Month: September 2019

Can The Warriors Break Basketball Again

For combined points added from shooting efficiency (size of circles in the chart), Curry and Durant are the top two shooters from 2015-16 overall — and by a crazy margin: Curry added 380 points, Durant added 297, and third-place Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs added 172. It would be like if your team already had Lionel Messi and Neymar and then you went out and got Luis Suarez just for the heck of it.At what cost?Imagine you’re the Warriors. You’re loving this idea of having three amazing shooters who can shoot with a defender in their face, can open up shots for others, and can push back the perimeter. Great. But at what cost? Barnes did other stuff. He defended 616 shots!OK, I can’t keep that up. Barnes gave up about 1.02 points per shot. Not terrible, but not good. Meanwhile, Durant defended 810 shots, giving up — get this — 0.86 points per shot.As with shooting, defensive stats have to be considered in context, especially because they are so heavily affected by the different kinds of defensive assignments a player gets. Looking at players’ “expected points” per shot defended can be valuable, although that should be done cautiously, as it doesn’t reflect everything that led up to the shot (like the defender getting close to his opponent in the first place or being 7 feet tall). But let’s compare Durant to Barnes: The typical shot that Durant defended had about 0.04 points greater expectation than the shots Barnes did, meaning that Barnes was “forcing” his man into what should have been tougher shots. But the shooters Durant faced shot around 0.14 points per shot below expectation against him, while Barnes’s opponents shot 0.06 points above expectation against him.3Note that a 95 percent confidence interval over 800 shots is +/- 0.1 points per shot.Although I don’t think the “defense” skill is as reliably measured as the “launching the ball through the hoop” skill, it’s worth noting how much of an outlier Durant is. If we calculate defensive “anti-shooting” value added — by combining expected points added or lost per shot with volume (as with shooting above) — we can estimate at least one aspect of defensive contribution. Cracking the gameThat the Warriors have collected a lot of valuable, productive players is clear. But for them to match — much less exceed — their aggregate value, they have to be more than that.The Warriors offense is built on the fact that Curry is virtually impossible to defend. That is, even his bad shots are pretty good shots, and his good shots are great shots. If every Warriors possession included a typical Curry three (on which he shot over 45 percent), they would score somewhere around 140-150 points per game (depending on their pace and offensive rebounding). Thus defenses have to devote insane amounts of attention to make sure that he doesn’t have any shots available, and the rest of his team is largely tasked with hitting the open shots defenses leave behind.The Warriors courted Durant with promises of no more clogged lanes, no more standing at the 3-point line for entire possessions waiting for a pass that never comes, and visions of open shot after open shot. So can they deliver?Using our player tracking data with NBA.com’s definition of “defended” (meaning a defender within 4 feet of the player when he shoots), we can compare how players shoot with and without the heat: OK then. Curry’s outlandish outlier-ness from 3-point range is well-documented. That Durant has been nearly as much of an outlier from inside the arc is not as well-known. Curry at least has a few players pushing him on the efficiency front (albeit over far fewer shots); Durant is pretty much all alone.Of course, Durant is no slouch from downtown. Although he took a much higher percentage of his shots from 2-point range than “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson did for Golden State, Durant’s 3-point value added (0.17 points per shot) was only slightly below Thompson’s (0.20). Durant shot “only” 39 percent on threes last season, compared with Thompson’s 43 percent, but remember: The “points added” we’re charting here are added to expectation, and Durant’s average shot was expected to score 0.98 points compared with Thompson’s 1.08, meaning that on average Durant’s threes were far more difficult than Thompson’s. In fact, Durant’s shots were more difficult than even notorious chucker Curry’s (1.01). Meanwhile, Harrison Barnes (the man Durant is replacing at starting small forward) shot 38 percent — good for a max contract from the Dallas Mavericks — but did so with an average shot value of 1.15 points — on which he shot just slightly below expectation.The Warriors’ hoarding tendencies are even more stark when we combine 2- and 3-point value added: Durant’s opponents scored 116 points below expectation last season, second in the NBA behind, yep, his new Warriors teammate Draymond Green (whose opponents shot 168 points below expectation on 1,307 shots). Durant may not have drawn the toughest assignments on the Thunder all year (those typically went to Andre Roberson or Steven Adams), but the sum total of his defensive contribution is hard to ignore.Combining this defensive value added with the offensive value added above yields this: The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors were without a doubt one of the greatest NBA teams of all time. The Warriors won a regular-season-record 73 games, and had their season ended five (in-game) minutes earlier, would be back-to-back champions. Had their fate taken a