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ESPN: Surprise playoff teams

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by arif1127, Jan 7, 2013.

  1. arif1127

    arif1127 Contributing Member

    Jun 26, 2002
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    Surprise teams in playoff hunt
    Kevin Pelton [ARCHIVE]

    ESPN Insider | January 7, 2013

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
    Golden state of mind: Steph Curry and the Warriors are eyeing a postseason trip in the crowded West.
    Entering the season, the consensus of experts had nine teams in each conference as likely to make playoff runs -- Atlanta, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana, Miami, Milwaukee, New York and Philadelphia in the East, and Dallas, Denver, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers, Memphis, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Utah in the West.

    Of the 12 projected also-rans from both conferences, three in the East (Charlotte, Cleveland and Washington) and three in the West (New Orleans, Phoenix and Sacramento) essentially already have been eliminated. That leaves a group of six teams hoping to surprise the league with playoff runs. Using advanced metrics, we rank their chances of reaching the postseason from best to worst.

    Hollinger's Playoff Odds

    Which teams do the odds favor? Check our projections daily. Playoff Odds »

    1. Golden State Warriors
    Of these teams, the Warriors' success is the least surprising. They had the best Vegas line of any team outside the top nine in both conferences and were a trendy playoff pick. Still, nobody -- including outspoken co-owner Joe Lacob -- anticipated Golden State winning two-thirds of its games, especially without injured starting center Andrew Bogut.

    Despite Bogut's absence, the Warriors have parlayed elite rebounding into a top-10 defense. Their point differential (plus-2.3 points per game) doesn't quite match their record, but that's more likely to affect seeding than whether Golden State reaches the playoffs for just the second time in the past 19 years. It would take an epic decline for the Warriors to miss out on the postseason.

    2. Houston Rockets
    In hindsight, maybe the Rockets' run should have been more predictable. From the outside, it looked like Houston was headed for a rebuilding season after dumping veterans Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola during the summer while pursuing young talent. The opportunity to acquire James Harden days before opening night shifted focus, and rookies Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and the suspended Royce White have barely played. But the Rockets hardly have sold out their youth movement, favoring second-year big men Marcus Morris and Greg Smith, who have played well off the bench.

    Using Houston's actual rotation (including more minutes for starters) for the team's preseason projection in my SCHOENE system would have pushed the Rockets from 29.6 wins to 37.5 -- still shy of their 48-win pace, but good enough to put them in the playoff discussion. Credit the rest of the difference to Houston's efficient shot distribution and the rapid development of young players such as Chandler Parsons, which is a testament to Kevin McHale and the rest of the Rockets' coaching staff.

    Houston is sixth in the West and showing no signs of fading; in fact, the Rockets rank fifth in schedule-adjusted point differential since Dec. 1. No wonder the Hollinger Playoff Odds now give them the fourth-best postseason chance in the conference.

    3. Toronto Raptors
    With the Boston Celtics showing signs of life during the weekend by sweeping Indiana and Atlanta, the odds of a surprise playoff team in the Eastern Conference got longer. If one of the conference's top eight teams does stumble, and the 76ers don't get Andrew Bynum back, there's an interesting battle brewing between the Raptors and the Detroit Pistons and who might take advantage. The two teams have been essentially identical during the season, but give Toronto the slight edge because a playoff run looked possible before the season. In the wake of a solid first season under Dwane Casey and the addition of Lowry, SCHOENE pegged the Raptors for a near-.500 record -- 10 games better than the Pistons.

    A month ago, anyone suggesting Toronto might make the playoffs was in for a Jim Mora-style rant. A road-heavy early schedule has evened out, and the Raptors have taken full advantage, winning eight of their past 12 games.

    While Toronto fans have credited the absence of Andrea Bargnani for improved defense, the Raptors are really winning with efficient offense. Per NBA.com, they rank third in the league in offensive rating since Dec. 10. An increased dosage of small ball has helped, as has the return of glue guy Alan Anderson, who has the team's best net plus-minus rating.

    4. Detroit Pistons
    Before getting stunned at home by the lowly Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday, the Pistons were one of the league's hottest teams, having won six of seven games. Lawrence Frank has slowly increased the minutes for promising rookie center Andre Drummond (he averaged 23.5 in that stretch), and Detroit improbably ranked in the NBA's top 10 at both ends of the court during that span. Still, the Pistons' overall 30-win pace is about what was expected from the team, and the schedule won't be getting any easier.

    5. Portland Trail Blazers
    With an impressive 3-1 road trip to start 2013, the Blazers have opened a 1½-game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Yet somehow, the trip still managed to point out why there's skepticism the Blazers can keep up their above-.500 pace. Because all three of their wins came by five points or fewer, and their one loss was by 23 at Toronto, Portland was actually outscored on the road. The Blazers have now won a league-high eight games by margins of five or fewer, and their 8-2 record in such games is second to the Los Angeles Clippers (5-1, .833). That explains the difference between Portland's eighth-place record in the West and the team's minus-2.2 point differential, which ranks 11th.

    Despite rookie Damian Lillard's late-game heroics, the Blazers will find it impossible to keep winning close games at their current rate. Add in a 2013 schedule rated the most difficult in the league by Rockets analyst Ed Kupfer and the Blazers will be hard-pressed to finish .500, let alone keep up with the crowded race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Given that Portland is still accumulating young talent and owes Charlotte its first-round pick if it finishes outside the top 12, that's not such a bad thing.

    6. Orlando Magic
    Through mid-December, Orlando parlayed stout defense and timely scoring into the best schedule-adjusted point differential in the East for the month. Such lofty heights proved short-lived, as Glen Davis' sprained shoulder sent the Magic reeling. Without Big Baby, the team has lost its past eight games.

    Other key Orlando players like guards Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick might be moved before the trade deadline as part of the rebuilding process. So even though the Magic sit a half-game ahead of Detroit and Toronto in the East standings, an Orlando playoff run is much more unlikely, which means fans can stop debating if missing the lottery would be for the worse.
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  2. BeardSanity

    BeardSanity Member

    Dec 27, 2012
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    I would say the rockets in the playoff picture wasn't going to be a huge surprise for most rockets fans following the team, but the rockets doing THIS good definitely is pleasantly surprising.
    The top 3 in the west is pretty much a lock, but after that its all in the air. IF we keep this pace i could see us beating out the warriors and the grizz for the number 4 spot.
  3. bmt1334

    bmt1334 Member

    Feb 7, 2008
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    How well we have been is a surprise to me, but we seem to be legit. We lose close games to elite teams. Not that bad since that what young teams are supposed to do, it's beating everyone else, and the developing chemistry of Lin and Harden that's been the catalyst.
  4. jocar

    jocar Member

    Nov 10, 2007
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    Aaron Mcguire also said the Rockets might have home advantage in the playoffs (top 4 seed) :O

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