Stats & Info: Magic Johnson

A look back at great sports trilogies

October, 18, 2013
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met in the NBA Finals three times in the 1980s.

This Saturday night, UFC Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez will fight Junior dos Santos in Houston for the third time. It could go down as the greatest trilogy in Mixed Martial Arts. It also joins these other notable trilogies in sports.

Boxing: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought three times over a span over four years, with Ali winning the final two matchups. The final matchup was billed as the “Thrilla in Manila” and ended by TKO after Frazier’s corner threw in the towel.

Horse Racing: Affirmed vs. Alydar
In 1978, Affirmed became the 11th horse to win the Triple Crown. In each of the three victories, Alydar finished second. That includes the Belmont Stakes where Affirmed won by a head. Affirmed remains the last horse to win the Triple Crown.

NBA: Bird vs. Magic in the NBA Finals
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were synonymous with the NBA Finals in the 1980s, facing one another three times. Bird won the Finals MVP in 1984 as the Celtics won, but Magic and the Lakers won in 1985 and 1987. Johnson won Finals MVP in 1987.

NFL: Steelers vs. Cowboys in the Super Bowl
The only Super Bowl matchup to happen three times took 20 years to complete. The Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowls X and XIII against the Dallas Cowboys. At Super Bowl XXX in 1996, the Cowboys defeated the Steelers for their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Tennis: Federer vs. Nadal at Wimbledon
And on the courts of Wimbledon, Roger Federer won the gentlemen’s singles title from 2003-2007. He defeated rival Rafael Nadal in 2006 and 2007, but the Spaniard would grab the title from Federer in 2008 over a 4-hour, 48 minute battle in five sets.

Jrue Holiday emerging as elite point guard

December, 6, 2012
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireJrue Holiday (left) and the 76ers will face Rajon Rondo (right) and the Celtics on ESPN Friday night.
Jrue Holiday might be ready to insert his name into the list of elite point guards in the NBA.

Holiday, who will lead the Philadelphia 76ers into their division matchup with the Boston Celtics on Friday (ESPN, 7 ET) is averaging career highs in points per game (18.2), assists per game (9.3) and player efficiency rating (18.5) this season.

If he keeps up this pace of 18 points and nine assists per game, he would be one of four players since 2000 to have those averages along with Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Deron Williams.

Even though Holiday is leading the NBA in turnovers with more than four per game, the 76ers as a team have the second-lowest turnover percentage (12.6). With a career-high usage rate percentage of 26, the turnovers are expected to be high. At his current averages, Holiday would join Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas (1986-87) and Magic Johnson (1988-89) as the only players with 18 points, nine assists and four turnovers per game for a season.

No team is dependent on one player to create their offense as much as the 76ers are on Holiday. He has been responsible for 43 percent of his team’s total points this season, which leads the NBA. The “points responsible for” statistic includes offense generated from assists and points scored.

Holiday also leads the NBA in efficiency on isolation plays with a points-per-play average of 1.17 (minimum 30 plays), up from .89 last season.

Holiday is creating high-percentage opportunities for himself and his teammates. Last season he had a 47 effective field goal percentage (gives extra weight to 3-pointers) on isolation plays. This season he’s at 59 percent.

The pick-and-roll is a big part of every point guard’s repertoire to go along with isolations. Holiday is no different, as 59 percent of his offense either comes from the pick-and-roll or isolations, compared to last season when 46 percent of his offense came from those plays.

With high usage rate in those play types Holiday has made drastic improvement in his shooting percentage from 42 percent last season to 46 this season on pick-and-rolls and isolations.

The 76ers are 10-8 without a single former All-Star active on their roster. Key offseason acquisition Andrew Bynum is still not healthy enough to suit up. However, Holiday almost singlehandedly has kept the 76ers in the playoff hunt.

It will be interesting to see how Holiday fares with a national audience against a superstar point guard, Rajon Rondo, who is also top five in points responsible for and leads the league in assists at nearly 13 per game.

2012 Team USA: Better than Dream Team?

July, 12, 2012
US PresswireWould the current U.S. Olympic team have a chance against the Dream Team?
Kobe Bryant believes the 2012 U.S. Olympic team would beat the 1992 Olympic team. Is he correct?

According to AccuScore, which ran 10,000 computer simulations, the 1992 team would win 53.1 percent of the time and by an average margin of one point per game.