tiny turn — or had two-time MVP Stephen Curry not been affected by lingering injury — they might still be the darlings of sports nerdom, ready to take aim at the 1995-98 Rodman-era Chicago Bulls for the most dominant three-peat run in NBA history. Instead, after losing three straight championship-clinching games, they stand alongside the 2007 New England Patriots as one of the most dominant teams in sports history not to win a title. As it was for those Patriots, their record-setting achievement became their shame.And then things got really crazy.Signing 2014 MVP Kevin Durant away from the Oklahoma City Thunder during the offseason — as covered here and virtually everywhere — seems, at a minimum, like a rich-get-richer acquisition. Although fans of the league’s 29 other teams and/or fans of parity are likely (and perhaps rightly) fuming, championships aren’t decided by a want-off — collecting multiple superstars is pretty much how you win in the NBA. By some measures, this isn’t even the most dramatic team-up. When LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, Box Plus/Minus pegged him and new teammate Dwyane Wade as the top two players in basketball. Last season, Curry and Durant were, by comparison, a relatively pedestrian first and fifth, respectively. And, as noted by my colleague Neil Paine, “super teams” often underperform expectations. (We’ve certainly seen some super-duds.)Of concern for the Warriors is that when combining forces in the NBA, a paramount consideration is typically NOT duplicating skills. A team can only take one shot or get one rebound at a time, so duplication leads to diminishing returns. And Curry’s shooting was so good last season that he should arguably be taking more shots rather than sharing — even with an MVP-caliber shooter. And it’s not like the Warriors didn’t have to make sacrifices — departed big men Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights and Festus Ezeli combined for more than 3,000 minutes last season.The Warriors’ first outing this season obviously did not go well; the San Antonio Spurs kicked the ever-loving heck out of them on opening night. Golden State followed that up with closer-than-they-should-have-been wins over New Orleans and Phoenix. So the possibility of having fixed what wasn’t broken has taken on a more material threat than we even might have guessed.On the other hand, the Warriors aren’t trying to get more balanced or plug holes here and there: They’re trying to break the game.1You know, more than they have already.The Warriors are betting on the belief that certain skills — if stacked beyond a certain, typically unattainable threshold — can disrupt the balance of a game so completely that instead of producing diminishing returns, they produce increasing ones. We’ve seen this dynamic at work in the past — for example, when the Spurs stumbled into the No. 1 overall draft pick and took Tim Duncan, pairing him with perennial All-Star center David Robinson (forming the “Twin Towers”) and kicking off a dynasty. Or in the NFL, when the Minnesota Vikings added Randy Moss to an already loaded wide-receiving corps and tore up the league’s offensive record books.Durant is a great NBA player from a lot of different angles, but what’s truly remarkable about the Warriors’ acquiring him is the extent to which it doubles down on the team’s greatest (or GOATest) strength: shooting the rock. They’ve added one of the game’s best shooters to what was already the best shooting team in NBA history — without sacrificing defense or all-around skill at his position. We’ve never seen this concentration of shooting talent on one team. Actually, we’ve never seen anything even close to it. There may be stumbles along the way, but this could also be something entirely new.So let’s break it down.Shooting Dwayne JohnsonUsing NBA player-tracking data for the 2015-16 season, I brewed my own model for expected points for a given shot based on its location, the position and height of the nearest defender, how many dribbles the player took, how long he held the ball for, and how much time was left on the shot clock. Using this, we can calculate points contributed relative to expectation for each shot taken and thus how much value players added from shooting ability alone.2It’s also worth noting that because technical issues have been known to cause the NBA’s player-tracking system to miss some plays, the data it produced for last season is missing a little less than 1 percent of shots. It also doesn’t always agree with other play-by-play sources about shot location and other details (though in spot-checking a few cases of disagreement, I found them to be equally imperfect).Note that this doesn’t account for shot creation or any of the myriad other ways that a player can help his team score more efficiently — it tells us just, for a given situation, how good the player is at putting the ball into the net. (For instance, a player who gets to the rim at will but performs slightly below average on his shots once he’s there is still hugely valuable, because shots near the basket are valuable. But that’s not captured fully here; this measure doesn’t show how a shot was created, only the circumstance when it was taken and what happened.) It also doesn’t count shots during which the shooter was fouled — again, it’s about pure shooting ability.Here are charts for how much value each player in the league with at least 100 (unfouled) 2-point or 3-point shots in the 2015-16 data contributed from this skill: Again, neither of these axes should be taken as the definitive representation