Raptors winning with efficiency, defense

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
The Toronto Raptors got a good win, showing their legitimacy by winning on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-93 on Saturday night.

The Raptors are 11-2, their best 13-game start in team history.

Teams that start 11-2 are almost always legit. Three did last season -- the Spurs, Trail Blazers and Pacers. One did in 2012-13 -- the Grizzlies. Those four teams averaged 57 wins.

Over the previous four seasons, nine teams started 11-2 or better. They finished with a combined record of 489-217, which equates to 57 wins over an 82-game season.

Since trading Rudy Gay Dec. 9, the Raptors are 52-24, 4 games better than the next-best team in the Eastern Conference (the Bulls) during that span.

The Raptors won this one by dominating the Cavaliers in the middle two quarters, outscoring them 64-37.

Difference-Maker: Lou Williams
Lou Williams finished with a career-high 36 points for the Raptors. In the 29 minutes and 26 seconds in which Williams was on the floor, the Raptors outscored the Cavaliers by 37 points.

Williams went 15-for-15 from the free throw line on a night in which the Raptors shot 38-of-42 (90.5 percent) from the stripe. That’s the best they’ve shot in a game with at least 40 free-throw attempts in franchise history.

Why are the Raptors winning?
The Raptors have been successful in three areas this season. They have the league's second-most efficient offense (110.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-fewest turnovers per game (11.2) and have forced the third-most turnovers per game (17.5).

Their +6.3 turnover differential per game is second-best in the NBA, trailing only the Mavericks (+6.4).

Cavaliers floundering
The Cavaliers are 5-7, the worst 12-game start for a LeBron James team since his rookie season (2003-2004) when the Cavaliers started 4-8.

James finished with 15 points. The Cavaliers are 0-4 when James scores fewer than 20 points. This is the first time he’s scored fewer than 20 four times within the first 12 games since his rookie season.

The Cavaliers had a season-high 20 turnovers. They’ve had at least 18 turnovers in each of their last three games after having 18 or more once in their first nine games.

The Cavaliers played the Raptors even when James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were on the floor together. They were outscored 52-35 when at least one of them was on the bench.

The Cavaliers have been very inconsistent. They went from having the best offensive efficiency and the second-lowest turnover percentage during their four-game win streak to having the second-worst offensive efficiency and the thirrd-highest turnover percentage over their last four games.


Perine breaks a not-so-long-standing record

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
Melvin Gordon’s single-game FBS rushing-yards record lasted one week.Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine broke that mark by rushing for 427 yards and five touchdowns in the Sooners’ 44-7 rout of Kansas.

Gordon had set the record with 408 yards on Nov. 15 against Nebraska. The man whose record Gordon broke, LaDainian Tomlinson, had held the record for 5,474 days.

Perine’s progression through the record books went like this …

First he broke Greg Pruitt’s 43-year-old school record for rushing yards in a single game with 294. Next was the Big 12 record (378), set by Troy Davis of Iowa State against Missouri in 1996.

Then came the freshman record of 386 yards, set by Marshall Faulk of San Diego State against Pacific in 1991.

Last, but certainly not least, was Gordon’s mark.

This marked the second time that the FBS record was broken twice in the same season. The last instance was in 1991, when Faulk rushed for 386 and Tony Sands of Kansas topped that with 396 yards against Missouri.

Perine also became the first FBS player to rush for more than 200 yards in both halves.

Stat of the day: yards in big chunks
Perine had eight 20-yard runs for the game, one more than Gordon.

Perine had more 20-yard rushes on Saturday (eight) than 19 FBS teams have had all season.


Keys to victory: Wizards 91, Cavaliers 78

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
The Washington Wizards exposed the biggest weakness of the Cleveland Cavaliers in winning again without much issue.

The Wizards are 8-3, their best start through 11 games since starting 9-2 in 1974-75.

The Cavaliers fell to 5-6 with their third straight loss. A LeBron James team had not been sub-.500 at the 10-game mark or beyond since the 2007-08 season.

Key to victory: Wizards dominate inside
The Wizards scored a season-high 50 points in the paint Friday against the Cavaliers, who managed only 34 such points.

Washington scored 38 of those points inside five feet on 19-of-28 (68 percent) shooting. They made 14 of 19 attempts on those shots in the first half. The Cavaliers entered the game allowing a league-high 66 percent shooting on attempts inside 5 feet.

