Tag Archives: NBA basketball

Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble: Who’s In and Who’s Out?

As the NBA heads into the final stretch of its season, playoff seeds are beginning to crystallize. By my count, eleven teams have already essentially clinched a spot in the playoffs, leaving five positions available for the other nineteen teams.

In the Eastern Conference, there are two playoff berths available for four teams and Washington, Indiana, Detroit, and Chicago are set to duke it out over the next month to make it into the postseason.

Which teams on the Eastern Conference playoff bubble will make it in? Which ones won’t? Let’s take a look.

In the East, the seventh and eighth seeds are up for grabs. Currently, the Pacers and Pistons hold those two spots, but the Bulls are tied with the Pistons for the eighth seed. The Wizards are lurking one-and-a-half games behind the Bulls and Pistons after recently pulling out of a tailspin; after making it back to .500, they lost five straight games before a dominant forty-three point blowout against the Pistons earlier this week on national TV and a twenty-one point victory against the Bulls last night.

Washington is the furthest from a playoff spot, but there remains hope in D.C. thanks to a fairly easy schedule to close out the season. Of its fifteen remaining games, only two are near-certain losses (@GSW and @LAC). In addition, the Wizards play three times against the Hawks, although two of those games are at home, and once against the surging Hornets in Washington.

Though Washington is one-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, there still remains a head-to-head opportunity to make up ground on its direct competitors. The Wizards will play in Detroit on April 8th, a game that will be vital to their playoff aspirations.

The Pacers are elevated above the fray, sitting two-and-a-half games above the Bulls and Pistons and four above the Wizards. With a strong finish, Indiana could even push its way into the fifth or sixth seed, and with a creampuff schedule down the stretch, there’s a very real possibility that it could happen.

The Bulls have the easiest schedule of all, but they currently face severe problems with injuries. Jimmy Butler returned only a couple of days ago from a knee injury, Derrick Rose is dealing with a groin injury, and Pau Gasol has an injured knee. If Chicago is down its best three players, it won’t matter how easy their schedule is.

The Pistons begin a nine-game homestand against the Hawks, but their schedule is the most challenging of the teams they’re competing against. Eight of Detroit’s fifteen remaining games come against playoff teams, and that doesn’t include the games against its direct competitors. It plays in Chicago on April 2nd and against Washington at home on April 8th.

The question remains: Which of these teams will make the playoffs?

It seems to be a forgone conclusion that the Bulls will miss the playoffs since the 2007-08 season. They have too many injuries to adequately compete, and if they lose to the Pistons on April 2nd, they won’t have the tiebreaker against either the Pistons or the Wizards. Chicago will compete to the end, and it’s certainly within its capabilities to scratch out just enough victories to make it to the playoffs, but the postseason seems out of reach at the moment.

The Pacers have a stranglehold on a playoff berth. They’re as close to the #4 seed as the Pistons and Bulls are to them. It’s far more likely that Indiana moves up the ladder to nab a higher seed than they collapse and miss out on the playoffs.

The most intrigue comes with the battle for the eighth seed between the Wizards and Pistons.

I’m torn on this prediction, and although it’s safer to bet on the Pistons maintaining their lead, the Wizards have the tiebreaker and the ineffable, possibly nonexistent “mental edge” after the blowout earlier this week. Instead, I think that whoever wins that April 8th game in Detroit will take home the eighth seed. Washington should be the underdog in that game, so I guess my prediction is Detroit, but if it can defy expectations and win that game on its way to the playoffs, I bet there’ll be a big…

(at least until they get blown out by the Cavs in the first round)

Notes From Knicks-Sixers

Last night, I watched the sloppy Sixers-Knicks game in its entirety. Here are a few observations from the game.

First off, the viewing experience of watching the Knicks on MSG is made five times as enjoyable thanks to Walt Frazier’s entertaining phrasing. According to this article from ESPN, Frazier acquired his massive vocabulary by reading the New York Times’ Sunday Arts & Leisure section and writing down whatever words that caught his eye. After he wrote down the words, Frazier then studied how each was used in a sentence using a method he calls “linking and thinking.”