of value for their respective genres, but even as rough proxies, they paint a pretty vivid picture. We’ve seen other superstar players affect the game on both ends of the floor — LeBron James and Tim Duncan at their peaks would look fearsome on this chart — but those all-around players have, to this point, had fairly all-around games that fit more traditional strategies, like attacking the rim or working out of the post. Durant can do that too, but he’s also something those other Hall-of-Famers weren’t: a dead-eyed sniper.Normally a collection of sharpshooters would have to be balanced out by some guys capable of carrying the burden defensively (or otherwise diverting resources to defense). But Durant’s length and defensive versatility allow his team to put even more shooting capability on the floor than would normally be possible. Note that Green and Barnes both shot better than 40 percent when left open, which was all the time.No really. This tracking data includes 462 3-point shots by Green and Barnes, only 28 of which were defended; of those, they made six. Six. Thompson had 158 defended attempts (26 percent of his attempts overall) and made 41 percent of them.If the premise of opposing defenses is to cover Curry at all costs, the premise of the Warriors offense is that those defenses can cover only so much ground. Eventually, they’ll lose track of one of the other guys.Except now the “other guys” include Durant, who last season had 187 defended attempts (41 percent) and made 37 percent.With Curry shooting 38 percent on a whopping 227 defended attempts, this gives the Warriors three players who shot better than 37 percent on a high volume of such shots last season. Factoring in chances of getting an offensive rebound, if a team could get a 37 percent 3-point shot on every possession, they’d score more than 120 points per 100 possessions. The best offenses in NBA history managed around 115.So, yeah, Durant will be open more often than he’s used to. But he’ll also probably draw more defenders away from Curry than Barnes did because of his ability to put the ball on the floor (remember all those twos he takes, and makes?), freeing Curry for more open looks — and you can see what he does with those.Pushing boundariesOne of the thrilling — and honestly bizarre — aspects of Curry’s 2015-16 season was his sudden development into the league’s pre-eminent ultra-long-range shooter. Before Curry took long range to a new level last season, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers was about the only game in town. Only a handful of players have shown any serious capacity from beyond 26 feet — right around the distance where even good looks by good shooters become inefficient — and the Warriors now have three of them.This can be a bit tricky to get at because so many shots taken from beyond 26 feet are “involuntary” — meaning that they’re taken when time is running out and a player is forced to shoot or risk not getting a shot off at all. I set this boundary at four seconds. Note that voluntary shots from long range tend to be very good looks, as otherwise the shooter wouldn’t take them. For involuntary shots from 26 to 28 feet last season, the league as a whole shot 23 percent. For voluntary shots from the same distances, it shot 34 percent. Curry, Durant and Thompson shot a combined 45 percent: Among players with at least 30 attempts from 26 to 28 feet, Curry, Durant and Thompson have three of the top five shooting percentages. In fact, for either of Durant or Thompson, the only NBA player who has both taken more shots from 26-28 feet and hit a higher percentage is Curry. Only eight players even shot above 40 percent.So what’s the big deal about 26-28 feet? It’s only 2 feet behind 24-26 feet, where most 3-point shots are taken,4For voluntary 3-pointers taken in the 2015-16 season, 55 percent were taken between 24 and 26 feet; 31 percent were taken from less than 24 feet. right? Well, imagine a 2-foot-wide arc from sideline to sideline 26-28 feet from the basket. We can find the area of that region using a little basic calculus: just over 128 square feet.That’s an extra 128 square feet of real estate for an offense to work with! Or, put the other way, an extra 128 square feet that the defense has to defend. Against three of the league’s most willing and able shooters from that distance.Imagine that the Warriors played a largely vanilla offense with the primary aim of trying to get any one of these three guys a decent 3-point look from anywhere inside 28 feet. Say they found such a shot on a third of possessions and had a league-average offense on the rest. That would already get them 120 points per 100 possessions5145 points per 100 on the target third (at 45 percent shooting, factoring in offensive rebounds), and league average of 106.4 on the rest. — the highest in history by a wide margin. Again, duplicated skills with the potential to lead to exponential returns — and this isn’t even the most optimistic scenario.The endNone of which is to say that I think the Warriors will win 73 again or the like — certainly that took a fair amount of luck, in addition to skill. Their plan may not work at all, and even if it does, it may take them awhile to figure it out. But just as last season we saw things that were hard to conceive of beforehand — however much we suspected Curry and the Warriors were doing something revolutionary — this team should be charting new territory. And whether I think it’s fair or not, I am dying to see what happens.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Getty Images read more