The Wizards also had significant edges in this game in points off turnovers (24 to 12) and bench points (40 to 9).

James wouldn’t take on Pierce

James was 8-for-21 from the field and finished with 22 points. He was held to 1-for-8 shooting when his primary defender was Paul Pierce.

All eight of James’ shots against Pierce came from 20 feet or beyond. His average field goal distance against Pierce was 25 feet. It was seven feet against everyone else.

The combo of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined to shoot 29 percent in half-court offensive sets for the game. James and Love were a combined 0-for-8 in the Cavaliers’ half-court offense in the second half.

James was outplayed by John Wall, who edged James in scoring (28 to 22), rebounding (six to four) and passing (seven assists to four).

No scoring or rebounding Love
Love finished with eight points and eight rebounds. It marked the first time he had single figures in scoring and rebounding in a game in which he played at least 15 minutes since doing so Nov. 19, 2010, against the Lakers.


LaRoche gives White Sox a power boost

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
What are the statistical storylines tied to the Chicago White Sox agreeing to a two-year, $25 million deal with first baseman Adam LaRoche?

LaRoche is the team's second notable addition this offseason along with left-handed reliever Zach Duke.

The lefty power bat they needed
The White Sox were in need of a left-handed hitter to pair up with right-handed slugger Jose Abreu. White Sox lefties ranked 24th in MLB in slugging percentage (.373), 26th in home runs (38) and struck out the second-most often of any team (23.4 percent).

LaRoche has hit 79 home runs over the last three seasons, with at least 20 in each season. Seventy eight of those came as a first baseman, the most of anyone specifically while playing that position.

LaRoche has hit at least 20 home runs nine times since becoming a major leaguer in 2004. He’s one of 10 major leaguers with at least nine 20-homer seasons in that 11-season span. He's a discerning hitter, ranking 15th in the majors in walk rate over the last two seasons.

He’ll also be moving away from a home ballpark that isn’t hitter friendly to one that is much more conducive to power. Nationals Park ranked 22nd for “Park Factor” for left-handed hitters for home runs last season. U.S. Cellular Field ranked 10th.

He can field reasonably well too
LaRoche would be a better defender at first base than Abreu would, which would allow the latter to move to designated hitter.

Over the last five seasons, LaRoche has 20 Defensive Runs Saved at first base, with a Gold Glove to his credit in 2012 (a year he finished sixth in the NL MVP voting). Last season, Abreu had -11 Defensive Runs Saved, worst for anyone at that position.

Weakness: Doesn’t hit lefties well
LaRoche is a bit feeble when it comes to facing left-handed pitching. He’s hitting .201 with eight home runs in 268 at-bats against them the last two seasons.

He misses on 27 percent of his swings against lefties compared to 20 percent of his swings against righties.

Windy City rivalry suits him well
LaRoche will fit in fine to the Windy City rivalry with the Chicago Cubs. He is a .273 career hitter with 22 home runs in 79 games against them. That’s his second-most home runs against any team.


Top stats to know: Cavaliers at Wizards

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images Kevin Love’s struggles have contributed to Cleveland’s 5-5 start.
After losing consecutive home games to Denver and San Antonio, the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Washington Wizards on Friday night (8 ET on ESPN). Here's what you need to know about the matchup:

Cavaliers need to defend better
While Cleveland's offense has been fine, ranking fifth in the NBA in offensive efficiency (108.1 points per 100 possessions), its defense has not, sitting 26th in defensive efficiency (107.6).

The Cavs are 15th in field goal percentage (45 percent), but 28th in opponents’ field goal percentage (48 percent). Only the Lakers and Timberwolves rank worse in the latter.

Each of the past 13 NBA champions has finished the regular season in the top 10 in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions). And among the past 30 NBA champs, only two teams ranked outside the top 10 -- the 1994-95 Rockets (12th) and the 2000-01 Lakers (tied for 18th).

Love hurts
It’s still very early in the season, but Kevin Love is averaging 9.4 fewer points per game this season (16.7) than he did last season (26.1). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the largest decrease among NBA qualifiers.