No one will ever know the true answer, but let's take a look at the Next Level analytical facts about the rosters at each point of their careers to help make the case either way.


Much has been made about the current team’s weak frontcourt. The 1992 team had four players who grabbed at least 15 percent of available rebounds in 1991-92 (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, David Robinson). The current team has three players at that rebound rate last season (Tyson Chandler, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love).

The 1992 team had two players (Ewing, Robinson) who blocked at least 5 percent of the shot attempts they faced in 1991-92. No 2012 player had a block percentage higher than 3.4 last season (Chandler).


Four current members had a true shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws) of at least 60 last season (Chandler, Kevin Durant, James Harden, LeBron James). Chandler (70.8 in 2011-12) led the NBA each of the past two seasons. Only one of the 1992 members had a 60 true shooting percentage (Barkley), although three others fell just short of that threshold in 1991-92 (Malone, Robinson, John Stockton).


Five Dream Team members assisted on at least 25 percent of their teammates’ field goals in 1991-92 (Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Stockton), plus Magic Johnson had a 49.3 assist percentage in his most recent NBA season (1990-91). LeBron, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams had a 25 assist percentage or better last season, but none were as high as Stockton (53.7), who was in the midst of leading the league in assist percentage for 10 straight seasons.


The 1992 team was about 2½ years older on average (28.8-26.2). Other than Bird and Magic, every Dream Team member was 30 years old or younger. Every member of the current team is 29 or younger, other than Kobe, who is 33.

But the NBA experience level is about the same. The 1992 team had, on average, 7.3 years of experience per player. This year’s team has 7.1.

As far as NBA titles, give the edge to the 1992 team. Its players had a combined 12 championships as they entered the Olympics -- five by Magic, three by Bird and two each from Jordan and Pippen.

The 2012 version has seven championships among them, carried by Kobe’s five. LeBron and Chandler each have one. The current team has members of each of the past four NBA champions, while the 1992 team had members of the then-past two champions.


Using average win shares per 48 minutes in their previous NBA seasons, (including Magic’s 1990-91 season and not including Christian Laettner), the 1992 squad’s average is higher by 9 percent (.215-.198). Prefer player efficiency rating to win shares? The Dream Team’s PER was 3 percent higher (23.8-23.0).


Other than Laettner, all 11 Dream Team members are Hall of Famers. And only two could be considered in the twilight of their careers. Bird had just finished his last NBA season, while Magic had retired the previous year, although he made a brief comeback in 1995-96. As for this edition, one could make the case that all but the 33-year-old Kobe on the roster could appear on another Olympic team again.

The 2012 team gets under way with an exhibition game Thursday against the Dominican Republic on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET. Only time will tell whether this team is the modern-day Dream Team.

Heat return to comfort zone vs Celtics

June, 5, 2012

Credit: Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Game 5 winner has gone on to win the series 83.5 percent of the time when tied 2-2.
The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat (ESPN, 8:30 ET) will square off in Game 5 tonight with the winner taking a 3-2 lead in the series. The Celtics have put themselves in a good position to take control, because in the Big 3 era (since 2007-08 season), Boston is 8-0 in Game 5s when the series is tied 2-2.

The Heat, however, have been very comfortable at home against the Celtics recently. Miami is 6-1 at home against the Celtics in the postseason all-time, and according to Elias, Miami’s current six-game home postseason win streak against Boston is its longest against a single opponent in franchise history.

The Game 5 winner has gone on to win the series 83.5 percent of the time when tied 2-2.

Miami has certainly been more comfortable at home this postseason, averaging 100.4 points compared to 91.0 on the road. That's crucial, considering the Heat are 7-0 this postseason when scoring at least 100 points, and were 25-4 in such games during the regular season.

The focus for Miami will again likely be in the closing seconds. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem each missed game-tying and go-ahead attempts with under 24 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and OT in Game 4, and the Heat are now 0-for-10 on such shots in the last two postseasons. Overall, Wade is now 2-8 on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or OT in his postseason career, below the league average of 26.9 percent. By comparison, LeBron James is 5-14 (35.7 percent) in those situations.

What's more, Wade has been a slow starter this series. He is averaging just 5.5 points on 25.8 percent shooting in the first half of games against the Celtics, his lowest points average for a first half for any round in his postseason career.

