Tag Archives: Portland Trail Blazers

The Wizards and the rare three-second violation in crunch time

The play often discussed from Washington’s 125-124 victory over Portland has been the game-winning basket from Markieff Morris, but just after he stepped out of bounds. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the missed call couldn’t be corrected with a review and the Wizards escaped in overtime. It was a crucial win for Washington after a second straight game on the road, while Portland fell two games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.

But there was another usual play that NEEDS to be talked about, one that happened with a minute left in the fourth quarter. No, not the four-point possession from Washington that put them up six points after trailing by 21 at halftime, but a defensive three-second violation against Morris. We can assume it was the right call (NBA.com’s play-by-play feed doesn’t offer a good look), but it’s one rarely ever made in crunch time.

Since 2002, there have been 12,773 defensive three-second violations in the regular season, or about 0.7 per game. That’s slightly more often than the similar violation on offense (0.5 per game), but they’ve occurred less frequently as the game progresses. The first half has accounted for about two-thirds of defensive three-second violations, 23 percent for third quarters, and 11 percent in fourth quarters and overtimes. Offensive three-second violations are more evenly distributed, though if we divide games not by quarters but four-minute blocks, both occur less often late in games.

Going back again to 2002, Morris’ defensive three-second violation was only the ninth called with one minute or less remaining and the first time since 2012. Even with fouling and garbage time, that seems weird given how much isolation occurs at the end of games as teams trade efficiency for having the final possession of the ball. With less player movement away from the ball, maybe it’s just easier to have those three seconds in a player’s mental clock, though it’s hard to camp in the lane against a high pick-and-roll and/or shooting spread out across the arc anyway. Cleveland, for example, sometimes gets these violations called in their favor not while LeBron James pounds the ball above the arc, but as he posts up on one side of the floor and the help defense waits at the rim for a bit too long. Those are the type of plays that have been pointed out in the NBA’s Last Two Minute Reports when a violation was missed. Who knows, maybe it’s something defenses have commonly taken advantage of, at least in crunch time.

The Wizards were up six points at the time of the call on Morris, still a nice lead (97.6 percent win probability, via Inpredictable) where the Blazers had to score every time they had the ball and get defensive stops each time, but the technical free throw opened more scenarios for how that could be accomplished. Portland scored four points on one possession (the technical free throw plus a three-pointer), two points on another, and stopped Washington twice on defense. They almost prevented another game-winner in overtime, but we know now Morris’ bucket couldn’t be overturned.

All statistics were according to play-by-play data from NBA.com. Violation totals were through March 11.

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Change of pace: The league’s fastest and slowest lineups

Once in a while, coaches will give their team an unusual look on the floor for several reasons, one possibly being to either turn the game into a track meet or slow it to a crawl. Either way they likely disrupt the flow of the game, though hopefully to the advantage of a coach looking to change things up in the first place. This post will (hopefully) take a good look, with the help of a couple tables, at which lineups best give teams either another gear or a new set of breaks, for better or for worse.

The minimum minute requirement I made for lineups was 50. I also plucked out lineups with players no longer on the respective teams they were listed with, which impacted the Cavaliers’ units with Andrew Bynum and Chicago’s with Luol Deng, among others. The last filter I made was to adjust to a team’s average pace, otherwise the Philadelphia 76ers would represent half of the 10 fastest lineups. In the end, none of their five-man units of over 50 minutes of run made the cut. It also meant the Jazz and Bulls would make room for some the other slowest groups in the league.

Anyway, that’s about it. Below is the first table with the 10 fastest lineups. The 10 slowest are listed further down. All stats are according to NBA.com:

There’s a nice mix of lineups. Some go small with a big man to work around like Houston with Dwight Howard and Portland with LaMarcus Aldridge, each with four players to spread the floor and some able to slash. For the Blazers, Mo Williams basically replaces Robin Lopez, understandable to see it make the game as fast as possible. Also understandable is that they don’t stop opponents as efficiently as Houston’s unit.