He was third in the NBA in player efficiency rating (PER) last season, but entered Thursday ranked 92nd. Among his issues:

Love shot 56 percent in the paint last season. He’s at 39 percent (21-for-54) through 10 games.

Love isn’t getting the ball in his comfort zone -- around the elbow. He averaged 11.6 elbow touches per game last season, second most in the NBA behind Marc Gasol.

This season, that number has dropped to only 4.9, hurting not only his scoring ability, but also his playmaking. He’s averaging 2.6 assists per game, down from 4.4 last season.

Cleveland’s rim protection this season has been virtually nonexistent, as noted in the chart on the right. Love specifically has struggled defending the rim.

He’s allowing almost five field goal makes at the rim per game, and opponents are shooting nearly 64 percent on those shots.

Maybe playing Washington will be Love's cure. He's averaged 20.9 points and 12.8 rebounds in his nine career games against the Wizards, with a double-double in each game.

Wall standing tall for Wizards
The Wizards are 7-3, their best 10-game start since the 1974-75 season. Washington is 1-3 against teams currently at or above .500 this season compared to 6-0 against teams below .500.

John Wall
John Wall is averaging 18.6 points, 9.3 assists and an NBA-best 2.3 steals per game this season. He's creating 22.0 points per game via assists this season, second most in the NBA.

And Wall has at least 10 assists in three straight games. He's had only one longer streak in his career, a five-gamer in April 2012.

Washington isn't just the John Wall show, though. Nine different players have led the Wizards in scoring in a game this season (either outright or tied). No other NBA team has more than seven such players.

Cardinals reminiscent of 2012 Ravens

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington has helped the Arizona Cardinals overcome the loss of Carson Palmer and maintain the best record in the NFL this season.
One of the teams in Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-Arizona Cardinals showdown is following a tried-and-true Super Bowl formula.

A productive running back and a quarterback who isn’t afraid to throw deep have complemented an excellent pass defense, just like in a recent Super Bowl season. No, not the Seahawks again. It's the Cardinals who look almost identical to a recent Super Bowl champion -- the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

On the ground
Start with the running back. Andre Ellington has accounted for 28.5 percent of his team’s yards from scrimmage this season, third most in the league.

Ellington’s versatility is reminiscent of Ray Rice during Baltimore’s Super Bowl season. Rice also was responsible for over one quarter of the Ravens' yards from scrimmage, and (like Ellington) was equally capable of making an impact as a receiver.

In the air
With Ellington as the focal point of the offense, the Cardinals haven’t been afraid to throw down the field, regardless of the quarterback.

Sixteen percent of Arizona’s pass attempts have been thrown at least 20 yards downfield, fourth highest in the league and the same percentage as the 2012 Ravens (second highest in the league).

Carson Palmer’s injury has left Drew Stanton as Arizona’s signal-caller for the rest of the season.

But Stanton has been impressive throwing downfield so far this season. He’s completed 10 of 25 downfield attempts (40 percent) for 325 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions despite facing the Lions (second in QBR allowed), 49ers (sixth) and Broncos (14th).

Those numbers look similar to what Joe Flacco did in Baltimore’s postseason run. Flacco was 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) for 504 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions during the Ravens’ four-game playoff stretch.

On defense
If Stanton stays hot and the Cardinals put up points, Arizona’s elite pass defense can hold up against teams throwing to catch up. The Cardinals have allowed a 45.4 QBR this season, fourth best in the league and right on par with the 2012 Ravens.

No team in the league has a better QBR allowed when targeting wide receivers than the Cardinals (55.8), the only team below 60.

The Cardinals’ pass rush diverges from how Baltimore pressured opposing quarterbacks.

Arizona has sent extra rushers on 42.2 percent of dropbacks this season, second most in the league. The Ravens blitzed on only 28.7 percent of opponents’ dropbacks.

Though they went about it in different ways, the result was largely the same. Quarterbacks haven’t been comfortable against the Cardinals, who pressure (sack, under duress or hit while throwing) on the 12th-highest percentage in the league (26.8 percent).

Baltimore’s 2012 rank in pressure percentage? Eleventh.

Neither defense had problems stopping the run. The Cardinals have allowed 3.5 yards per rush this season, fifth best in the league. The 2012 Ravens also allowed fewer than 4.0 yards per rush (3.99).

