Seahawks' trends equal Patriots' openings

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
The New England Patriots’ game plan seemingly changes week to week based on their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

In the divisional playoffs, the Patriots went an entire half without handing off the football to a running back. In the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots rushed 40 times for three touchdowns.

The Seattle Seahawks provide the Patriots their biggest challenge to date. The Seahawks led the NFL in points and yards allowed the last two seasons, the first team to do so since the 1985-86 Chicago Bears.

So how should the Patriots’ offense approach the Seahawks’ defense?

Avoid the right
Richard Sherman has lined up on the offense’s right on 99 percent of his snaps this postseason, and his presence has made passing to that side a problem for opposing offenses.

When targeting receivers outside the right numbers against the Seahawks this postseason, opponents are 6-of-17 (35 percent) with a touchdown (Randall Cobb) and three interceptions (two by Sherman). Of the six completions, four were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

On passes to the rest of the field this postseason, the Seahawks have allowed a 68 percent completion percentage and two touchdowns and have one interception.

When the Patriots played the Seahawks in 2012, Tom Brady was 3-of-10 with a touchdown and an interception throwing outside the right numbers.

At the time, Sherman was in his second year and emerging as a star. Brady didn’t avoid him much then, but he might this time if the divisional playoffs are any indication.

In the divisional playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens used inexperienced cornerback Rashaan Melvin almost exclusively on the left side (59 of 60 snaps). Brady threw 34 of his 50 passes left of the hashes.

Ground game is key
Running against the Seahawks is key, as they allowed 139 yards on 33 rushes on average in their four losses this season (an average of 73 yards on 22 rushes in 14 wins).

The Seahawks’ rush defense is strong, however, ranking second in yards per rush allowed (3.4) in the regular season. The Seahawks are particularly strong after contact, allowing a league-low 1.35 yards per rush after the first hit.

Against punishing runners such as Jonathan Stewart and Eddie Lacy this postseason, the Seahawks have softened up, allowing 2.27 yards per rush after contact. That’s good news for the Patriots, as LeGarrette Blount led the NFL with 2.57 yards per rush after contact this season.

Feed Gronk
The Patriots know where not to throw the ball, but to whom should they throw? Rob Gronkowski (naturally).

Gronkowski was the Patriots’ leading receiver this season and has a touchdown in five straight games, but going beyond that, tight ends have given the Seahawks’ defense issues this season.

The Seahawks allowed 11 touchdown passes to tight ends in the regular season, tied for third-most in the NFL, with six coming in their four losses.

Seattle ranked 22nd in Total QBR on passes targeting tight ends this season. It ranked first in passes directed toward running backs and wide receivers.

Hassan Whiteside does a lot in a little time

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25

David Banks/USA TodayHassan Whiteside (21) set a Heat franchise record with 12 blocked shots.
A player who entered this season with 19 games of NBA experience had one of the most impressive all-around games in Miami Heat history Sunday.

Hassan Whiteside came off the bench for the Heat and registered 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shots in their 96-84 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Whiteside became the first player with at least 12 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocked shots in a game since Shawn Bradley in 1997-98 with the Dallas Mavericks. In the past 25 years, the only other players to meet those marks have been Shaquille O'Neal (1993-94, with the Orlando Magic) and Dikembe Mutombo (1992-93, Denver Nuggets). Like Whiteside, Bradley came off the bench when he had his triple-dozen.

Whiteside broke the Heat franchise record of nine blocked shots (done by Alonzo Mourning six times). He had the first triple-double that includes blocked shots since Joakim Noah, who had 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocked shots on Feb. 28, 2013.

All 12 of Whiteside’s blocked shots were within six feet of the basket. Seven came when he was a help defender.

Taj Gibson was particularly affected by Whiteside. Five of Gibson’s 10 shots were blocked by Whiteside. No team had blocked five Gibson shots in a game before Sunday.

Whiteside's defense helped the Heat hold the Bulls to their third-worst field goal shooting percentage (35.6 percent) this season. The Bulls shot 33.3 percent in a loss to the Utah Jazz on Jan. 7 and 34.5 percent in a victory at Indiana on Dec. 29.