Lineups from Brooklyn and Chicago also made the list, though only the Nets’ unit is faster than Philadelphia’s average pace of 102.68. A healthy Brook Lopez would’ve made for more huge lineups, but unfortunately they didn’t last long after the center broke his right foot. Chicago’s lineup isn’t exactly small, though on paper it feels that way without Joakim Noah. As expected, that lineup drops off without what he provides. Chicago’s overall pace hasn’t changed all that much with D.J. Augustin as the point guard, dropping by about half a possession per game since his arrival. Minnesota’s lineup is also missing their center in Nikola Pekovic. It isn’t exactly a lineup surrounding Kevin Love with four shooters, but one at least made for a track meet. Some of that pace might be helped by the outlet mall that is Love and a guard leaking out early after a missed (or sometimes made) shot.

Some more standard-looking lineups involve Denver’s, the Lakers’, Phoenix’s, San Antonio’s and Oklahoma City’s, though only Denver’s yields a positive net rating. In time, the Spurs’ and Thunder’s lineups should even out. No lineup with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should be that bad. Same goes for Tim Duncan with Tony Parker, etc.

Now to the 10 slowest lineups, sorted by most snail-like to least:

Not surprisingly is Golden State making the list featuring a lineup without Stephen Curry or any point guard. That unit falls apart offensively but at least holds its own on defense thanks to the duo of Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. Another big lineup, at least up front, is the Pelicans’ with Anthony Davis and Alexis Ajinca.

A similar Suns lineup to the one among the fastest in the league makes the slowest 10, arguably the biggest difference in players being Channing Frye at center to further stretch the floor instead of a Plumdog. The change on both sides of the court has been remarkable not just in pace but production as Phoenix has scored 30 more points per 100 possessions while allowing nearly 17 more.

A smallball variation that goes slow can be found in Atlanta with Elton Brand manning the middle. It’s hard to imagine any Hawks lineup without Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Kyle Korver being even average on offense, though they’ve held their own on that side of the floor. Defensively, that Hawks unit understandably hasn’t fared well, but neither have five other ones listed. Detroit’s lineup featuring their big three with Chauncey Billups and Brandon Jennings in the backcourt is the most egregious mess, though the Wizards without John Wall and the Lakers without any resistance allow over 115 points per 100 possessions. So many flames yet so little water.

Utah’s lineup looks like one used in the last minutes of a blowout. That’s all I take away from theirs.

Overall, a bunch of the sample sizes from these fast or slow lineups are quite small when looking at minutes played. Quite a few have appeared in over 20 games, however, so it should be all right to take away some things from those tables. The easiest one for me is that it takes as simple as one substitution to alter a team’s normal pace, like how Portland’s fastest lineup involves Mo Williams substituting for Robin Lopez, or even Steven Adams for Kendrick Perkins when looking at Oklahoma City. I’d also lean towards familiarity as more of a factor in some teams struggling or thriving.

Over the next month, we’re bound to have a new lineup or two making the top 10 in one of the categories, most likely from a struggling team fiddling with players they’re curious about keeping long-term. Maybe we’ll also see the same ones with either vast improvements or drop-offs in production while others might be stored away for the rest of the season. Most teams find a middle ground with their starting lineups anyway, somewhere between 95 and 98 possessions per game, but it helps to have a lineup or two to change the flow or a starting lineup that can dictate the pace. If there could only be one lineup to change gears, though, would a much slower or faster one be more desirable for a team with a league-average pace? I guess that could make for a decent discussion with answers being player-dependent.

Any other thoughts are certainly welcome.

As a reminder, all stats are from NBA.com.

The Texas Triangle and its neighboring franchises

A week ago, the Portland Trail Blazers finished their first road trip through the Texas Triangle since 2007, playing consecutive games on the road against the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets. They survived, which is always a question when teams travel to the Lone Star State for three games over a handful of days. Portland even had a chance to sweep after impressive wins over the Spurs and Mavericks, but they couldn’t muster enough defense to contain a Rockets squad, one that was missing Terrence Jones.