Anyways, last night, Frazier produced a few classics in “shaking and baking,” “wheeling and dealing,” and “moving and grooving” before moving on to more eclectic ones, such as “swooping and hooping,” “hanging and banging,” and “slamming and jamming.”

Carmelo Anthony looked awful last night. Even in a game against the sorry Sixers, he’s just been off. Anthony missed layups and chucked up badly off-target three-pointers. He finished with twelve points off of sixteen inefficient shots in a subpar game. I don’t know if this is a trend (I sure hope not), but it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

In last year’s draft, Nik Stauskas, a shooting guard, was taken by the Kings 8th overall. He started exactly one game for them, the season finale against the Lakers. Over the summer, Sacramento traded him to Philadelphia in a salary dump so they could open up extra cap space to sign the eight superstars who were all lining up to come play for the Kings.

Putting aside the hilariously lopsided deal, that put Stauskas in Philadelphia, on a team that didn’t care about winning whatsoever. The trade allowed him to play more minutes which would give him a larger opportunity to work through whatever issues he’d dealt with in his rookie season. Accordingly, his playing time has increased by nine minutes per game.

He didn’t have a big game or anything last night, with four shot attempts over twenty-four minutes, but one thing I noticed was his lightning-quick release on his three-point jumper. It was almost Curry-esque.

Last of all, let’s talk about Young Kristaps, who put up seventeen points, ten rebounds, and four blocks over thirty minutes in a customarily spectacular game.

Despite his height, Young Kristaps has a lovely jumper he used twice from three-point range, nailing both shots. Nothing about his shot seems forced; it’s natural and he’s able to smoothly catch the ball and rise up for a graceful shot.

Young Kristaps had a couple of impressive passes last night. Early in the game, he reached around his defender to deliver a nice pass to Robin Lopez for a layup. Later on, Jose Calderon and Young Kristaps ran a pick-and-roll. Calderon passed it to Young Kristaps as he came around the screen, and Young Kristaps started to drive towards the basket, but instead hit Calderon with a behind-the-back pass. He had another fine pass to Calderon where he spotted that the point guard had a step on his defender and lofted the ball over to him for an easy layup.

I can’t believe we’ve gotten this far into the article without mentioning a single one of Young Kristaps’ thunderous dunks. He had one where he drove lefty into the lane on Nerlens Noel and rose up for a tomahawk slam and another where Derrick Williams lobbed the ball up to him from behind the three-point line for a monstrous alley-oop.

Young Kristaps blocked four shots last night, but we’ll focus in on one. In the middle of the opening quarter, Isaiah Canaan drove to the basket with Young Kristaps moving along with him. Now, one of the concerns about Young Kristaps before the draft was that he was too thin to survive in the NBA. Although that’ll go away as he gets older, it was a problem in this case as, on his way to the rim, the 6’0″ Canaan rammed into the chest of the 7’3″ Young Kristaps, pushing him back. Despite this, Young Kristaps’ arms are some long enough that he was able to envelope Canaan, blocking the shot with ease.

Along with collecting four blocks, Young Kristaps picked up only one foul. This is a marked departure from Summer League, where across four games and 82 minutes, he picked up seventeen fouls, including a game with seven fouls in only 22 minutes. Working on his trouble with fouling was a high priority for Young Kristaps entering the season.

The problem was that Young Kristaps was often committing fouls due to his aggressiveness on defense. To measure the worth of his aggressiveness on defense, I used Young Kristaps’ SB/F (steals+blocks/fouls), a new statistic I made up to measure whether or not a player’s tenacity on defense is a positive, was a .647 during Summer League. So far this season, he’s improved it to a .881.