Whiteside played 19 games with the Sacramento Kings in 2010-11 and 2011-12 and was out of the NBA for two seasons. He became the eighth player in Heat history to post a triple-double, joining LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, O’Neal, Lamar Odom, Billy Owens, Steve Smith and Rory Sparrow.

Whiteside got all of that accomplished in 25 minutes on the court. The last player with 12 or more blocks in 25 minutes or less was Manute Bol in March 1989 for the Golden State Warriors against the Portland Trail Blazers (13 blocks in 20 minutes).

Stats to know: Thompson sets a record

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesKlay Thompson scored an NBA-record 37 points in the third quarter on Friday against the Kings.
Klay Thompson made his case to be a 2015 Western Conference All-Star and then some in 12 amazing minutes on Friday night against the Kings.

Thompson scored 37 points in the third quarter, the most in a quarter in NBA history, breaking the mark of 33 shared by George Gervin and Carmelo Anthony.

Perhaps more amazing than that: Thompson was 13-of-13 from the field and 9-of-9 from 3-point range. The nine 3-pointers set a record for a quarter. The 13 field goals tied the NBA mark. Thompson’s teammates were a combined 1-of-7 from the field for four points in the quarter.

Thompson finished with 11 3-pointers for the game, one shy of the NBA record shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall. He shot 73 percent from 3-point range, the best by a player with at least 15 3-point attempts in a game.

Thompson’s performance nearly mimicked that of his teammate, Stephen Curry against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in February, 2013.

Curry shot 64 percent from the field, made 11 3-pointers and finished with 54 points that day. Thompson shot 64 percent from field, made 11 3-pointers and had 52 points in this game.

Coincidence of the Night
Klay and his father, Mychal, each got to be a part of points-in-a-quarter history at Oakland Coliseum.

Mychal Thompson played in the game in which Sleepy Floyd set the NBA playoff record for points in a quarter with 29 for the Warriors against Thompson's Lakers.


Hawks continuing to prove themselves

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
The Atlanta Hawks don’t lose any more.

The Hawks beat the Thunder by 10 points on Friday. They’ve won a franchise-record 15 straight games and 29 of 31 overall. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that this is the first time in NBA history that there have been two winning streaks of at least 15 games prior to the All-Star Break. The only team with a longer streak this season is the Warriors, who had a 16-gamer

Though earlier this week, we noted the Hawks rank 10th in our BPI Rankings (hurt by a strength of schedule that ranked 20th at the time), they can still make a case for being the NBA’s best team.

The Hawks have shown themselves to be legit against the best teams. They are 11-2 against Western Conference opponents this season, including road wins against the Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Rockets and Clippers.

Each of the last two NBA champs (the Heat and the Spurs) had a win streak of at least 15 games during the regular season. However, the last team to start the season with at least 36 wins in the first 44 games (which the Hawks have done) was the 2010-11 Spurs, who got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Grizzlies.

Winning without a star
There is a case to be made that the Hawks lack star power. Their leading scorer both this season and on Friday, Paul Millsap (22 points), entered the day ranked 39th in the NBA in scoring. He also ranked tops on the team and 28th in the league in rebounds per game.

He has a legit, though not overwhelming case to be an All-Star, as does Jeff Teague, who entered Friday ranked eighth in the NBA in assists per game and 12th in’s Win Shares stat, which measures overall player value.

Where the Hawks are excelling is on defense. They held the Thunder to 41 percent shooting, During the winning streak, opponents are shooting only a hair better than that against them (42 percent).

Some media members have compared these Hawks to the last NBA team to win a championship without a megastar, the 2003-04 Pistons of Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton. Coincidentally, those Pistons had a similar win streak right around this time (a 13-gamer that ended Jan. 19). Their leading scorer, Hamilton, ranked 28th in the league in scoring at season's end.

The Pistons were also able to put up big streaks at the end of the season, winning eight straight twice in a six-week span. We’ll wait to see whether these Hawks can manage something similar and carry it into the postseason.


