TrueHoop: Chicago Bulls

What's on the line Wednesday night

April, 17, 2013
By Gregg Found, ESPN Stats & Info

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
The Lakers have a chance to move as high as the 7 seed, or miss the playoffs completely.

Wednesday is the final day of the NBA regular season, and there’s no shortage of reasons to tune in. There are still playoff spots to be clinched, seeds to be determined and individual honors to be claimed.

Wild West Playoff Picture
Here’s how much we know for sure in the Western Conference entering Wednesday. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the 1 seed, and the San Antonio Spurs are No. 2. That’s it.

The Denver Nuggets have the inside track for the 3 seed. They’ll lock it down with a home win over the Phoenix Suns, or if the Los Angeles Clippers lose what could be the Kings’ final game in Sacramento. If Denver loses and the Clippers win, the Clippers take the third slot.

The worst the Nuggets or Clippers could do is the 4 seed and a First Round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, but who hosts the first game of that series is still to be decided.

If Memphis, currently with the same record as the Clippers, ends with a better record, it will have home-court advantage of the series, despite being seeded lower.

From six on down, it gets even more convoluted. If the Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 ET, ESPN) and the Golden State Warriors lose to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets knock the Warriors out of the 6 seed.

The Warriors can’t fall any lower than seventh, but Houston could potentially fall as low as eighth. If the Lakers beat the Rockets, the Lakers take the 7 seed, knocking Houston to eighth.

If the Lakers lose to the Rockets, it opens the window for the Utah Jazz to get the final playoff spot with a win over the Grizzlies (8 ET, ESPN).

East is Much Simpler
If the Western Conference scenarios were too confusing, you might like the Eastern Conference much better.

Six of the eight playoff seeds are already locked in. The Chicago Bulls hold the 5 seed, and will hold onto it with either a home win over the Washington Wizards, or an Atlanta Hawks road loss to the New York Knicks.

Of course, with the 5 seed comes a potential Conference Semifinals matchup with the Miami Heat.

Individual Honors on the Line
The biggest head-to-head battle Wednesday night seemed to be Kevin Durant chasing Carmelo Anthony for the scoring title, but news that Durant will not play means that Anthony becomes the second Knicks player to win a scoring title, joining Bernard King.

Stephen Curry
But there is still history to be made. Golden State’s Stephen Curry enters Wednesday one 3-pointer behind Ray Allen’s NBA record of 269 in a single season, set in 2005-06.

Curry is averaging 3.5 3-pointers this season, meaning the odds are in his favor to break the record.

With Durant not playing, it also means Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard will likely lead the NBA in total minutes. He’d be just the third rookie in NBA history to lead the league in minutes played. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain (in 1959-60) and Elvin Hayes (1968-69).

Can Bulls quiet ultra-efficient Kevin Durant?

February, 23, 2013
By Justin Page
ESPN Stats & Information

Getty Images Kevin Durant (left) has enjoyed an extremely efficient season, once again leading the NBA in scoring. Meanwhile, the Bulls have missed injured star Derrick Rose (right) at both ends of the floor.
The Thunder host the Bulls tomorrow night on ESPN. Here's what you need to know about this matchup of playoff probables:

Miguel Cabrera
Three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant is having an outstanding season on offense, even by his own lofty standards. He's again leading the league with 28.9 PPG, but he’s only attempting 18.0 field goals per game.

Charles Barkley (1987-88) is the only player in NBA history to average at least 28 points while attempting 18.0 or fewer shots per game.

Durant is also posting career highs in field-goal percentage (51.6), three-point percentage (42.6) and free-throw percentage (90.8).

If Durant continues this pace, he would become just the second player in NBA history (Larry Bird in the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons) to average at least 28 points, shoot at least 50 percent from the field, at least 40 percent from three-point range and at least 90 percent from the free-throw line.

On the Bulls' sideline, the impact of Derrick Rose's absence has been obvious at both ends of the court.

Rose took home MVP honors in 2010-11, becoming just the sixth point guard in NBA history to win the award, and even when he missed time, the Bulls managed to survive, posting an 18-9 record (.667 win pct) with Rose out of the lineup.

This season, however, Chicago has seen its win percentage dip to .582.

With Rose on the court last season, the Bulls averaged 107.6 points per 100 possessions (only one team had a higher rating last season). This season, the Bulls are averaging 100.1 in that category (24th in the NBA).