Beside The Points For Thursday Feb 15 2018

Oh, and don’t forgetWhat are the men scared of? We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆  Join the squad. Subscribe All newsletters See more NBA predictions Things That Caught My EyeKane sure looks like the best striker in the worldHarry Kane on the Tottenham Hotspur got his 100th goal in the English Premier League two weeks ago, with only Alan Shearer accomplishing it in fewer games. This season alone, Harry Kane is at the top of the five European leagues, with 23 goals from 61 shots on goals in 26 games. [FiveThirtyEight]The Dutch came here to skate with alacrity and not much elseAs of the end of competition on Wednesday, players from the Netherlands have won 121 medals of which 42 were gold in the Winter Olympics. Of those, 95.4 percent of the golds and 94.2 percent of the total medals were in the sport of speedskating, making them the top one-trick nation in the games. [FiveThirtyEight]Try out our interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?Kim gets Gold and Gold gets BronzeAmericans Chloe Kim and Arielle Gold medaled in the halfpipe snowboarding competition, with the seventeen year old phenom Kim taking a gold medal and Gold, who suffered a freak injury in Sochi, dislocating her shoulder on the flukey halfpipe at that games, taking third place. [The Washington Post]Yeah, well, we’ll get ’em in the rematchTwo of the best teams in the world, Canada and the United States, had a tumultuous first game in women’s hockey at the Olympics, with Canada’s 2-1 victory meaning they clinch the top seed in pool play. The two teams could very well face off against one another in next week’s final. Meanwhile, Team USA stomped the Olympic Athletes from Russia, with Jocelyne Lamoureaux scoring two goals in six seconds, an Olympic record. [ESPN]Try out our brand new super fun quiz, Which Winter Olympic Sport Is Best For You? I got ski jumping!The men aren’t doing that wellMeanwhile, the U.S. men lost 3-2 to Slovenia in overtime after coughing up a 2-0 lead heading into the third period. The good news is that that game just helped to figure out the seeding for the knockout rounds, but that concludes our good news regarding the men’s U.S. hockey team for the time being. [Deadspin]She doesn’t even go here!About six percent of Olympic athletes do not actually live in the nations they represent, which adds up to an estimated total of 178. Of those 178, at least 37 of them are Americans playing for other teams. Typically these folks have either dual citizenship or have fast-tracked naturalization in their chosen nation. [ESPN]Big Number29.6 percentThat’s the percentage of alpine ski race runs that are unfinished. While skeleton certainly looks like it’s designed for people to wipe out all the time, only 0.6 percent of races end in DQs. [FiveThirtyEight]Leaks from Slack: natesilver:wow BIG curling comeback for the USAwe were down 6-1 and now its 6-6against Italywalt:DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLESlinda.tutovan:yay curlingwalt:[i do not]tchow:italy just hit a great shotneil:OMG you guys are watching too???We’re watching in the alcoveThis match has been crazy3+ points in almost every end, multiple stealsgalen:the USA outfits are cuteneil::us:Predictions NBA read more

The Seattle Seahawks Are Now Underdogs To Make The Playoffs

What opponent would you least want to see on your favorite NFL team’s schedule? Most of you, I’d guess, would want to avoid Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. But after that?The Seattle Seahawks, despite their 3-3 record, remain a perfectly reasonable answer to this question. When our NFL Elo ratings come out later this week, they’ll have Seattle in third place — just slightly behind New England (and further behind Denver) and just slightly ahead of Dallas, Indianapolis and San Francisco. You could argue these cases — are you more afraid of the Seahawks defense or Colts quarterback Andrew Luck? Are you sure you’d rather play Seattle than Denver when the Seahawks already beat the Broncos this season — and demolished them in last year’s Super Bowl?It’s not as though Seattle’s season has been a disaster. The Seahawks have outscored their opponents by 18 points against a very tough schedule. Jeff Sagarin’s ratings at USA Today have them as the third-best team in football based solely on their performance this year.Our Elo ratings carry over performance from previous seasons, which helps Seattle some. This usually yields more reliable estimates of team strength, especially early in the season (six games is a small sample size). You could argue against accounting for prior years’ performance when a team is old or when its roster had turned over substantially. But Seattle’s hasn’t. It has brought its core back from last year, when it was the third-youngest team in football. Quarterback Russell Wilson is just 25, an age when most QBs are still improving.Nonetheless, the Elo ratings have the Seahawks as underdogs to make the playoffs. In the simulations we ran after Sunday night’s games, Seattle made the playoffs just 46 percent of the time.The Seahawks are harmed by playing in the NFL’s toughest division, in a deep conference and against a very tough schedule. A league-average team playing Seattle’s schedule this year would be expected to go 7-9 based on each opponent’s Elo ratings, so the schedule costs the Seahawks about one win.Seattle will also need to finish with an 11-5 record or better to be assured of making the playoffs. In simulations where Seattle finished 9-7 — its most likely record according to Elo — it made the playoffs just 23 percent of time, well below the historical average for 9-7 teams of about 50 percent.Nor may a 10-6 record be good enough. In our simulations, Seattle won the NFC West only 27 percent of the time with that record. More often, a 10-6 Seattle team made the playoffs as a wild card. But the NFC playoff picture is crowded. Seattle would have to compete for two wild card slots along with whichever team finishes second in the NFC East (probably Philadelphia or Dallas), whichever team finishes second in the NFC North (probably Detroit or Green Bay) and whichever other NFC West team (San Francisco or Arizona) also misses out on the division title.And while an 11-5 record was almost always good enough for Seattle to make the postseason, it only earned the Seahawks a division title 60 percent of the time. That means they’d start their playoffs on the road — depriving them of the benefit of the NFL’s biggest home-field advantage.Perhaps the Seahawks don’t have much right to complain — it was only four seasons ago when they made the playoffs as a 7-9 team in an awful NFC West. But the trend toward smaller divisions in sports makes odd outcomes like this more likely. If Seattle makes the playoffs, it will certainly have earned it. read more