4-Point Play: Bulls at Mavericks

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23

Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images Pau Gasol, who has posted four consecutive double-doubles, and the Bulls visit the Mavericks tonight.
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter while watching Friday’s game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) between the Chicago Bulls (11th in BPI) and the Dallas Mavericks (3rd in BPI). Our BPI gives the Mavericks a 74 percent chance of winning:

1. The Rondo effect on defense appears to be strong. When Rajon Rondo plays for the Mavericks, they give up 99 points per 100 possessions. Without him, they give up 105 points per 100 possessions.

2. The Mavericks' offense works best when Monta Ellis is not settling for midrange shots. When Ellis gets 20 percent or fewer of his points from midrange shots, the Mavericks score an average of 113 points per 100 possessions. When he is above that mark, Dallas scores only 109 points per 100 possessions.

3. The Bulls need Jimmy Butler to be a major part of their offense. When Butler has a usage rate of 25 percent or more, the Bulls win 70 percent of their games, compared with only 58 percent when he does not.

4. The Bulls play their best defense when Pau Gasol keeps himself out of foul trouble. When Gasol averages fewer than 2.5 personal fouls per 36 minutes, the Bulls give up 101 points per 100 possessions. When Gasol is fouling at a higher rate, the Bulls give up 106 points per 100 possessions.

ACC, Big 12 close in best conference debate

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23

Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesVirginia and Duke are two top-five teams that highlight a top-heavy ACC in college basketball this season.
One of the hottest topics to debate in this or any college basketball season is which conference is the best.

Most would agree that the argument comes down to the Big 12 and ACC. The Big 12 could potentially place eight of its 10 teams in the NCAA tournament, while the ACC could have four top-three seeds.

So which is the better conference? The answer depends on whether you’re looking for the deeper conference or the one with more potential to win it all.

Deepest Conference

The Big 12 is undoubtedly the deepest conference from top to bottom. Eight of its 10 teams rank in the top 50 of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, and the conference has the highest average BPI ranking in the nation.

Sixty percent of the Big 12 is currently ranked in the AP poll (the highest percentage of any conference), and by the end of the season, two other teams could have an argument for inclusion. Even TCU, which lost its final 19 games last season, entered conference play undefeated (thanks in large part to a very weak nonconference schedule).

In nonconference games, the Big 12 has the best record in the nation but lacks a marquee nonconference win from a team other than Kansas.

The question surrounding the Big 12 is whether it has an elite team. No team in the Big 12 is ranked in the top eight of the AP poll or BPI.

Strongest At Top

Unlike the Big 12, the ACC has strength at the top, but the bottom of the conference has significant holes.

The ACC has four teams in the top 10 of the latest AP poll; no other conference has more than one.

This imbalance is captured in BPI. The ACC possesses five of the top 13 teams; the average BPI rating of those five teams is four points higher than any other conference’s top five. Put another way, the ACC’s fifth-ranked team in BPI -- Louisville -- ranks 13th overall. No other conference’s fifth-ranked team has a ranking higher than 20.

Even accounting for the fact that the ACC has five more teams than the Big 12, the average ranking of the top third of the conference is significantly higher for the ACC.

A case can be made that Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Louisville or Notre Dame could win it all; all five of those teams were projected as top-four seeds in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology.

Combining It All

So the question remains: How do you balance conference depth with conference strength at the top?

ESPN Stats & Information has released weekly conference power ranking for college football the past few years (for a detailed description of the methodology, click here). In short, the system equally weights the ratings from ESPN’s Football Power Index (conference depth) and the AP poll (power at top) to determine the best and worst conferences in the country.

This formula has been adapted for college basketball with one change. Because such a lower percentage of college basketball teams receive AP votes, the weighting for these rankings is 25 percent AP voting and 75 percent BPI.

In a fairly anticlimactic ending, the Big 12 and ACC are tied atop the rankings. For those needing an answer, the Big 12 holds a 0.013 point edge over the ACC. The next three conferences are closely bunched, with the Pac-12 ranking third on the strength of its top two teams -- Arizona and Utah -- ranking in the top 12 of the AP poll.