The Heat are also hoping to activate Chris Bosh for Game 5. His status could be pivotal, as Miami is 5-1 this postseason in games Bosh has played, with a +13.2 points differential in that span.

On the other side, the Celtics have relied heavily on Rajon Rondo in this series. Boston has been much better with Rondo on the court, averaging more than 19 points per 48 minutes compared to when he’s been off the floor. According to Elias, Rondo has 13 double-digit assist games this postseason and 38 for his career, and when he takes the court tonight, he'll be looking for his 39th 10-assist game, which would break the all-time Celtics record originally held by Bob Cousy.

Rondo's postseason performance has also placed him in great company this year. He's averaging 17.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 11.9 assists in 16 games this postseason, and according to Elias only one player in NBA history has averaged at least 17 points, six rebounds and 11 assists in 10+ games played in a single postseason (Magic Johnson did it six times).

Statistical support for this story from
On a day in which lower-seeded teams played even with higher-seeded teams, the biggest story in college basketball was 15th-seeded Lehigh’s stunning win over No. 2 seed Duke.

This was the second 15-versus-2 win of the day. It marked the first season in which a pair of 15 seeds won an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game.

The Blue Devils lost for only the fourth time in the round of 64 under Mike Krzyzewski. They entered the day 28-0 all-time against teams seeded 12th through 16th, but could not handle C.J. McCollum and his Mountain Hawks teammates.

McCollum scored 30 points and drew 13 fouls, the second-most by a player in a game in the last three tournaments (Jimmer Fredette">Jimmer Fredette drew 14 last season against Wofford).

Lehigh outscored Duke 19-4 in transition Friday during the Mountain Hawk's second-round win. Lehigh entered the championship tournament with the 16th-best transition defense in the nation. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, had been outscored by 1.9 transition points per game this season, the second-worst differential in the ACC.

Lehigh also attempted 37 free throws, the most by a Duke opponent in a tournament game since 1955, when Villanova attempted 42.

This was the first loss for current ACC members against a 15 or 16 seed in the Round of 64. It wasn’t the only big upset of the evening.

Here’s a snapshot look of the rest of the games from Friday night.

Midwest Region
(2) Kansas 65, (15) Detroit 50

Thomas Robinson had his nation-leading 24th double- double this season. It is the first time that a Horizon League team hasn't won a Men's Basketball Championship game since 2004.

(10) Purdue 72, (7) Saint Mary's 69
Purdue has won 14 straight Round of 64 games, including one in each of the last six seasons.

(12) South Florida 58, (5) Temple 44
South Florida gets the win in its first Round of 64 appearance since 1992. Temple has lost in the Round of 64 in four of its last five Men's Basketball Championship appearances. The Owls scored at least 64 points in every other game this season.

(13)Ohio 65, (4) Michigan 60
The Bobcats became the sixth team to win a tournament game as both a 13 and 14 seed (they beat Georgetown as a 14 seed two seasons ago).

Ohio scored 63 of its 65 points in the half court, shooting nearly 16 percentage points higher than Michigan in half-court sets. In their last tournament victory over Georgetown in the 2010 Men's Basketball Championship, the Bobcats shot 57 percent and outscored the Hoyas by 18 points in the half court.

Since 2004, Ohio is 2-2 in tournament play. All other MAC teams are a combined 0-6.

Michigan is now 10-1 all-time versus teams seeded No. 12 or worse.

West Region
(1) Michigan State 89, (16) LIU Brooklyn 67

Draymond Green had 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists to lead the Spartans, his second consecutive triple-double in the Men's Basketball Championship (he had a triple double in Round of 64 loss to UCLA last season).

Green joins Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only players with multiple triple-doubles in Men's Basketball Championship history (Robertson had four, Johnson two).

(9) St Louis 61, (8) Memphis 54
Saint Louis wins a Men's Basketball Championship game for the first time since 1998. Head coach Rick Majerus is now 11-1 in round of 64 games. It is only Saint Louis' fourth tournament victory in program history.

South Region
(10) Xavier 67, (7) Notre Dame 63

Xavier wins in the Round of 64 for the fifth time in six seasons. Tu Holloway moved past Jamie Gladden for 7th on Xavier's all-time scoring list (1,790) and led all scorers with 25 points.

Notre Dame assisted on 76 percent of its field goals Friday against Xavier. It was the first time this season that Notre Dame has lost when assisting on at least 60 percent of its field goals (previously 19-0).