Though the most intense NBA drama is awaiting in the playoffs, Wednesday sure had a playoff feel with important games all over the card. Let’s review notable developments . . . then preview the NIT Championship.
Golden State just beat projected #2 and #3 West seeds 223-204 on the ROAD.
Without Kevin Durant (who’s now scheduled to return just before the playoffs). With game two on a back-to-back. After falling behind 15-0, 23-3, and 29-7 to start stage two on the road against the projected #2 seed. What will it take to beat Golden State in the playoffs?
Golden State (plus 4.5) beat San Antonio 110-98
- Two-point shooting: Golden State 53%, San Antonio 42%
- Three-pointers: Golden State 13/26, San Antonio 9/24
- Estimated Possessions: 91 (slow, playoff style)
There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. Golden State appeared to be head-and-shoulders above the league last year at this time and ultimately couldn’t seal the deal. Still, based on what we’ve seen in recent days…with Durant still sidelined. it’s obviously Golden State’s championship to win this Spring.
In a fatigue spot, they outscored what many considered to be their biggest postseason threat 103-69 over the final 39.5 minutes. The Warriors expand their lead in the West to 3.5 games with seven to play. Six of those seven games will be at home.
Market-wise, the Warriors are now 7-1 ATS their last eight games, including some decisive covers. The most influential forces have some thinking to do about why they considered Golden State underdogs in both halves of this Texas two-step.
Milwaukee (plus 8) muffles “is Boston best in East?” talk
Granting that the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t looked like championship material in a long while…assuming that the Boston Celtics are ready to dethrone the Eastern champs may still be premature. Boston had every reason in the world to dominate the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night. They couldn’t even win straight up.
- Milwaukee was on night two of a back-to-back
- Milwaukee had already earned at least a “two-night split” with a win in Charlotte
- Boston was at home, and hadn’t played since Sunday
- Boston BADLY needed the win, holding only a half-game lead for the #1 seed
Yet, it was eight-point underdog Milwaukee that played like the better prepared side.
Milwaukee ( 8) 103, Boston 100
- Two-Point shooting: Milwaukee 59%, Boston 45%
- Fast break points: Milwaukee 2, Boston 13
Think about that for a second. Milwaukee shot 59% on two-pointers (33 of 56) on a night when they only had one snowbird. That’s executing an offense. Something LeBron James and Cleveland would know how to do if they run into Boston in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It’s only one game and there are many reasons to be impressed with what Brad Stevens has done as coach in Boston. But a double-digit non-cover when fresh . . . against a back-to-back visitor . . . when so much is at stake . . . it is at least a reminder that Boston has a ways to go before being truly scary as a championship threat.
Elsewhere Wednesday in the NBA
While Warriors/Spurs got the TV spotlight, spots #2-8 in the Eastern brackets were all in action. You already read about Milwaukee and Boston. Let’s run through the rest of a busy Wednesday card in Nevada rotation order…
Atlanta (-2.5) beat Philadelphia 99-92. Atlanta only shot 40% on two-pointers vs. a soft defense, and committed 17 turnovers. But, the Hawks were 9 of 18 on treys, while Philadelphia missed 28 bombs (11 of 39). Atlanta won rebounding 47-40, which turned a lot of those missed Sixers treys into virtual turnovers. With both teams on night two of a back-to-back, a very slow affair with an estimated 90 possessions per team. Atlanta is still just 3-6 ATS the last nine with the cover. Philly is still the best cover team in the NBA this season at 47-28 ATS even with the failure. We should mention Atlanta’s been an extreme Under team this season. This one stayed below the market target by 21 points. Atlanta is now 29-45-2 to the Under. The Hawks entered the night as the #5 seed in the East on a tie-breaker with Milwaukee. Both won, so no change.
Oklahoma City (-5) beat Orlando 114-106 in overtime. Russell Westbrook treated fans to a replay of his late game come-from-behind heroics in Dallas. A mere 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in his latest triple double. OKC is 7-3 ATS its last 10 games (needing extra time in this case), Orlando remains the worst pointspread team in the NBA this season...falling to 29-45-1 versus the number. Shorter term, the Magic are 2-8 ATS their last 10.
Charlotte (plus 5) stunned Toronto 110-106, keyed by a 44-32 win in the fourth quarter. Charlotte was a sharp 16 of 32 on three pointers, which is the equivalent of shooting 75% on two’s. Toronto won inside scoring and rebounding…but couldn’t make up for Charlotte’s accuracy from long range. Both teams are 5-2 ATS their last seven games. Toronto is going to have home court in the first round of the playoffs…but will now find it tougher to chase down Washington for the #3 seed.
Miami (-2.5) beat New York 105-88. A return to form after a rare non-cover for the Heat the prior night in Detroit. The highest impact category here was three-pointers as well. Both teams launched 25 attempts. Miami won “makes” 12-5, which is 21 points right there in a game they only won by 17. Miami is 26-7 ATS its last 33 games. Miami extends its lead over idle Chicago to 1.5 games for the final playoff spot. They also rise into a tie with Indiana, who lost in our next game up.