Though not pictured, the bottom three conferences in the rankings are the SWAC, MEAC and WAC.

Lakers might be better without Kobe

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant has a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
Kobe Bryant might be done for the season after MRI results showed a tear of the rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

Is it possible that the Lakers could improve as a team without Kobe? The numbers show that the Lakers have been a more efficient team this season when Kobe isn't on the floor, scoring four more points per 100 possessions and allowing 10 fewer points per 100 possessions without him.

The Lakers are 14 points per 100 possessions better with Kobe off the court this season than they are with Kobe on the court. Among all players with at least 1,000 minutes this season, only Kobe's teammate Jordan Hill has had a more negative effect on his team's production than Bryant himself.

Kobe ranks among the worst players in the league this season in a number of categories:
• 124th in field goal percentage (third-worst among qualified players)
• 103rd in 3-point percentage (fifth-worst)
• 74th in player efficiency rating
• 361st in win shares

Kobe's 0.1 win shares are the fewest of the 73 players to play at least 1,200 minutes this season. Win shares are an estimate of the number of wins a player contributes to his team based on his offense and defense.

Among the players with more win shares than Kobe this season are:
• Jonas Jerebko
• Alexis Ajinca
• Joel Freeland
• Jerome Jordan
• Dewayne Dedmon
• Charlie Villanueva
• Austin Rivers
• Damjan Rudez
• Furkan Aldemir

If Kobe misses the rest of the season, he will have the worst field goal percentage (37.3) in the last 50 seasons for a player who averaged at least 20 points per game. The current mark belongs to Allen Iverson, who shot 38.7 percent in 2003-04.

After the injury news dropped on Thursday, the All-Star Game starters were announced, and Kobe is among them. The numbers show that some very good Western Conference guards did not make the cut as starters. Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson all rank in the top 25 in PER, while Kobe ranks 74th.

Bracketology, BPI: Examining contrasts

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology on Thursday, and although BPI and Lunardi agree on quite a bit, there were also some marked differences.

Below is a breakdown of key differences from BPI’s perspective. It is important to note that the goals of Bracketology and BPI differ slightly: Bracketology projects which teams WILL make the tournament, while BPI ranks the teams based on which ones SHOULD make the field.

Is Providence a tournament team?
Providence College is a projected 6 seed in Bracketology. The Friars rank 49th in BPI, and based on that ranking, would be one of the first four teams out.

At first glance, Providence has a record (14-5) worthy of inclusion. When digging deeper, it is apparent that Providence has been wildly inconsistent. The Friars have wins against four teams in the BPI top 50, including Notre Dame, Georgetown and Butler. But the Friars have lost at home to Brown (No. 270 in BPI) and on the road to Boston College (No. 114), each by at least nine points. Additionally, they squeaked by Albany (No. 154) and Yale (No. 97) at home early in the season.

Providence has two great scorers – LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn – but outside of them, the Friars are not particularly efficient. Providence ranks 94th in net efficiency, the lowest ranking of any projected top-10 seed in the latest Bracketology.

Is Ohio State underrated?
Ohio State has the same record as Providence but is projected to be a 9 seed. Unlike Providence, Ohio State has invariably excelled against lower competition (13-0 against BPI 50+) and struggled against top opponents. All five of the Buckeyes’ losses have come against opponents in the BPI top 50.

Ohio State is one of 15 teams that does not have a Game BPI below 50 this season, meaning the Buckeyes do not have any particularly “bad” games. (Game BPI accounts for pace-adjusted scoring margin, opponent and site of game.) In part due to their consistency, the Buckeyes rank seventh in net efficiency, one spot ahead of projected 1-seed Duke.

Spotlight on Tobacco Road
Duke and North Carolina are two of the top teams in the ACC, but their ranking in BPI and Bracketology differ. Lunardi ranks Duke nine spots ahead of North Carolina, and BPI favors the Tar Heels.