Filling Rose's position has been a struggle, with Bulls point guards averaging only 8.7 PPG. Last season, Rose averaged 21.8 PPG.

The Bulls may be on the road Sunday night, but that's where they've been at their best this season. They're 17-10 on the road so far, and they're the only team in the NBA with a better record on the road than at home.

In fact, if the winning ways continue for the Bulls and they reach the postseason, they would be just the fifth playoff team since 2000 with a better record away than at home.

The Bulls come off a big win over the Bobcats, when they committed just six turnovers (their fewest in a game this season), but they'll be visiting a Thunder team that is outscoring opponents by a league-best 8.7 points per game this season.

Shot-chart stories: Jennings, Williams, Bulls

December, 19, 2012
By Evan Kaplan, ESPN Stats & Information
Brandon Jennings connects from deep
Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings tied his season-high with seven made field goals from at least 15 feet in his 34-point effort in Tuesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers.
Over his previous six games Jennings was shooting only 27 percent from 15 feet and beyond and was averaging 0.73 points per field goal attempt on those shots.

But Tuesday he was 7-for-12 from that distance and cashed in at a rate of 1.33 points per field goal attempt.

Jennings is now shooting 39 percent for the season from 15 feet and beyond, which if maintained for the rest of the season would be the best rate for his career. He shot 35 percent from that distance last season.

Williams still not comfortable
Brooklyn Nets guard Deron Williams fell to 0-3 in meetings against his former team, the Utah Jazz. Williams was 5-for-12 from the field for 14 points in a two-point loss.

Williams spoke Monday about his lack of comfort in the Nets offense. Part of the reason he is struggling this season is his outside shooting.

Williams was 0-for-3 from the 3-point line and 2-for-8 (25.0 percent) from 10 feet and beyond on Tuesday. He is shooting 29 percent from the 3-point line and 32 percent from at least 10 feet this season, both of which would be career-lows if maintained for a full season.

Among players that have taken at least 100 shots from 10 feet or longer this season, Williams ranks in the bottom 10 percent in the NBA in field-goal percentage.

Bulls good enough in the paint
The Chicago Bulls outscored the Boston Celtics 48-36 in the paint in Tuesday’s win.

The Bulls are 9-3 this season when scoring more paint points than their opponent.

Of those 24 Bulls field goals noted above, 22 were from inside five feet, one shy of their season high.

They did so against a Celtics defense that has been vulnerable. Boston has allowed 100+ pts in each of its last four games, matches its longest streak this season

Shooting, rebounding woes can't stop 76ers

May, 10, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
The Philadelphia 76ers became the fifth 8-seed to win their opening playoff series, dispatching the injury-riddled Chicago Bulls in six games Thursday night.

The fact that the Bulls were without reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose for most of the series likely matters little to Philadelphia fans celebrating their first postseason series win since beating the New Orleans Hornets in the 1st Round of the 2003 Eastern Conference playoffs.

The 76ers advanced to the Conference Semis despite shooting under 40 percent in three of their four wins against the Bulls, including a field goal percentage of 39.7 (29-73) Thursday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Philadelphia is the first team to win three games in a series despite shooting under 40 percent from the field since the Indiana Pacers did it against the New York Knicks in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals and just the fifth such team in the Shot-Clock era.

The 76ers also struggled on the boards, and were outrebounded by 23 Thursday night (56-33). According to Basketball Reference, a team was outrebounded by 23 or more in a postseason game 24 times from 1986-2011 and only once did that team win, when the Washington Bullets beat the 76ers 95-94 in Game 1 of the 1st Round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Prior to Thursday, no team in postseason history has won a game when shooting under 40 percent and being outrebounded by 23 or more, according to Elias.

Philadelphia got a big break when C.J. Watson, who made 80.8 percent of his free throws in the regular season, dished to Omer Asik on the Bulls second-to-last possession. Asik missed both of his foul shots after he was fouled by Spencer Hawes, befitting a player who ranked last in free throw shooting (45.6 percent) among the 175 players to attempt at least 100 free throws in the regular season.

When Andre Iguodala got his turn from the line moments later, he converted both of his attempts despite entering Thursday having made a team-low 45.0 percent of his free throw attempts in crunch time (score within 5 points in the final 5 minutes).

Philadelphia’s streak of eight straight seasons without a playoff series win, tied with 1969-76 for the longest such streak in franchise history, comes to an end, as does their string of five straight losses in playoff series.