And special teams, too!
The similarities don’t stop at offense and defense. Even the Cardinals' special-teams unit resembles the 2012 Ravens, a group that played a critical role in the 34-31 Super Bowl victory, when Jacoby Jones took the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown to go up 28-6.

The Ravens’ special teams contributed 1.75 expected points per game, fourth best in the league. The Cardinals’ special teams have contributed 1.71 points per game, seventh in the league.

Top stats to know: Raiders get 1st win

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
The streak is over.

The Oakland Raiders snapped their 16-game losing streak with a 24-20 win over a Kansas City Chiefs team that entered with a five-game winning streak.

Murray accomplishes a first
An early spark for the Raiders was a 90-yard touchdown run by Latavius Murray. It was the fourth-longest touchdown run in Raiders history, the longest by a Raiders running back since Bo Jackson had a 92-yarder against the Cincinnati Bengals in 1989.

The Raiders had 114 rushing yards to that point, matching their most in any game this season. They finished the game with 179 yards, an average of 6.0 per carry.

Murray finished with 112 yards on four rushes. The Elias Sports Bureau noted that broke the "record" for most rushing yards in a game by a player with fewer than five rushes. The previous mark of 109 was set by Essex Johnson in 1971.

Murray has led the Raiders in rushing in each of the past two games.

He's had four carries each week (43 rush yards last week, 112 Thursday night).

The Chiefs allowed two rushing touchdowns in this game. They entered the game having allowed none all season. The Raiders entered with an NFL-low two rushing touchdowns all season.

Chiefs couldn't connect downfield
Despite trailing for most of the game, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith did not attempt a pass more than 20 yards downfield.

Smith had three completions of more than 20 yards in the Chiefs' first two games this season. Smith has one such completion in Kansas City's past nine games.

Chiefs' schedule gets tougher
The Chiefs had a chance for a gimme win and couldn't take advantage. Their remaining opponents have a combined .577 winning percentage. Theirs is the fourth-toughest remaining strength of schedule, topped only by the Seattle Seahawks (.683), San Diego Chargers (.623) and Atlanta Falcons (.589).

The Chiefs' two remaining road games are against the 9-1 Arizona Cardinals and 7-4 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Elias Sports Bureau stat of the night: Chiefs can't beat winless teams
Amazingly, the Chiefs fell to 1-4 all-time against teams with a record of 0-10 or worse. They've lost the past four such games they've played, with the other three coming against the 0-11 Chargers in 1975, the 0-10 Oilers in 1984 and the 0-11 Chargers in 2000.


Will Manning solve Dolphins' defense?

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20

AP Photo/L.G. Patterson
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
After losing two of three games on their just-completed road trip, the Denver Broncos return home to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Denver has won all five home games this season, all against teams currently over .500, and the Broncos have the NFL's best home record over the past three seasons (19-2).

But coming home may not be a cure-all for Denver, as the Dolphins have done well against big-name quarterbacks this season.

Dolphins' strong defense
Miami leads the NFL with a 33.1 opponent Total QBR this season, and the Dolphins have been successful against top quarterbacks.

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers each had his worst completion percentage of the season against the Dolphins. Miami beat two of those three quarterbacks, and Rodgers needed a touchdown pass with three seconds left to get the win.

One of the reasons opponents struggle against the Dolphins is an inability to hit the deep ball, as Miami has allowed the lowest completion percentage, yards per attempt and Total QBR against passes 20-plus yards downfield this season.

Peyton Manning has completed 48.8 percent of his passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield this season, fifth-best in the NFL.

Overall, the Dolphins' defense has allowed 4.69 yards per play this season, fewest in the NFL. And Miami isn't giving away yards, with only 13 penalties enforced against its defense this season, second-fewest in the NFL.

Manning not on point
Manning’s three worst Total QBR games of the season have come in the Broncos' past three games, largely because of turnovers.

Manning has thrown multiple interceptions in each of those three games, his first such streak with the Broncos and first since 2010. Manning hasn’t thrown multiple interceptions in four straight games since his fourth season in 2001.

Although Manning has thrown eight touchdown passes in his past three games, five of those came against the winless Raiders.

Missing Weapons?
Both Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) and Julius Thomas (ankle) missed practice on Wednesday after leaving last week's game with injuries.