North Carolina is the only team in the top 15 of BPI with four or more losses. The main reason for the Tar Heels’ ranking is their schedule. North Carolina has played the eighth-hardest schedule in the nation, including nine games against teams in the top 50 of BPI, tied for second-most in the nation. The Tar Heels were 5-4 in those games, but only one of their losses (at Kentucky) was by double digits.

In comparison, Duke has played an easier schedule than North Carolina, and both of its losses were by double digits. According to ESPN’s Game BPI scores, all of North Carolina’s losses were “better” than either of Duke’s setbacks.

Like with Providence and Ohio State, this debate comes down to consistency. Generally, the best teams in the nation are the most consistent, which is captured in their BPI rankings.

No one gets more help than Russell Wilson

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22

Joe Nicholson/USA TodayRussell Wilson has more wins than any other quarterback the last three seasons.
The Seattle Seahawks advanced to the Super Bowl in one of the most improbable comebacks in playoff history. Russell Wilson completed his final five passes, including a game-winning 35-yard touchdown in overtime to Jermaine Kearse.

Before the final five minutes and overtime, however, Wilson was abysmal. He threw a career-high four interceptions and became the second player in the Super Bowl era to win a postseason game with that many picks. Through three quarters, Wilson had a 0.2 Total QBR, and although he increased that number to 13.6 with his late-game heroics, Wilson finished the game with the lowest Total QBR in a postseason win since 2006.

This is not the first time that Seattle has won despite Wilson’s inefficiency. In fact, since 2012, Wilson’s first year in the league, the Seahawks have 15 wins in which their quarterback posted a below-average Total QBR, five more than any other team in the NFL. That includes both of Seattle’s NFC Championship wins during that time.

How unlikely is Seattle’s three-year run given Wilson’s QBR?

Expected wins for quarterback
In 2011, Alok Pattani, a senior analytics specialist in ESPN's Stats & Information Group, outlined a concept of expected wins for a quarterback based on his QBR in a game. The basic premise is that a player’s QBR in game can be interpreted as the expected win percentage for the team given that level of QB play. So a team whose starting quarterback has a QBR of 20 in a game would be expected to win about 20 percent of the time; a player with a QBR of 80 should win about 80 percent of the time, on average.

Wilson’s 13.6 QBR against the Packers equates to .136 expected wins, meaning the Seahawks won .864 more games than expected, given their quarterback play. By aggregating the difference between a player’s actual wins and expected wins over a given period of time, we can determine which quarterbacks are winning or losing more than expected based on their play alone.

Since Wilson entered the league, he has a 63.7 Total QBR in the regular season and playoffs, which ranks eighth among 31 qualified quarterbacks. Wilson deserves credit for his above-average QBR during that time, but does that equate to a 42-13 (.764 win percentage) career record?

Based on Wilson’s game-level QBRs in the last three seasons, he has almost 10 more wins than expected. No other player has six more wins than expected during that time.

Expanding the data set back to 2006, no quarterback has been aided more by his teammates over a three-year span than Wilson. Joe Flacco from 2010 to 2012 was the next closest in terms of added wins (8.4) during any three-year period.

So how have Wilson and the Seahawks been able to defy the odds? One word: defense.

In the last three seasons, the Seahawks have contributed 4.4 points per game to their net scoring margin on defense, by far the best defensive efficiency in the NFL. Only Alex Smith (2.1) and Andy Dalton (2.1) have had defenses that contributed more than two expected points per game in their starts during that time.

Seattle’s defense has a knack for playing its best when Wilson and the offense are at their worst. Since the start of 2012, Wilson has had 22 games with a QBR below 50, including 15 wins. In those games, Seattle has held its opponents to an average QBR of 34.0 and has had a per-game defensive efficiency of +7.3. In Wilson’s games with an above-average QBR, the Seahawks have allowed a 45.7 average QBR and have had a +2.4 defensive efficiency rating.

No one can take away Wilson’s NFL-leading 42 wins since the start of the 2012 season, the most by any player in his first three seasons (including playoffs) in the Super Bowl era. But much of his success has been a result of his teammates; he has had the benefit of playing with the most dominant defense in the NFL and the league’s leading rusher, Marshawn Lynch, in the past three years.