Overall, Portland finished a respectable 2-1. So too did the New York Knicks, who finished their trip through the Texas Triangle three weekends ago.

At least a couple teams each year (2.8 to be exact since 2000) play a combination of the Mavericks, Spurs, and Rockets in consecutive games with the results often disastrous. 42 trips have been made through the Texas Triangle since 2000 with 17 ending in three straight losses. Only nine finished with two or more wins with two leaving with a sweep: the 2002 Sacramento Kings and 2008 Boston Celtics. Since 2000, teams are a combined 30-96 against the Texas Triangle, good for a winning percentage of 28.6.

Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of their performance against the three Texas teams since 2000, when the West became the premier conference. (Any feedback on how that table looks is appreciated. Trying something new here.)

You might notice some teams missing from that table, specifically six from the East and four from the West. The Bobcats have been lucky enough (especially in 2012) to not slog through a road trip in Texas. Miami last went through the Texas Triangle in 1996 while Cleveland, Indiana, Philadelphia, and Toronto all went through it in 1997. For the West, Denver last took the trip in 1991, Phoenix in 1993, Charlotte/New Orleans in 1997, and the Lakers in 1998. The Lakers actually swept the Texas Triangle that year without Kobe Bryant for all three games, though Dallas was significantly weaker back then. They had neither Steve Nash nor Dirk Nowitzki and finished the season 20-62.

You might also notice the franchises neighboring Texas avoiding the daunting road trip. A factor that impacts scheduling in general, some teams go through the Texas Triangle more or less than others because of geography. Memphis, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans haven’t made the trip since moving from Vancouver, Seattle, and Charlotte, respectively. Also, like mentioned before, Denver and Phoenix haven’t made the road trip in over 20 seasons.

That’s a nice edge to have over the rest of the league, especially for the Grizzlies who went through the Texas Triangle four times in their final two seasons in Vancouver. Another benefit comes from the teams closest to Texas often included in road trips featuring the Mavs, Spurs, and/or Rockets. Portland finished their road trip not with the Texas Triangle but a road loss to Oklahoma City, and from March 7 to March 14 they’ll have another road trip of Dallas-Houston-Memphis-San Antonio-New Orleans. Had New Orleans not been rattled by injuries, the road trips to the that region of the league would only be more brutal than they already are.

Sure, that also means the Southwest Division is more competitive than others, but it’s more of a problem for the entire West with how each team plays each conference foe at least three times per season. Had divisions led to Dallas, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, and San Antonio playing each other six times instead of four, then there might be a problem. 

Right now there just isn’t any other area like Texas and its neighbors just north or east of them. A west coast trip often has Utah or Sacramento to capitalize on. The northern, central area of the league has Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Detroit to feed off of. The entire Atlantic Division has been a mess this year while the southeast has Orlando and Charlotte in rebuilding mode. New Orleans is the only weak link of the south, but they could luck into a top-5 pick next year and already hold one of the best young prospects in Anthony Davis.

‘Twas the West’s 20 wins before Christmas

Richard Masoner | Flickr

Holiday spirit? (Richard Masoner | Flickr)

Quite a few teams have jumped out to unexpectedly hot starts before the Christmas games, arguably the most surprising being the Portland Trail Blazers. They have tall tasks coming up against the Clippers, Heat and Thunder, but for now they’re 23-5 and first in the West, just barely ahead of Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

For Portland to get to 20 wins before Christmas is quite an accomplishment and a sign of success across the entire regular season. From 2000 to 2013, 30 teams out West have reached 20 wins before December 25, which averages out to about 2.3 teams per season. 2014 surpassed that mark with four total.