The Story Of The NBA Regular Season In 9 Charts

The Bucks and Raptors jockey for No. 1 The Clippers ride out a bumpy playoff path The biggest story of the NBA offseason in 2018 was where future Hall of Fame free-agent LeBron James would take his talents. And when James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers, the expectations were that L.A. would return to the playoffs after a franchise-record five-season absence. James’s new supporting cast looked odd, but it seemed at least good enough to be competitive among the middle of the Western Conference pack. Instead, however, James was injured on Christmas Day and missed 18 games at midseason, while his veteran teammates struggled and the young would-be stars around him never emerged. Add in the drama of failed Anthony Davis trade talks, a brutal March slide (despite LeBron’s vow to activate “playoff mode” early) and Magic Johnson’s abrupt resignation as team president this week, and King James’s first season with the Lakers had anything but a Hollywood ending. But each situation turned extremely sour in a hurry. Washington started the season 2-9 and never recovered, losing Wall to a season-ending injury at midyear, trading Porter to Chicago before the deadline and falling out of the postseason picture for good by the middle of February. As for New Orleans, its disappointing record hovered a few games below .500 around New Year’s. But what truly wrecked its season was a January injury to Davis and, of course, Davis’s public request to be traded. The resulting soap opera — which involved accusations of tampering against the Lakers, counteraccusations that the Pelicans used trade talks to sabotage L.A.’s season and no actual Davis trade — left the Pelicans sitting their disgruntled star on and off down the stretch as the team went 10-20 from February onward. Now the Wizards and Pelicans must both piece themselves back together and figure out where to go from here. After finally earning the No. 1 seed in the East, last year was supposed to be the Toronto Raptors’ year. Then they were promptly humiliated (again) by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. So when LeBron left the East, this would surely be Toronto’s time. Right? It looked that way early, with Kawhi Leonard leading the new-look Raps to the East’s best record by Christmas. But the Milwaukee Bucks went 37-12 from that point on, spurred by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP-caliber performance. Milwaukee overtook Toronto as our projected Eastern Conference top seed in early February and hasn’t looked back — though the teams could still be on a playoff collision course, provided that Philly and Boston (or maybe Indiana) don’t have ideas of their own. The Warriors are who we thought they were The Kings go on a valiant run One of the best stories of the season was the unexpected rise of the Sacramento Kings, to whom we assigned an NBA co-worst 23 wins in preseason. Sacramento defied that prediction by spending most of the year either above or around .500; they finished the season with 39 wins, easily making them this season’s most impressive overachiever. The breakout was fueled by huge improvements from most of the team’s starters, including second-year guard De’Aaron Fox’s ascent from one of the NBA’s worst players last season to one of its most promising youngsters this year. A 9-16 skid after the All-Star break left the Kings shy of the postseason in the end, but they have something encouraging to build off of for the first time in a very long while. The 2017-18 Denver Nuggets were one of the hardest-luck nonplayoff teams ever, finishing one game out of the postseason despite a 46-36 record. Our projections thought the team would have a better go of things this year, but even they couldn’t foresee Denver’s rise to the No. 2 seed in the West. The Rockets stumbled out of the gate (before James Harden’s incredible 30-point streak), leaving an opening for another team. So Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets seized that opportunity: They tangled with the Jazz and then the Thunder for second billing behind Golden State, eventually holding off all challengers with a 15-10 record after the All-Star break. The upside for Denver? It can now avoid the Warriors (or Rockets) until a potential Western Conference finals showdown. The 2018-19 NBA regular season is finally over, and the playoffs start this weekend. In anticipation — and in honor of our first season tracking the league with our new depth-chart forecasts — we wanted to share visualizations of the most interesting storylines of the regular season. These charts trace our projected seedings as the schedule progressed, giving a sense of the ebb and flow of each team’s place in the conference pecking order.We’ll begin with one of the most shocking outcomes of the regular season: the game’s signature star missing the playoffs.LeBron’s Lakers fall short The Nuggets rise in the West The Magic, Heat and Hornets clash in the East Projected in the preseason for 33 wins after losing free-agent center DeAndre Jordan (on top of trading away Blake Griffin late last season), the Los Angeles Clippers were not supposed to be major players in the Western Conference playoff chase this year. Instead, the team has come together around an unsung cast of veterans (Pat Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams) and young players (Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) alike. It wasn’t always smooth sailing — we projected the Clippers out of the postseason until late November, after which point they rose into (and dipped out of) the playoff picture a few times. But even after trading away its best player, Tobias Harris, at the deadline, L.A. maintained its grip on the West’s final playoff slot, finishing the regular season with 14 wins in its final 19 games. The Pelicans and Wizards take long, sad slides Raise your hand if you thought that the Orlando Magic would be in the thick of a late-season playoff race — much less that they’d actually come out on top. Orlando hadn’t visited the postseason since 2012, and our preliminary forecast gave the Magic just a 19 percent chance of snapping that streak this year. But after a mediocre 20-31 start to the season, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Co. saw their playoff bid pick up serious steam with a 22-9 finish that locked them in a stretch-run Southeast Division battle with the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat. Although our model liked the Heat best out of that trio around midseason, an up-and-down second half — punctuated by losses in six of its final nine games — left Miami outside the playoffs. And while the Hornets looked like the best bet in early February, a 5-13 stretch leading into late March also sent their odds tumbling. That was all the opening the suddenly red-hot Magic needed to swoop in and usurp both rivals — even leapfrogging the Pistons to grab the No. 7 seed in the East. Most of the other charts here have a lot of fun ups and downs … but not this one. The Warriors started as the Western Conference favorite and never deviated from it, creating the only perfectly flat line in our playoff-seed charts this season. Golden State wasn’t quite as dominant in terms of winning percentage as it was in other recent seasons, but we can chalk that up to the Warriors pacing themselves as much as anything else. Our CARMELO ratings continue to think Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and friends are far and away the best team in the league at full strength (even though our classic Elo model only ranks them fourth) and give them a staggering 78 percent chance of making the Finals, with a 60 percent chance of winning their fourth championship in five years.And maybe that’s a fitting way to end our regular-season roundup. Although there were a lot of fun storylines and battles deeper in the standings — and although the playoffs should contain some exciting subplots of their own — it’s pretty likely that the end result of this season will be basically the same as it’s been most recent seasons: another Golden State title. Love them or hate them, the Warriors are already one of the top dynasties in basketball history, so good that all of the jockeying for seeds and playoff positioning might give way to a single flat line of dominance engulfing another NBA season.Jay Boice contributed research.Check out our latest NBA predictions.CORRECTION (April 11, 2019, 1 p.m.): Previous versions of the charts in this article mistakenly reversed the final playoff seedings for some teams. read more