Should the Seahawks beat the Patriots, Wilson could become the youngest player in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowls. As he is on the verge of making history, remember, no other quarterback has received more help from his teammates over the last three years than Wilson.

So the Seahawks’ current run of success hasn’t come about despite him, but it hasn’t come about solely because of him either.

Can Patriots learn from Packers' defense?

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRussell Wilson had one of his worst games Sunday, facing a defensive plan he rarely has seen.
Russell Wilson ultimately came through for the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday with his game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.

Before that pass, however, Wilson was in the midst of one of the worst games of his career. His 13.6 Total QBR is his second-worst single-game mark.

The Green Bay Packers played defense against Wilson in a way most teams haven’t, so what can the New England Patriots take away from the Packers’ game plan?

Make Wilson a pocket passer
Wilson has been one of the most prolific and successful quarterbacks out of the pocket this season and in his career. But in the NFC title game, Wilson threw 27 of his 29 passes -- including all four of his interceptions -- from inside the pocket, and was limited to 10 rushing yards on three scrambles.

Since entering the NFL in 2012, Wilson has 89 more passes from out of the pocket than any other quarterback, and he hasn’t thrown an interception on such passes in his past 32 games. He also leads the NFL in scrambles (153) and scramble yards (1,264) since he entered the NFL, averaging 9.8 yards on scrambles this season.

For all of his success, Wilson is still a below-average pocket passer. His Total QBR on passes from in the pocket is 3.7 points lower than the league average, whereas his QBR on passes from out of the pocket is 4.4 points better than average.

Wilson can’t extend plays as easily in the pocket and has to depend more on his receivers’ route-running. Seahawks wide receivers rank 29th in yards and 31st in receiving touchdowns this season.

But how did the Packers keep Wilson in the pocket?

Most teams attempt to blitz Wilson, doing so on 36 percent of his career dropbacks. Only Jets quarterback Geno Smith (38 percent) has been blitzed more frequently in the past two years.

The Packers went the other direction, sending four or fewer pass-rushers on 81 percent of Wilson’s dropbacks Sunday. That’s the highest percentage Wilson has faced this season and the highest he has faced since the 12th game of his career.

One of the few times the Packers did choose to blitz Wilson was on his game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.

Another effect, maybe unintended, was that the Packers pressured Wilson on 24 percent of his dropbacks Sunday, the lowest percentage against Wilson this season.

Wilson seemingly thrives when under duress: He has been pressured on 36 percent of his dropbacks in his career, easily the highest in the NFL in the three seasons he has been in the league, and is 22-2 in such situations. He’s 20-11 when taking pressure below his average. (Records include the postseason.)

Besides the Packers' five sacks of Wilson, one of the few times they pressured him was on Seattle's successful two-point conversion attempt toward the end of regulation.

Thunder recover after dreadful 2nd quarter

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesKevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each scored at least 30 points in the same game for the 31st time.
Entering halftime, the Thunder trailed by 12 points and had just finished a second quarter where they shot 18.2 percent from the field, their worst in any quarter this season.

They bounced back in a big way in the second half and overtime. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant each scored 30 points for the 31st time since Westbrook was drafted in 2008. Only two other pairs of teammates have more than five such games in that span.

To put those 31 games in context: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were teammates for 10 seasons with the Bulls. They each scored 30 points in the same game 16 times, barely half as many as Durant and Westbrook.

Let's take a look inside the comeback.

Stars step up

Durant and Westbrook combined to score all 13 of the Thunder’s points in overtime, including Westbrook’s game-winning drive to the hoop.

The duo scored 15 points on drives in the second half and overtime, more than double their first-half output.

Westbrook went 2-of-5 with only four points with John Wall as the primary defender in the first half. In the second half, he scored 11 points when defended by Wall.

Making their jumpers

The Thunder scored 33 second-half points on jump shots, more than triple their output in the first half in which they shot 20 percent on jumpers and scored only 10 points.