Thomas (12 receiving touchdowns) and Sanders (seven) lead the team in receiving touchdowns this season, and both have caught more than 70 percent of their targets. No other receiver on the team has done that.

Manning has completed 23 of 26 passes (89 percent) when targeting Sanders and Thomas in the red zone this season for 13 touchdowns. He’s completed only 22 of 35 (63 percent) with five touchdowns to all other Broncos.

Smith, surging Chiefs visit Raiders

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20

Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs won 56-31 in Oakland last season.
Week 12 of the NFL season kicks off Thursday night as the surging Kansas City Chiefs visit Oakland, where they scored the second-most road points in franchise history last season, winning 56-31.

Historically, facing teams as bad as the 0-10 Raiders hasn't been a good thing for Kansas City.

In four previous games against teams with a record of 0-10 or worse, the Chiefs have won only once, though that victory came against Oakland in 1962, the sole other time the Raiders lost their first 10 games.

Chiefs and Smith turn it around
After losing their first two games this season, the Chiefs had a 12 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to numberFire.com.

By winning seven of eight games since then, including its last five, Kansas City has raised its playoff odds to 85 percent, third best in the AFC behind the Patriots and Broncos.

Alex Smith, who threw a career-high five touchdown passes against Oakland last season, has been key to this year's turnaround.

After throwing three interceptions in Week 1, Smith has been picked off once in nine games. Only Aaron Rodgers has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio over that span.

Smith doesn't take many chances down the field, though, averaging nearly a full air yard fewer per throw than any quarterback in any of the last five seasons.

Whether because of Smith's choices or the quality of the receiving corps, Chiefs wide receivers have yet to catch a touchdown pass, and they're last in the NFL in both receptions (79) and yards (917), trailing seven other individual wide receivers in yards this season.

Raiders streaking the wrong way
The Raiders haven't won a game in over a year, since winning at Houston on November 17 last season.

Their 16-game losing streak is three away from the franchise record, and it's more than three times longer than the next-longest active streak of five, held by the Giants and Panthers.

According to numberFire.com, Oakland has a 13 percent chance of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go 0-16 in a season. On the bright side, the Raiders have a 70 percent chance of finishing with the league's worst record and getting the first pick in next year's draft.

The Raiders have only led once in the second half this season (Week 6 vs. Chargers). And during their 16-game losing streak, they've run a total of seven second-half plays with a lead. Every other team has run at least 83 such plays in that span.

Thursday night isn't likely to be easier for the Raiders, at least on the ground. Oakland has a league-low two rushing touchdowns, and the Chiefs have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season, becoming the fifth team to do that through 10 games in the Super Bowl era.

Stafford’s poise, deep ball lacking

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20

Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have not been able to connect at their normal rate this season.
Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions look to avoid consecutive road losses on Sunday, as they travel east to face a red-hot New England Patriots squad riding an impressive six-game winning streak.

Although the Lions lead the NFC North, Stafford is in the middle of a down year by his standards, on pace for his fewest passing yards in a full NFL season.

Much of Stafford’s drop-off in production undoubtedly came as a result of the injury to Calvin Johnson, who returned in Week 10 after not being fully healthy for five games.

But Stafford has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns in the two games since Megatron’s return, so what is causing Stafford's struggles?

Deep ball disconnect
After last week, the deep-ball connection between Stafford and Johnson should officially raise eyebrows.

Not only has Stafford completed just 14 percent of his passes at least 20 yards downfield to Johnson the past two weeks, he has also thrown an interception on those deep targets in each of their past four full games together.

Stafford and Johnson have combined for their worst completion percentage on deep passes since 2010, with plenty of blame to go around.

Half of the incompletions on these throws, including half of the interceptions, have come as a result of an off-target pass from Stafford.

But Johnson has also dropped two of his 17 deep targets this season. From 2009 to 2013, Johnson had a total of two drops on 138 such targets from Stafford.

Stafford missing poise under pressure
After posting his best season under pressure last season, Stafford looks to have fallen back into bad habits.

His completion percentage under pressure has dropped from 42 percent last season to 34 percent this year, his lowest in a season since 2010.

Stafford had huge success under pressure in Week 1 against the New York Giants, completing 75 percent of such attempts with two touchdowns.