Memphis (-4) beat Indiana 110-97. Poor defensive night for the Pacers, as they allowed 110 points on only 91 possessions. They let the Grizzlies shoot 52% on two-pointers while forcing just eight turnovers. Memphis is 6-3 ATS its last nine. Indiana falls to 3-8 ATS its last 11 games, joining Atlanta on the list of Eastern playoff contenders who aren’t playing particularly well of late. Indiana drops in the standings to 37-38, tied with Miami as the most vulnerable current qualifiers.
New Orleans (-6) beat Dallas 121-118. Not much defense, as there were only 92 possessions and 11 combined turnovers. DeMarcus Cousins returned to the lineup for the Pelicans and scored 29 points. Anthony Davis scored 30. New Orleans is 5.5 games out of the #8 spot in the West with seven games to play. Dallas is six games out with eight to play. (Keep an eye on the Overs in Pelicans’ games if they’re just going to put on a scoring show and not guard with intensity as they play out the string.)
Utah (-7.5) beat Sacramento 112-82. Utah tightens its grip on potential home court advantage in the projected #4 vs. #5 matchup in the West vs. the LA Clippers. Sacramento games are now 31-44 to the Under this season.
LA Clippers (-6.5) beat Washington 133-124. Washington missed out on a chance to move within a game of Boston and Cleveland at the top of the East. The Clippers stay one game ahead of OKC for the #5 spot in the West. This one flew over the market total of 219 by 38 points. Washington’s games are now 47-27 to the Over this season
TCU and Georgia Tech meet Thursday in NIT Championship
We’ll resume our NCAA Tournament coverage tomorrow. Before that, college hoops fans get to enjoy the championship game from the historic NIT at Madison Square Garden.
8 p.m. ET: TCU (-3.5) vs. Georgia Tech (total of 133)
It was helpful the other night to look at teams just above and just below the NIT entrants in Ken Pomeroy’s computer ratings. Both TCU and Georgia Tech have moved up the totem pole with their Tuesday night semifinal victories. Let’s update those lists.
TCU was computer-rated as a Dance-Caliber team even before they coasted past Central Florida. They’re now up to #34 in Pomeroy’s ranking. The two teams just above them are Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Just below them are Rhode Island and Arkansas. All of that quartet played in the Dance, with the latter two putting scares into Final Four qualifiers.
Georgia Tech is up from #77 to #75. The two teams just ahead of them are Ohio State and Ole Miss. Just below them are Texas Arlington and Bucknell.
Well, Georgia Tech has looked a lot better than THAT in this tournament. Might be a strike against Pomeroy’s assessment rather than an indictment against Tech.
Reviewing the key “descriptive” areas we’ve been discussing in recent tournament previews…
Two-Point emphasis on offense: Georgia Tech 76%, TCU 65%
Georgia Tech really pounds it inside. That allowed them to dominate Cal-Bakersfield in the semifinals. But, it could be an issue if TCU is able to put up a wall. It may seem odd to call TCU “balanced” when 65% of their shots are on deuces, 35% on treys. But, that’s the right word compared to most of the sport. Trey-happy teams are typically around 60/40 for two-point shots. Inside-orientated teams are 70/30. TCU has a variety of ways to beat you.
Two-Point prevention on defense: Georgia Tech 44% (#13 in the nation), TCU 49% (#159 in the nation).
TCU isn’t particularly impressive at stopping what Georgia Tech does. That’s worth noting. But, TCU had so much experience playing quality teams in the Big 12 that it is not likely to be a pushover. Georgia Tech’s inside defense has been stellar. That might force TCU to win this game from outside.
The case for Georgia Tech: this is an underdog with a real fighting chance because “defense wins championships” and it has the #6 defense in the nation in Pomeroy’s “adjusted efficiency.” That makes Tech the classic “defensive dog.” TCU may have to win this game from the outside. That’s generally a dicier proposition in tournament basketball.
The case for TCU: the Horned Frogs might be much better than Georgia Tech given their computer rankings this season…and given the fact that they beat Kansas in Kansas City in the Big 12 tournament. Tech has the better defense, but TCU has the more versatile offense, and has played the tougher schedule this season according to respected analytics measures. They have also been more impressive rebounders. TCU ranks #64 in the nation in rebound rate (percentage of available rebounds grabbed) with 52.4%, while Georgia Tech is down at #199 with 49.7%.
Interesting handicapping challenge. If you believe defense should trump other categories in “championship” matchup analysis (particularly with underdogs), then Tech is going to appeal to you. If you prefer “dimensionality” and consistent competitiveness vs. quality, it’s easier to lay the affordable price.
Good luck with your pick. We’ll recap the MSG title tilt for you tomorrow after preview the NCAA Final Four.
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