After not making a single 3-point shot in the first half, the Thunder made six in the second half and overtime, and outscored the Wizards by 20 points on jumpers. The Wizards had a 15-10 point advantage on jumpers in the first half.

Westbrook does it on both ends

Wall struggled Wednesday when Westbrook was his primary defender. Westbrook held Wall to 16.7 percent shooting from the field and contested all four of his jump shots.

Wall finished with only six points and two turnovers against Westbrook. He shot 45.4 percent with 12 points against everyone else.

4-point play: Harden's defense crucial, too

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Houston Rockets (ninth in BPI) and the Golden State Warriors (first in BPI) (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Our BPI (Basketball Power Index) gives the Warriors a 76 percent chance of winning:

1. The Warriors are a better offense when Stephen Curry is shooting 3-pointers. Curry averages 7.8 3-point attempts per 36 minutes. When he shoots at least seven 3s per 36 minutes, the Warriors score 112 points per 100 possessions. They score 107 points per 100 possessions when he shoots fewer than seven 3s.

2. The Warriors’ defense is at its best when it is forcing opponents to score off midrange shots. The Warriors allow 92 points per 100 possessions when opponents score 17 percent or more of their points off midrange shots, and they allow 98 points per 100 possessions when opponents score less than that off midrange shots.

3.The Rockets depend on James Harden being incredibly efficient on offense. Harden averages 1.5 points per shot. When he is at that level or higher, the Rockets score 108 points per 100 possessions, but when he is below that level, the Rockets score 97 points per 100 possessions.

4.The Rockets also depend on Harden to be smart on defense. Harden averages 2.6 personal fouls per 36 minutes. When he is at that level or less, the Rockets give up 98 points per 100 possessions. When Harden is fouling at a higher rate than 2.6 per 36 minutes, they give up 105 points per 100 possessions.

4-Point Play: Fast breaks key for Thunder

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder (sixth in BPI) and the Washington Wizards (14th in BPI) (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Our BPI gives the Wizards a 59 percent chance of winning:

1. The Thunder are a much more efficient offense when they push the ball and create fast-break opportunities. The Thunder get an average of 13 percent of their points off fast breaks. When they get at least that many, they score 105 points per 100 possessions. When they are below 13 percent, they score 98 points per 100 possessions.

2. Defensively, the Thunder need to keep their opponents off the free throw line. The Thunder’s opponents have an average free throw attempt rate of 29 percent. When their opponents are below that rate, the Thunder allow 97 points per 100 possessions. When opponents are above that level, they allow 105 points per 100 possessions.

3. The Wizards’ offense is more efficient when Bradley Beal is taking 3-point shots. Beal averages 4.3 3-point shots per 36 minutes. When he is shooting 3s at that rate or higher, the Wizards score 107 points per 100 possessions; they score 103 points per 100 possessions when he doesn’t.

4. The Wizards’ defense is at its best when creating turnovers. The Wizards create turnovers on an average of 11.5 percent of their opponents’ possessions. When they are creating turnovers at that rate or higher, they allow 94 points per 100 possessions. When they are below that rate, however, they allow 105 points per 100 possessions.

Patriots, Seahawks share statistical bonds

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks each have some similar statistical threads in their journey to Arizona and the Super Bowl. With the help of the Elias Sports Bureau, here's a quick run-through:

1. Overcoming losses in Kansas City
The Patriots and Seahawks both lost to the Chiefs this season. According to NumberFire, they had less than a 50 percent chance to make the playoffs at the time of their respective defeats. Both teams proceeded to reel off big winning streaks (Patriots at seven; Seahawks at eight and counting).

By the way, the Chiefs became the fifth team to beat both Super Bowl participants in a season in which it missed the postseason. They're the first to do so since the 2000 Redskins.

2. Emptying out bag of tricks
Both were aided by crucial trick plays in the playoffs to continue their run. For the Patriots, Julian Edelman’s touchdown pass to Danny Amendola tied the divisional playoff game against the Ravens –- his first NFL career pass. The Seahawks scored a touchdown on a fake field goal against Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game –- punter Jon Ryan’s first career touchdown pass.