Since Week 2, Stafford has completed 28 percent of pressured pass attempts. The only quarterback with a worse completion percentage since then is Geno Smith (21 percent).

Additionally, the only other quarterback who has started each game since Week 2 and not thrown for a touchdown under pressure is Cam Newton.

Late-game performance a tale of two extremes
The Lions have led by more than 10 points entering the fourth quarter once this season (Week 1), leading to an increased importance in Stafford’s late-game production.

And as tends to be the case, whether or not Detroit wins or loses largely depends on how well Stafford plays in the fourth quarter.

The difference in wins and losses has been stark for Stafford this season, but his production can be linked with his protection.

In the Lions’ seven wins, Stafford was sacked four times (on 64 dropbacks) in the fourth quarter. In their three losses, Stafford was sacked eight times (on 44 dropbacks) in the fourth quarter.

Top stats to know: Spurs edge Cavs

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19

David Richard/USA TODAY SportsKawhi Leonard's tough defense helped the San Antonio Spurs come away with a win against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 10th straight time Wednesday. Here are the top stats you need to know about the game.

Rare un-clutch turnover for James
LeBron James turned the ball over with just under two seconds left and the Cavaliers down by two points. It was the first time James had a turnover in the final five seconds of a one-possession game since January 4, 2009 against the Wizards.

James finished with five turnovers on the night, his second-highest total of the season. The only game when he had more was in the season-opening loss to the New York Knicks when he coughed it up eight times.

Leonard shuts down James
Kawhi Leonard was tasked with guarding James for most of the game. Leonard held James to 3-of-11 shooting and an average field-goal attempt distance of 13 feet. Against all other defenders, James shot 3-of-6 with an average attempt distance of under seven feet.

Defense was the difference
The Cavaliers entered the game as one of the worst teams in defensive efficiency and they struggled to close out on Spurs shooters Wednesday. Cleveland contested just 16 percent of Spurs jumpers, while San Antonio contested 61 percent of the Cavaliers jump shots.

Contested jump shots are pull-up or catch-and-shoot jumpers in which the defender was within four feet of the shooter.

The Spurs adjusted at halftime to stop the Cavaliers transition offense. In the first half Cleveland scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in transition. In the second half, the Cavs were held to five points in transition.

The Cavaliers had the best offensive efficiency in the league over the previous 10 days but they ran into a defensive juggernaut. The Cavs were held 26 points per 100 possessions below their average over their previous four games. The game was played closer to the Spurs tempo, as the Cavalierss had five fewer possessions than they averaged in their previous four games.

Battle of the bigs: Davis vs Cousins

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Two of the NBA’s premier big men squared off Tuesday as Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins hosted Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. Despite a monster performance from Cousins, the Pelicans were able to move to 6-4 on the season. New Orleans is above .500 through 10 games for the first time since Chris Paul led the team to a 9-1 start in 2010-11.

Anthony Davis
Davis doing it all
Davis led the way for the Pelicans with 28 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win. Davis has seven 25-point games this season, tied with Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant for most in the NBA.

Through 10 games, Davis is averaging 25.5 points per game, 11.4 rebounds per game and 3.9 blocks per game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Davis’ averages have him just one block shy of joining Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to average 25 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game through 10 season games since blocks were first recorded in 1973-74.

Davis is currently ranked third in scoring, a huge jump from being tied for 14th last season. He’s the second-best scorer as a pick-and-roll man this season with 5.6 points per game in such situations. While Davis was 13th with 18 points per game in half-court offense last season, those numbers have risen to fourth with 21.3 points per game in 2014-15.

Davis and Cousins are now knotted at 4-4 career in head-to-head games.

DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins dominant in loss
The man they call “Boogie” continued to build on what is clearly the best season of his young career with a 24-point, 17-rebound night. Cousins has eight double-doubles this season, tied with Nikola Vucevic for most in the NBA.

After being one of only five players to average 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game last season, Cousins and Davis are the only two players with those averages this season.

Cousins has particularly been a force in post-up situations, averaging 8.5 points per game, better than everyone except Blake Griffin and Al Jefferson this season.

Are both of these immensely talented players potential All-Star Game starters this season? That remains to be seen.