Bullpen blows lead Clippers fall to Syracuse

The Clippers bullpen gave up a late lead as Columbus fell to the Syracuse Chiefs Monday night 6-4 at Huntington Park.Starting pitcher Josh Tomlin had a solid outing, going 5.2 innings, giving up two hits and one earned run. The bullpen, however, blew the lead the very next inning, giving up five runs while allowing nine batters to come to the plate.With a bullpen that has been solid all year, manager Mike Sarbaugh was confident handing the ball over to his relievers.Pitcher Carlton Smith replaced Tomlin in the sixth, but momentum quickly shifted in the seventh inning in favor of the Chiefs.Smith lasted only two-thirds of an inning, threw a wild pitch, committed an error, walked two batters and gave up two hits and two earned runs. “These things are going to happen,” Sarbaugh said. “Carlton didn’t look comfortable out there.”When asked why he took Tomlin out of the game, Sarbaugh said, “It was only his third start of the year. We didn’t want to do more than 80 pitches. We want to gradually get to 100 pitches a game.”Reliever Joe Smith did not do much better in replacing Carlton Smith. He also only lasted two-thirds of an inning, giving up four hits, three runs (two earned) and striking out one.The Clippers jumped out to a 3-0 lead after four innings, thanks to a two-run double by Jason Donald in the third and a fielders choice in the fourth. Tomlin’s only mistake was a leadoff home run in the sixth by Seth Bynum. “You got to forget about today and just come back tomorrow,” Sarbaugh said. The Clippers close out the four-game series against Syracuse today at 11:35 a.m. read more

Former Buckeye Jack Tatum suffers fatal heart attack

Former Ohio State defensive back Jack Tatum died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 61.Tatum, known for his intimidating, hard-hitting style of play, which earned him the nickname “The Assassin,” starred in the Buckeye secondary from 1968-1970.“We have lost one of our greatest Buckeyes,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said in a statement. “When you think of Ohio State defense, the first name that comes to mind is Jack Tatum. His loss touches every era of Ohio State players and fans.”As a senior, Tatum earned the honor of the national Defensive Player of the Year. He was a three-year starter and a two-time All-American.He was a first-round draft choice by the Oakland Raiders in 1971. He won a Super Bowl with the Raiders in 1976 and was named to three Pro Bowls.Tatum’s punishing blow to New England Patriot Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game severed a pair of the wide receiver’s vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed. Stingley died in 2007 from after-effects of the hit. Tatum was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1981 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004. read more

Report Luke Fickell interviewed for Florida Atlantic head coaching position

Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell celebrates with junior cornerback Doran Grant (12) following an interception during a game against Purdue Nov. 2 at Ross-Ade Stadium. OSU won, 56-0.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorOhio State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell reportedly interviewed Tuesday for the vacant Florida Atlantic head coaching position, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.According to the report, FAU Athletic Director Pat Chun was in Columbus Tuesday morning to conduct the interview, but an FAU spokeswoman did not confirm that to The Lantern Tuesday afternoon.“Pat Chun, Florida Atlantic’s Director of Athletics has stated (publicly) that he will have no comment concerning the coaching vacancy until it is complete,” the spokeswoman said, in an email.The coaching position became available last week, after former Owl coach Carl Pelini resigned following allegations he was seen using illegal drugs.Fickell is set to earn $600,000 in 2013, the highest amount among current Buckeye assistants. He served as OSU interim head coach during the 2011 season, after former head coach Jim Tressel resigned in wake of Tattoo-gate, where several former Buckeyes were found to be receiving improper benefits.An OSU spokesman told The Lantern in an email he is “not aware of personnel plans for other schools.” read more

