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Pau Gasol has tried his best to help the cause — even posting a gaudy 22-point, 16-rebound, 14-assist triple-double on Feb. 27 — but his performance the previous day doomed his shooting for the week. In that affair (a 15-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks), the 35-year-old finished 6-of-22 from the field.

Gasol still impacted games through his rebounding and rim protection, but the Bulls simply aren’t playing sound team basketball right now. If they don’t turn things around soon, there’s a real chance they won’t even make the playoffs — which would have sounded absurd at the beginning of the season.

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

Ben Leibowitz 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.