Below is a table showing each team in the West’s 20-win club over the last 14 years:

20 wins before Christmas

Season Team W-L by 12/25 82-game record West rank Finish
1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers 22-5 67-15 1 Won Finals
Portland Trail Blazers 20-7 59-23 3 Lost Conf. Finals
2000-01 Utah Jazz 20-8 53-29 4 Lost First Round
Los Angeles Lakers 20-10 56-26 2 Won Finals
2001-02 San Antonio Spurs 20-5 58-24 2 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Sacramento Kings 20-9 61-21 1 Lost Conf. Finals
2002-03 Dallas Mavericks 23-4 60-22 3 Lost Conf. Finals
Sacramento Kings 22-8 59-23 2 Lost Conf. Semifinals
2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers 20-6 56-26 2 Lost Finals
Sacramento Kings 20-6 55-27 4 Lost Conf. Semifinals
San Antonio Spurs 20-10 57-25 3 Lost Conf. Semifinals
2004-05 Phoenix Suns 23-3 62-20 1 Lost Conf. Finals
San Antonio Spurs 21-6 59-23 2 Won Finals
2005-06 San Antonio Spurs 21-6 63-19 1 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Dallas Mavericks 20-7 60-22 4 Lost Finals
2006-07 San Antonio Spurs 21-7 58-24 3 Won Finals
Dallas Mavericks 20-7 67-15 1 Lost First Round
Utah Jazz 20-8 51-31 4 Lost Conf. Semifinals
2007-08
2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers 23-5 65-17 1 Won Finals
2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers 23-4 57-25 1 Won Finals
Dallas Mavericks 20-9 55-27 2 Lost First Round
Denver Nuggets 20-9 53-29 4 Lost First Round
2010-11 San Antonio Spurs 25-4 61-21 1 Lost First Round
Dallas Mavericks 23-5 57-25 3 Won Finals
Utah Jazz 21-9 39-43 11 Missed Playoffs
Los Angeles Lakers 21-8 57-25 2 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Oklahoma City Thunder 20-10 55-27 4 Lost Conf. Finals
2011-12
2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder 21-5 60-22 1 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Los Angeles Clippers 21-6 56-26 4 Lost First Round
San Antonio Spurs 21-8 58-24 2 Lost Finals
2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers 23-5
Oklahoma City Thunder 22-5
San Antonio Spurs 22-6
Los Angeles Clippers 20-9
34 teams   57.8-24.2

So average regular season records those teams finish with are often quite good. Only one team finished with less than 50 wins and the average 82-game record is just under 58-24. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see all four teams this year finish with 58 wins before the playoffs, fattening up in non-conference matchups in the process. No team with over nine losses by Christmas, however, has won over 58 or more games since Chris Webber and the 2002 Kings. The Clippers are probably out of luck, at least until they get J.J. Redick back.

Only one team missed the playoffs on that list: The Utah Jazz of 2011 who had a mess of a season. They’d lost Carlos Boozer the summer prior and replaced him with Al Jefferson, who is now in Charlotte. Utah now has Richard Jefferson and his expiring contract. Will Utah replace him next summer by drafting another Jefferson? The Jazz also ended the season without Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams while prolonging a total rebuild. None of the four 20-win teams this year match what Utah went through. Portland did have an active off-season, but to match Utah’s they’d have to ship LaMarcus Aldridge for, say, David Lee, then have Damian Lillard request a trade down the road. Hmm…

Some other notables from the 20-wins-before-Christmas Club:

  • Of the 29 20-wins-before-Christmas teams that made the playoffs, six lost in the first round.
  • 15 teams made at least the Conference Finals. It’s basically a lock that one of the four this year makes it unless we have a Houston-Golden State matchup. Not likely, but nonetheless possible.
  • 10 of the 13 seasons have featured a 20-wins-before-Christmas team represent the West in the NBA Finals.

Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and the Los Angeles Clippers are in a club that often entails success down the road, but a few stumbled despite a hot start. Let’s see which starts were more on the fluky side and ones that were the real deal.

Until then, happy holidays. I need to wrap my presents. Where’s the duct tape?