Commentary Covering the Buckeyes from a new perspective

I have been covering the Buckeyes since the beginning of the 2013 season, and I’ve seen every play through a camera lens. But the Big Ten Championship against Michigan State was different.This time, I was not taking photos on the field, seeing as only two of The Lantern’s three photographers were allowed on the field, per Big Ten rules.It was 12 games into the season, and I have been on the sideline for 11 of them, since I did not travel to California earlier in the season, and it has been all the same to me.It’s my job.I go to each stadium, grab my cameras, head down to the field and do my job before heading to the post game press conference to film OSU coach Urban Meyer, all the way up until the team’s 24th win.But this game was different.Not only did I not have a camera lens in front of me during the Big Ten Championship game, but I didn’t get to see Meyer talk about winning either.It was an entire new experience for me as sports journalist.I stood in the press box as the game began, instead of sitting by the Buckeyes end zone anticipating the kickoff with the rest of Lucas Oil Stadium. Instead, I was with countless other reporters, fingers hovering over their keyboards, ready to analyze the first play of the game.I saw the Buckeyes and the Spartans begin the game from a birds eye view, I could see everything happening, against just what was through the lens of my camera.It was almost like a culminating moment for me, the sign that the season was winding down and my football coverage at The Lantern was coming to a close. As I watched these athletes on the field, each snap was one snap closer to it being over, for me and for them.Regardless of a win or a loss, one more game would be all there was left in this season.One more, and it was over.Time for me to leave the 2013 football season behind, and move on to coverage for other sports and move towards graduation in the spring. It was also time for some of these athletes to finish their college football careers and move onto graduation, and even the NFL for some.If I would have been told a year ago that I would have covered the Buckeyes all season, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’ve been incredibly fortunate for the opportunities working for The Lantern has provided me.And this game pulled it all together for me.I saw the game from high above and even throughout the stadium when I took some time during the second half to go watch the game from the fans point of view.I watched the Buckeyes and their fans look defeated when the clock hit zero and they were handed their first loss in just under two years.I watched players walk into the locker room in tears, something I have never seen while covering this team.I sat front row and watched Meyer tell the media he was proud of his team, despite the loss and the missed chance at the BCS National Championship Game.I covered what was probably my last game for the Buckeyes, and I saw the entire experience from a whole new light.What felt like the end to my football coverage at OSU, I’m sure felt like the end to many players as well. It was almost like a sign for me that while it was great while it lasted, it’s time to see what’s next.It’s time to go see something new, and from another new point of view. read more