In the Conference Semis, the 76ers will attempt to become just the second 8-seed to win a pair of playoff series. The 1999 Knicks advanced the NBA Finals before falling to the Spurs in five games.

Bulls miss Rose's defense in Game 2

May, 2, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

US Presswire
76ers guard Jrue Holiday took advantage of the Derrick Rose-less Bulls to even the series 1-1.
The Chicago Bulls are used to playing without guard Derrick Rose. But at least during the second half Tuesday night, they looked like a team helpless without the 2010-2011 NBA MVP.

Out for the season after tearing his ACL in Game 1, Rose could only watch from a skybox as the Bulls were trounced by the Philadelphia 76ers after halftime in a 109-92 defeat. The 17-point loss is tied for the largest in the 34 games Chicago has played without Rose since drafting him in 2008.

The Bulls, who were 18-9 in the regular season without Rose, fared well in the opening two quarters, dominating the offensive glass to take an eight-point lead into the half. However, the team must not have been too inspired by coach Tom Thibodeau’s halftime speech.

The Sixers ran the Bulls off the court in the third quarter, outscoring them 36-14, including 11-0 on fast-break points. Philly also shot 68.2 percent from the field (to the Bulls’ 25 percent) and outrebounded them 14-5. The 22-point margin is the most the 76ers have outscored an opponent by in any playoff quarter in the last 15 seasons.

Nobody took advantage of Rose’s absence more than Sixers guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday poured in a postseason career-high 26 points and shot 11-15 on field goals. During the series, Holiday has shot the ball nearly twice as well with Rose on the bench than when he was on the court (70.6 to 37.5).

In fact, the entire 76ers team was accurate from the floor Tuesday night. Their 59 percent shooting from the field was Philly’s highest mark in a playoff game since 2001. This number was bolstered by their dominance inside of five feet (20-27, 74.1 percent). It was the third-highest field goal percentage allowed by Chicago from that distance this season.

In their two seasons under Thibodeau, the Bulls have never allowed a team to shoot 59 percent. And Michael Jordan was still on the team the last time they let an opponent shoot that well in a playoff game (1998).

The Bulls now must head to Philadelphia with the series tied 1-1. In order to regain home-court advantage, they will need to find a way to replace Rose’s production. C.J. Watson, who started for Rose, and John Lucas were unable to do that in Game 2. Although the two combined for 27 points, they handed out just seven assists. Center Joakim Noah, who led the team with 21 points, had five assists himself.

They’re still in the series, but the Bulls will have to cool the 76ers’ red-hot shooting soon. Or else, the bloom will be off their outstanding 50-16 season.

Outscoring opponents in the clutch

April, 17, 2012
By Henry Abbott, Trevor Ebaugh, Stats & Info
Mike Brown
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The last four years he has coached, Mike Brown's teams have led the league.

Basketball geekery has delved into crunch time in various ways.
  • First there was individual field goal percentage. That's where we learned that the players we thought owned crunch time (for instance Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups) actually miss a lot.
  • A year ago, we added something new, looking at team offenses. That's a more important measure, assuming you value wins more than highlights. Who cares who gets the bucket, so long as they're on your team? That's where we learned that most teams were about the same, with some exceptions, including Chris Paul's Hornets, which were amazing.

But all that is only part of the picture. Because as much as we love clutch buckets, clutch wins also have a ton to do with defense. If you're going to point to any team as elite in the clutch, that must be included, and now it is.

As John Hollinger has explained, a lot of what teams do in crunch time is likely random. Looking at tiny parts of games creates some wacky results without a lot of predictive value ... anyone who says they know a team will do well in crunch time is likely fibbing. All teams do both well and poorly at different times. But defense may be a bit of an exception. Teams do seem to play defense with a certain consistency late in games.

Using data from the last five years (current as of today), from games within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Trevor Ebaugh of ESPN Stats & Info. dug in and created this pretty Tableau table:

Some of what we noticed:
  • The Cavaliers of LeBron James and Mike Brown were unreal in crunch time, leading the league by a hefty margin for three straight years, with the best performances of any teams in the record. It's easy to see that LeBron James matters here -- once he left for Miami the Cavaliers’ plus/minus plummeted. The Cavs averaged plus-113 with James during those three seasons, and plus one in the two seasons since. Meanwhile, before James, the Heat weren't good in crunch time, but have since become very solid.
  • Mike Brown emerges as an interesting character in crunch time. With James in Cleveland three straight years, and now in Los Angeles after a year off, his teams led the league by this metric every year he has coached in the last half-decade. In this period, neither team has been as good with other coaches, either.
  • The Lakers have by far the best crunch time plus/minus this season (plus-79, the Pacers are second at plus-65). Pau Gasol (plus-78) has been their biggest individual star, followed closely by Andrew Bynum (plus-74). Kobe Bryant ranks third at plus-58. The Lakers achieved this number with the NBA's second-best clutch offense (behind the Magic) and the eighth-best defense.
  • Three teams have shone for five straight years: The Lakers, Celtics and Magic. The Nuggets are flirting with joining that club, too.
  • Superstars matter. Or, at least some do. LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul almost always end the season positive in this regard -- the only exceptions are Paul and Nowitzki this year, which could still change. Other big names, like Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade have had more mixed results.
  • Good teams in general do well in crunch time. The top six teams in crunch time plus/minus this season have already locked up playoff spots, for instance (Lakers, Pacers, Hawks, Magic, Spurs and Bulls). But it's hardly a perfect correlation. In fact, surely a lot of what we're seeing in this chart appears to be simple randomness. The Pacers, terrible for a long time, are suddenly leaders. The Kings are excellent crunch time defenders this season. The Hawks are a solid team that is way better than solid late in games. And plenty of good teams -- the Sixers, the Knicks -- are pretty bad with the game on the line.
  • Over the past half-decade, just two teams, the Knicks and Timberwolves, haven't had a single season in positive territory.
  • The top ten late-game offensive teams this season are the Magic, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Hawks, Pacers, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Knicks.
  • The Pacers are by far this season's best defensive team late in close games. They are followed by the Hawks, Kings (!), Spurs, Heat, Magic, Bulls, Lakers, Thunder and Clippers.
  • The Dallas Mavericks have been very good for the last five years, but also have had the biggest drop-off in crunch time performance, from a league-leading plus-117 last season to an anemic minus-16 this season.
  • The Hawks have been good in crunch time for four straight years.
  • The Spurs and Thunder have been up and down.
  • The Houston Rockets (plus-31) and Memphis Grizzlies (plus-28) are the best crunch time teams this season that have yet to lock up a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Clippers (minus-9) are the only playoff team with a negative clutch plus/minus.

Mostly, this feels like it's the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more to learn about all this, and one of the big questions on the horizon is something Bill James has wrestled with in baseball for quite some time: Is there such a thing as clutch time performers? Are there really players or teams who do better with the game on the line?

That's still not something we know. What we do know is that a lot of what we thought we knew was wrong.

Knicks five alive under Woodson

March, 22, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Jeremy Lin drives to the basket in the Knicks' win over the 76ers Wednesday night.
The New York Knicks just want to be like Mike – Woodson that is. The Knicks improved to 5-0 under new head coach Mike Woodson, though Wednesday’s 82-79 win over the Philadelphia 76ers was quite unlike their previous four victories with Woodson at the helm:

• The 3-point margin is the smallest during the win streak; the Knicks had won their previous four games by 22.5 points per game.

• The Knicks shot 2-13 (15 percent) from beyond the arc versus Philadelphia, after making more than 40 percent of their 3-point attempts in their first four games under Woodson.

• New York also struggled on the break Wednesday, scoring just 10 points in transition, compared to an average of 23 transition points per game during the win streak prior to tonight.

Instead, New York pounded the ball inside and crashed the offensive boards to get easy points against Philadelphia. The Knicks outscored the 76ers 32-20 in the paint and 15-5 on second-chance opportunities.

This is just the second time the Knicks have won five games in row following an in-season coaching change, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In the 1979-80 season, Red Holzman replaced Willis Reed and the Knicks won their next five games en route to a 31-51 final record.

Bulls get bench boost
The Chicago Bulls trailed 69-62 through the first three quarters of their game versus the Toronto Raptors, but used a 20-0 run to outscore the Raptors 32-15 in the final period for the 94-82 win.

The Bulls' reserves came up huge in the fourth quarter with 28 of the team’s 32 points. Kyle Korver and John Lucas combined to shoot 9-for-14 and scored 23 points after going scoreless in the first three quarters.

Three times a charm for Gordon
Ben Gordon
Ben Gordon erupted for 45 points, but missed a 21-footer with two seconds left, and the Denver Nuggets escaped with a 116-115 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Gordon converted all nine of his shots from beyond the arc, matching the most made 3-pointers without a miss in a game in NBA history. Gordon also achieved the feat in the 2005-06 season and Latrell Spreewell did it in the 2002-03 season.