Shot charts of the week

This is an attempt to start a weekly series where I look at unusual shot charts and post them here. They balance out over a season to what a team wants to do, like Houston straying away from mid-range shots, but unusual shot locations can emerge each game. It’s why I wanted to start a weekly series as long as it doesn’t turn out messy or jumbled.

In the future, I could also go into more depth than I did for this post or look at individual players instead of teams. For now, though, check this out:

Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons, December 8

1 MiaDet 12813

Detroit’s allowed the second-most attempted corner threes per game, 7.3 according to NBA.com, and that’s where Miami teed off from last Sunday. Detroit either over-helped or fell asleep, some of that being expected when LeBron James bends defenses until they break. There was one instance, though, where James directed every Heat player on the floor to the left side, save for Ray Allen, and Detroit didn’t adjust. It was one of the easiest corner threes of Allen’s career.

As for Detroit’s offense, they bricked all but one mid-range shot. Give credit to Miami for the bad offense on a ton of possessions, though. They forced more than a few difficult passes, ones off course just enough to where shooters spotting up for three had to take a couple steps inside the arc to catch the ball. The Pistons are actually in the bottom-five in attempts from both the 10-14 foot areas and 15-19, according to NBA.com. That’s a little surprising when Josh Smith is on the team, but not so much when Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond start at power forward and center, respectively.

Miami bagged the win, 110-95.

Phoenix Suns, December 10 at Los Angeles Lakers

2 PhxLal 121013

The Suns missed all of their attempts from the left side while hot from the right side, at least from the elbow down. The Morris twins were responsible for most of the mid-rangers in that hot patch on the right side, while Goran Dragic made two of the corner threes.

The Suns won 114-108 and continued a start to the season that was hardly expected.

New York Knicks, December 11 versus Chicago

3 ChiNY 121113

This was perhaps the ugliest game I’ve watched all season. The Knicks took a ton of mid-range shots, especially from above the elbow, and shot only two corner threes. For the season, they’re in the top-10 in both mid-range shots attempted and above the break threes, but in the bottom-10 everywhere else.

Gross.

The Knicks won, though, 83-78.

Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, December 12

4 HouPor 121213

Perhaps my favorite game of the season and definitely one that put Portland on the national spotlight if they weren’t already there. It was a contrast in styles. Both teams like to tee off from the arc, but Portland takes three times as many mid-range shots per game than Houston. In fact, every other team takes at least twice as many as the Morey Ball-Rockets.

LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t care, draining a of those mid-rangers in the chart above. Portland won, 111-104.

San Antonio Spurs, December 13 versus Minnesota

5 SaMin 121313 (2)

The Spurs really enjoyed that right corner three, a total of seven shots made from there. It’s just too hard to win games when your opponent scores over 20 points from the corner like that. Three of those corner threes came in the fourth quarter when the Spurs outscored the Timberwolves 37-21. It was quite the answer to Minnesota outscoring them 35-18 in the third, thanks to Kevin Love’s three-point barrage.

The Spurs won, 117-110.

Atlanta Hawks, December 14 at New York

atlantaNY121413 - Copy

Another Morey Ball shot chart. Barely any mid-range shots were taken, with a ton of those shots instead going towards threes, including a bunch from the corners. Atlanta took 32 attempts from the arc that night, making 15. 10 of those came from Louis Williams and Kyle Korver.

The Knicks still won, though, 111-106. Maybe they’ll trade for Kyle Lowry after all.

Portland Trail Blazers, December 14 at Philadelphia

PorPhi 121413 - Copy

So. Many. Threes.

Portland had a night reminiscent of when my rosters on NBA 2K6 had ratings of 99. They couldn’t miss (21 threes), they dished (41 assists), and they won in a blowout (139-105). Had the Trail Blazers scored one more point, they would’ve been the 11th team in league history to score 140 points while taking less than 20 free throw attempts.

Regardless, they set a franchise record with their made threes. It’s just not fair when a team takes nearly 40 shots from the arc and makes over half.

All shot charts from ESPN.com

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