Tip-Off Marathon continues its run

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18

Kyle Terada/USA Today Bonnie Samuelson (left) and Karlie Samuelson after Stanford’s win.
The seventh annual Tip-Off Marathon began its 29-hour, 22-game run of basketball Monday night. Here are some of the notable achievements, stats and notes.

Streak-busters: The fourth-longest win streak in women’s Division I history ended, and it fell victim to a familiar opponent: Stanford. The sixth-ranked Cardinal beat No. 1 Connecticut 88-86 in overtime Monday, ending the Huskies’ 47-game winning streak.

This was the second time Stanford has ended a UConn winning streak of 45 games or more. In late December 2010, the Cardinal snapped UConn’s Division I-record 90-game winning streak. Of the six longest win streaks in Division I women’s history, the Cardinal have ended three.

Stephen F. Austin had its 34-game home win streak snapped. That was the second-longest active streak in Division I men’s basketball behind Duke (35).

Florida’s 33-game home winning streak came to an end in a 69-67 loss to Miami (FL). That home winning streak was the third-longest active streak. This game was the first all-Sunshine State matchup in Marathon history, and the result dropped Florida’s record to 0-4 in Marathon games.

More on the Stanford-UConn game:
•  The Cardinal beat a No. 1 Huskies team for the second time in eight games. When facing a No. 1 team that is not UConn, Stanford is 5-7 (7-13 all-time against No. 1 teams).
• Stanford’s win came two years, one day after its last win over a No. 1 team. On Nov. 16, 2012, the Cardinal beat Brittney Griner and No. 1 Baylor, ending the Bears’ 42-game win streak.
• The loss was the Huskies’ fifth in a row in an overtime game.

On the mark: Massachusetts shot 27-for-29 at the free-throw line, including 12-for-12 in overtime, in its 77-68 victory over Manhattan. The Minutemen’s 93.1 percent shooting was the best this season by any Division I team with 20 or more free throw attempts.

Tip-Off Marathon quick hitters:
•  Gonzaga has won its Marathon game in each of last four years (2011-14), the longest active Marathon streak
•  Hawaii is the only school to participate in all seven Marathons (4-3 after loss to High Point)
•  This is the first Tip-Off Marathon to have 3 overtime games: No. 6 Stanford women 88, No. 1 UConn 86; Northern Iowa 79, Stephen F. Austin 77; UMass 77, Manhattan 68

NFL Power Rankings: Broncos slip to No. 4

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18

Tom Gannam/AP PhotoThe Rams saddled Peyton Manning and the Broncos with their second loss in three games.
The Denver Broncos have lost two of their last three games and have dropped to No. 4 in the weekly ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings. Although the No. 4 spot is still high, it’s the lowest in-season rank for the Broncos since Week 14 of 2012.

Tough games await the Broncos the next two weeks, and a recent “slide” by Peyton Manning and a number of injuries could result in an even deeper fall for Denver.

Suddenly average passing?
Manning has thrown multiple interceptions in each of his last three games after throwing three interceptions in his first seven games. Entering this season, Manning hadn’t thrown multiple interceptions in three straight games since 2010, and he hasn’t done it in four straight since the first four games of the 2001 season.

The increase in interceptions is a concern, but Manning has also been completing fewer passes for fewer yards on average. Manning’s three worst Total QBR games of the season have all come in his last three games.

Things have the potential to worsen, too, if the Broncos are without tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for an extended period of time. Both were injured in the Week 11 loss to the St. Louis Rams, and their status for Week 12 is in doubt.

Thomas and Sanders have combined to catch 19 of Manning’s 30 passing touchdowns this season, including 13 of his 18 red-zone touchdowns. In fact, Manning has targeted those two 26 times in the red zone this season and seen only three of those passes fall incomplete. His 88.5 completion percentage to the duo in the red zone is nearly 26 percentage points higher than his percentage to everyone else (62.9 percent).

Lack of rush offense
One of the problems with the passing offense of late may be an overreliance on it. Three of the Broncos’ four highest dropback rates have come in the last three games. The Broncos have dropped back on nearly 78 percent of their plays the last three games after doing so 60 percent of the time the first seven games.

The Broncos are averaging 89.9 rush yards per game this season on 3.7 yards per rush. Both totals would rank as the lowest for Denver since the team acquired Manning.