3. Two-touchdown comebacks en route to Super Bowl
Both of the trick plays mentioned above aided big comebacks. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that this will be the first Super Bowl matchup between teams that overcame a deficit of at least 14 points in that postseason.

4. Pete Carroll vs. former team
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is the fourth coach to face his former team in the Super Bowl (the others are Jon Gruden, Dan Reeves and Weeb Ewbank). Carroll coached the Patriots for three seasons, from 1997 to 1999.

Carroll shares something with Patriots coach Bill Belichick: age. Via Elias: This will be the first Super Bowl matchup of head coaches age 60 or older.

5. Russell Wilson youngest since Tom Brady
Per Elias: 26-year-old Russell Wilson will become the youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls, breaking the mark set by . . . Tom Brady (who was 28). The quarterbacks have had similar starts to their careers, as noted in the graphic atop this article.

6. LeGarrette Blount and 'Beast Mode'
Via Elias: LeGarrette Blount is the first player to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game after starting the season on a different team since Marshawn Lynch did it in 2010.

Lynch leads the NFL in yards after contact since he was traded in October 2010 from Buffalo to Seattle. No back has averaged more yards after contact than Blount since his debut at the start of that season.

This season, they rank 1-2 in yards after contact per rush, including the playoffs. Lynch averages 2.55; Blount averages 2.48.

7. Seattle looking to go back-to-back
The Seahawks are seeking to be the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions in a decade. They have to do it against the previous franchise to win consecutive titles: the Patriots, who did it in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

8. No. 1 seeds
Under the current playoff format, which began in 1990, this is the fifth time in which both No. 1 seeds in the respective conferences reached the Super Bowl. It’s also the first time it has happened in consecutive years (the Seahawks and Broncos were No. 1 seeds last season). Good news for the Seahawks: The NFC has won each of the four previous times there has been a matchup of No. 1 seeds.

Cavaliers' defense dominates Bulls

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
The Cleveland Cavaliers' defense did a number on the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.

The Bulls shot only 38 percent from the field in the Cavaliers’ 108-94 win.

It is their fifth-worst shooting game this season. The Bulls have had three of their five worst shooting games this season since the start of the New Year.

It was also the third-lowest shooting percentage this season against the Cavaliers. Opponents had shot 49.9 percent against them in their previous five games.

LeBron James vs. Jimmy Butler
LeBron James got the better of his matchup with Jimmy Butler, finishing with 26 points to Butler's 20.

James was 5-of-10 for 10 points when played by Butler.

But more notably, Butler was 2-for-9 when guarded by James, including 1-for-5 on pull-up jumpers. James contested all five of those shots.

Timofey Mozgov vs. Pau Gasol
Timofey Mozgov finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, his fourth 15-15 game of his career. But he too excelled on the defensive end.

Pau Gasol was 4-for-14 overall (all but one shot was guarded by Mozgov), including 2-for-10 against Mozgov in the first half.

Contesting made this one no contest
The Cavaliers were a much different team than the one that played the Bulls earlier this season, in terms of contesting shots.

In the first meeting on Oct. 31, the Bulls got 34 open jump shots, making 15 of them. On Monday, they managed only eight open jumpers and missed them all.

Kyrie the Creator
Kyrie Irving finished with a season-high 12 assists, which netted the Cavaliers 27 points. The Cavaliers had been averaging 12.6 points off Irving assists this season prior to Monday.

Bulls have cause for concern
Since the New Year, the Bulls have gone 5-6 and are allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions. That's the sixth-worst defense in the NBA during that span.

Overall, the Bull are 12th in defensive efficiency this season. Since Tom Thibodeau has been in Chicago, the team has never been outside of the top five in defensive efficiency.

Five of the Bulls' next 10 opponents have a winning percentage of .570 or better. They play the Spurs, Mavericks and Warriors in three of their next four games.

Seven of the Bulls' next 10 games are on the road. Although the Bulls have a 15-6 record on the road this season, 10 of those wins have come against teams under .500.