Ohio State football is on to that team up north after defeating

Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) attempts a pass during a game against Indiana on Nov. 22 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 42-27.Credit: Jon McAllister / Asst. photo editorOne thing was for sure after Ohio State completed a 42-27 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers.The Buckeyes (10-1, 7-0) had clinched an appearance in the Big Ten title game, but there was one more piece of unfinished business. “On to that team up north,” senior tight end Jeff Heuerman said after the game.The Buckeyes struggled for the majority of the game against the Hoosiers, rallying to score half of their points in the fourth quarter, but OSU coach Urban Meyer said he is looking at the performance as a positive. “I shared with our players what a great place to play where you win a conference or a division championship, you put 500 some yards on the board, you still feel like you didn’t play very well,” he said after the game. “No place else you’d rather play or coach that you have high expectations.”Those expectations now turn to the 111th meeting of the Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, as the rivals are set to face off Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Michigan holds a 58-45-6 edge over the Buckeyes in history of The Game.Junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said following the Indiana game, however, that the Buckeyes would enjoy the win for 24 hours before turning their attention to the Wolverines.“Always celebrate a victory. I’m glad we got the victory. Now, we’re on top of the Big Ten East,” Washington said. “We’ll celebrate for a day, but now we have to get back to work to get ready for the team up north.”OSU sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott had a different tone following the win over Indiana, though, as he said his focus instantly would be on Michigan.“Immediately after the game. It is a different week. We hate that school up there,” he said. Elliott went as far as to not answer a reporter’s question because the reporter said the word “Michigan.”“You’re not going to say that in our house,” Elliott said.OSU redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who has never played in the rivalry game, said after the win over Indiana that he had to learn about the game when he arrived in Columbus.“I knew it was big, but coming from Texas, it was Texas and Oklahoma. I went to that game being recruited. I really didn’t have anything on the team up north and Ohio State,” Barrett said. “It was a lot to learn. It’s a deep hate for those guys. Not just the players, but more the fans.”Barrett was on the sidelines for last year’s game however, and added he has a good feel for the rivalry now, especially after seeing former Buckeye lineman Marcus Hall get ejected after a fight on the field.“I was looking at that like ‘let’s just please calm it down.’ It was definitely amped up at their place too,” Barrett said. “We just don’t like those guys.”Meyer said that the atmosphere around the practice facilities will be “insane” during the week leading up to the game.“Same way when it was Coach( Earle) Bruce in 1986 when I experienced my first rivalry game. It’s different,” Meyer said. “We’re honored to play it. We understand our responsibilities of it, too.”Meyer was a graduate assistant under then-coach Earle Bruce during the 1986 and 1987 seasons coaching tight ends (’86) and receivers (’87). OSU fell to the Wolverines in 1986 before defeating Michigan, 23-20, in 1987, in Bruce’s last game as head coach.Turning the clock forward 27 years, Meyer has gone 2-0 in his first two matchups against Michigan.In both games, OSU entered undefeated.Heuerman, who has recorded just two catches for 59 yards and a touchdown in his three games against Michigan, said despite Michigan’s 5-6, 3-4 record, the Buckeyes will have to be ready for a hungry Wolverine team.“Records don’t matter. It is all on the line this week,” Heuerman said. “Each team is going to throw everything they got to win the game. That’s how it’s always been.”Barrett, who found Heuerman for his 30th touchdown pass of the year against Indiana, echoed his tight end’s comments.“It’s always like that when you play a rivalry game, a high emotion game like that,” Barrett said. “You try to control your emotions and execute the game plan and I think that at the end of the day, the team that wins (is the) team that controls their emotions and executes the game plan.”Senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who has played in three games against the Wolverines, said he believes Michigan will give OSU a tough test come kickoff on Saturday.“I don’t know what their schedule is, (what) their wins and loses are this year, but I know they are going to bring everything they have against us and if we don’t do the same, it might be a bad day for the Buckeyes,” Bennett said. Despite the intensity of the rivalry, Bennett said he has a certain admiration for the game itself. “Over the course of four years, you kind of build up a little negative feelings towards them,” Bennett said. “More than anything, you build up a respect for the rivalry and what they bring to the table every single game.”Elliott was slightly more intense when describing how the Buckeyes will prepare for the rivalry game. “We are just going to have to grind really hard this week so we can come out and kick their a–,” he said. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are set to renew their disdain for each other Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon. read more

Mens tennis No 3 Ohio State has a target on its back

OSU junior Mikael Torpegaard (left) and senior Herkko Pollanen (right) celebrate a point against Georgia on Feb. 12. OSU won, 4-0. Credit: Courtesy of OSU AthleticsThe Ohio State men’s tennis team is firmly positioned as a national championship contender. Following success against nationally ranked opponents, the Buckeyes hope to use that experience with Big Ten play looming in the near future.OSU was ranked No. 1 in the country, but after its recent 4-3 losses to Texas and Wake Forest, the Buckeyes are now No. 3 in country. Wake Forest has since taken the No. 1 spot and Texas is ranked sixth, nationally.The Buckeyes are 8-3 against nationally ranked opponents, which is the kind of schedule OSU coach Ty Tucker said he wanted his team to face coming into the season.“We try and build the hardest schedule we can build,” Tucker said. “The guys realize, when they come to Ohio State, that that’s what we are going to do. When you play some top-10 opponents, you get a little more juiced up.”With constant challenges against some of the best teams in the nation, senior Herkko Pollanen feels like his team can now go up against anyone.“When you know that you can compete against the best teams, you have a lot of confidence going against those guys,” Pollanen said.OSU boasts the No. 1 ranked player in the nation in junior Mikael Torpegaard. In the middle of a 16-match winning streak and having won 16 of 18 matches against nationally ranked opponents, he said team success all depends on the team’s mindset going into the match.“You just have to go into each match thinking that your opponent is good,” Torpegaard said, “Knowing how to play them and treating every match the same way, never underestimating anybody. Going in with the same kind of mindset helps you.”However, becoming the best team in the nation brings its own challenges for players.“As the season progresses, you got to try and not think about playing with a target on your back,” Torpegaard said. “Everyone wants to beat you.”With such a high level of success against the best in the NCAA, Tucker knows that the teams coming in are going to step up and play at the highest level against championship-caliber teams.“As a coach, you know that teams are going to bring it,” Tucker said. “Maybe they get complacent sometimes in other matches, but when they come to Ohio State or when they play Ohio State, we know we are going to see their best shot. They want to have a shot.”With motivation to keep that top spot, OSU is relying on what got it to this level.“It brings motivation, for sure, to keep on practicing hard and putting (in) all of the practice hours,” Torpegaard said. “That’s essentially what got us up there. I think we are one of the hardest-working teams in the country.”The amount of time spent on the courts is what Tucker thinks sets OSU apart.“They have been put in positions and they keep answering the bell,” Tucker said. “That’s what you have to be most proud of, as a coach. They bring it every match that they play.”Coming off two losses against top competition, OSU will try to prove that it’s worthy of the No. 1 ranking again with conference play beginning Friday against Michigan State. read more