Tough road ahead
The Broncos will need to work out their recent offensive issues quickly as their next two games are home against the Dolphins (6-4) and then at Kansas City against the Chiefs (7-3).

The Dolphins pose a threat as a top pass defense. Their 33.1 opponent Total QBR this season is best in the NFL, and they’ve proven strong against top quarterbacks this season. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers (all top five in QBR along with Manning and Tony Romo) posted their worst completion percentages of the season against the Dolphins.

As for the Chiefs, they have not defeated the Peyton Manning-led Broncos, but they have won five straight and have the Raiders (0-10) before their Week 13 meeting with Denver. The Chiefs’ defense is tied for third this season with 30 sacks.

Top stats to know: Heisman contenders

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18

Scott Olmos/USA Today SportsAgainst the blitz and on deep balls, Marcus Mariota is among the best.
The competition for the Heisman Trophy might be down to two junior offensive stars: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. We take you inside their numbers, providing context and perspective to their accomplishments.

That’s a lot of yards: Gordon set the FBS single-game record with 408 rushing yards against Nebraska. Penn State (388), Washington State (316) and Wake Forest (173) all have fewer than 400 rushing yards this season in conference play. Gordon had six rushes in the game that gained at least 35 yards, which is more than 85 FBS teams have had for the entire season.

Sanders’ record in trouble? Gordon leads the FBS in rushing yards (1,909). If he stays on his current pace (190.9 rushing YPG) and Wisconsin makes it to the Big Ten Championship, Gordon would break Barry Sanders’ record for most rushing yards in a season, set in 1988 when Sanders won the Heisman. To be fair, Sanders set the record in 11 games and Gordon is on pace to do it in his 14th game.

The undisputed yards-per-rush king: With his 16.3 yards-per-rush average on 25 carries against Nebraska, Gordon set the FBS record for most yards per rush in a game with 25 or more carries. For the season, he is averaging 8.6 yards per rush, on pace to break the FBS record for yards per rush in a season (7.8) with at least 215 attempts set in 1983 by Heisman winner Mike Rozier. For his career, Gordon is averaging 8.29 yards per carry, on pace to break the career yards-per-rush average record (8.26) set by Army’s Heisman winner Glenn Davis from 1943-46.

The new “Mr. Outside”: Davis was known as “Mr. Outside” during his days at Army. Gordon might be the modern-day version. He is averaging a Power 5-high 10.9 yards per carry outside the tackles this season and has 19 such runs that gained 20 yards or more. No other FBS player has more than 16 total 20-yard rushes.

Teams should try the Leathernecks’ blueprint: Gordon has run for at least 100 rushing yards in nine of 10 games this season, including his last eight, the longest active streak in the FBS. The one team to hold Gordon to fewer than 100 yards was Western Illinois, which currently ranks 41st in the FCS in opponent yards per rush and 35th in yards per game.

A touchdown machine:
Mariota has been responsible for 38 touchdowns this season, tied with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for most in the FBS. Mariota has been responsible for four or more touchdowns in an FBS-high seven games.

If he has four touchdowns Saturday against Colorado, Mariota will move past USC’s Matt Barkley, who was responsible for 41 touchdowns in 2011, for the Pac-12 record. He would also be two shy of Barkley’s career record of 122. We should mention that Mariota was responsible for a career-high seven touchdowns against Colorado last season, which tied the Pac-12 record for a regulation game.

Keeping good company: Mariota leads the FBS in Total QBR (90.9) this season after ranking second in each of the previous two seasons. Since 2007, every player who has led the nation in Total QBR is either a Heisman winner or a current starting NFL quarterback.

Mariota has an FBS-high seven games this season with a Total QBR of at least 90, and no player in our QBR data set (since 2004) has had more such games in his career than Mariota.

Good things happen when he passes: Mariota leads the nation in yards per attempt (10.0) this season and ranks second in touchdown percentage (11 percent) and interception percentage (1 percent).

Blitzing is a bad idea: On plays with five or more pass rushers, Mariota is completing 72.6 percent of his passes, the highest for a Power 5 quarterback with at least 40 attempts. For his career, he has 25 touchdowns and three interceptions in such situations.

One of the best deep balls in the nation: Marcus Mariota is completing 53.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer, second-best among Power 5 quarterbacks this season behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and 16 percentage points higher than the Power 5 average.