Using statistics from basketball-reference.com, there have been 276 games played so far this season, with roughly 2208 steals, 1435 blocks, and 5741 personal fouls across all 276 games. That works out to a league-average SB/F of .634, so, to my surprise, apparently Young Kristaps was roughly average during Summer League and has been exceptional so far this year.

Now that Young Kristaps can play aggressive defense while still staying on the floor, that combination, along with all of his other talents, makes it look like he’ll be a star.

Thanks to Young Kristaps, for the first time in a decade, Knicks fans, there’s a reason for hope.

I noticed I wrote “Young Kristaps” a lot this article, so here’s a quick explanation for why I call him that, rather than Porzingis. In the 2015 NBA Draft Diary, I wrote:

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 7.20.14 PM

That’s it. Maybe as a compromise with myself I’ll alternate Young Kristaps with YK. I guess we’ll figure it out.

Super-duper quick pick for Thursday Night Football: Detroit +2 over Green Bay. Neither team makes me feel any good about betting on them, but Detroit’s been playing better lately so that’s as good a reason as any.

Catching Up on the NBA

My picks are already looking awful. Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal have been hurt. The Pelicans have been plagued by injuries. Washington has been average at best. Without Corey Brewer’s miracle three-point attempt to send last night’s game to overtime, the Rockets would be an atrocious 4-8. Nothing at all has been working out as planned so far.

Well, almost nothing. The Warriors have been customarily dominant. If you follow basketball at all, I’m sure you’ve seen amazing stats lauding the team for their historic achievements, but here’s one you probably haven’t heard: the Warriors are currently on pace to go 82-0, shattering the 72-10 mark set by the 1995-96 Bulls.

All jokes aside, Steph Curry has been insane. I’ve watched a few of Golden State’s games so far, and every time he takes a shot, it seems to be almost a technicality when it goes in. A couple of weeks ago, the Warriors were down to the Clippers late in the game, and Curry just took over and Los Angeles couldn’t do anything to stop him.

Curry’s the clear frontrunner for MVP at this point and he’s way ahead of the pack. Who can challenge him? LeBron is resting for the playoffs, Davis has been hurt, John Wall hasn’t been great, Kevin Durant has been hurt, and James Harden has been an inconsistent player on an inconsistent team. Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook are my 2-3 behind Curry, but who’s next? Honestly, it might be Andre Drummond. That’s just weird.

In other news: Young Kristaps is everyone’s new favorite player. Young Kristaps has been surprisingly great so far for the Knicks. For all the talk about how he’s a project and how he’s a year or two away, he’s been really really good. Earlier this week, he put up a 29-11 double-double on an efficient 17 shots. He’s been able to shoot threes effectively (including an almost game-winner against Charlotte that was just after time expired) while being a force down low. He’s thrown down a few monstrous put-back dunks (including this beauty against the Raptors) and has been able to serve both as a stretch-four when on the court with Robin Lopez and as a more conventional big man when playing alone.

I think it’s hilarious what’s been happening in Brooklyn so far this season. They’re absolutely, unequivocally atrocious and seem OK with it. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. After all, tanking has worked in the past and the Sixers have been happy to lose again and again over the past few years in the hopes of landing a franchise player. However, the so-called “brain-trust” in Brooklyn seems to have forgotten one important detail: They don’t own their own pick. So while Brooklyn’s incessant losing will likely result in the acquisition of a franchise player, that franchise player will be heading to Boston as part of the Pierce-Garnett-Terry trade from a couple of years ago. While we’re here, I can’t get over how lopsided that trade was. Exploring the ramifications of that horrendous trade might be worth an article in the near future.

Anyways, as we can see, the NBA isn’t lacking in storylines. We haven’t talked at all about the competitive Rookie of the Year race or the exciting young teams coalescing in Orlando and Minnesota or Kobe Bryant’s quest to miss the most shots in the history of the NBA. We’ll discuss all of this, and more, in the future, but for now, let’s just enjoy the impending bloodbath between the Warriors and Clippers on national TV tonight.