Spurs, Lakers keep streaking
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 116-100, extending their home win streak over the Timberwolves to 15 games. That is the fourth-longest current home winning streak by one team against an opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Dallas Mavericks, pushing their winning streak over defending NBA champions to six. That streak dates back to a win over the Spurs in April 2008. Elias tells us that streak against defending champions is the longest of its kind in Lakers' franchise history and second longest to the Knicks who won seven straight over defending champions from 1994 to 1996.

The "I" in Knicks spells doom again

January, 21, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
The Milwaukee Bucks beat the New York Knicks who have now lost five straight games and stand at 6-9. Although Carmelo Anthony scored 35 points in the loss, the Knicks now stand at just 20-21 since trading for him last February.

A trend of leaning on Anthony in isolation continued against Milwaukee, as Anthony accounted for 15 of the Knicks’ 19 plays in isolation. On the season, the Knicks have ran a higher percentage of isolation plays than any other team, but are shooting just 29.3 percent on such plays, the worst in the NBA.

Brandon Jennings scored a season-high 36 points in the win, but did so without attempting a single free throw. He is the first player to score at least that many points without attempting a free throw since Jason Richardson in January 2008. Two of the three highest scoring games of his career have now come at Madison Square Garden, having hung 37 on March 25 of last season.

Dwight Howard had 21 points and 23 rebounds to lead the Orlando Magic over the Los Angeles Lakers 92-80. It was Howard’s fifth game with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds this season, more than the rest of the NBA combined. According to Elias, Howard is the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76 with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in five of his team’s first 15 games of the season.

Although Kobe Bryant scored 30 points, the Lakers offense continues to struggle as they failed to top 100 points for the 10th straight game. That is tied for the second-longest such streak by the Lakers in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55).

Despite playing without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls won 114-75, handing the Cleveland Cavaliers their worst home loss in franchise history. According to Elias, the 39-point margin of victory is the second-largest ever by the Bulls over the Cavaliers, trailing only a 121-80 result on December 22, 1970.

Chicago held Cleveland to just 30.3 percent shooting, the fifth-lowest allowed in a game this season. It was the fifth time this season the Bulls have held their opponent to under 35 percent shooting. The Lakers are the only other team with even three such games this season.

• The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Atlanta Hawks 90-76 to improve to 11-4, their best start since starting 11-4 in 2002-03.

• LaMarcus Aldrige had 33 points, 23 rebounds and five assists to lead the Portland Trail Blazers over the Toronto Raptors. He is only the sixth player in the last 25 seasons to reach those threshold in a single game and the first to do it since Kevin Garnett in 2003-04.

• The Detroit Pistons scored 81 points in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s Pistons’ 16th straight game they have failed to score 100 points, their third-longest such streak in the shot-clock era.

Roundup: Bulls, Bryant, Green rolling

January, 14, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
The Chicago Bulls have been winning with their half-court defense. The Bulls entered Friday’s game allowing 0.78 points per play in the half court, which ranked second-best in the NBA.

This time, it established itself a little earlier than usual.

In its first 12 games Chicago’s half-court defense was holding opponents to 41 percent shooting in the first half and 38 percent in the second half.

Those numbers basically flipped around in a Friday win as the Bulls set the tone by holding the Celtics to just 33 first-half points (all but two in the half court), their third-best defensive effort in a half this season. The Boston Celtics shot just 35 percent in half-court sets in the first half in dropping their third straight game.

Bulls guard Derrick Rose scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, including two big three-pointers in the final 7:30 of the game, completely turning around what was a below-average performance in the first three periods.

Entering Friday’s game Rose was shooting 44 percent in the half court and was most successful as the pick-and-roll ball handler, shooting 47 percent.

Rose turned it on in the half court in the final 12 minutes, making as many shots in half-court sets (four) as he did in the first 36.

Rose was just 1-for-6 on pick-and-roll plays in the first three quarters, but made a pair-of-baskets on three attempts off pick-and-rolls in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics are floundering. They are off to their worst start since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston in 2007-08.

Boston has struggled offensively during the three-game slide, shooting 42 percent from the field while getting just under 20 points per game off the bench.

Kobe, again
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant topped the 40-point mark for the third straight game in Friday’s win over coach Mike Brown's former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s the seventh time in his career that Bryant has had a streak this long, the first time since doing so for five straight games during the 2006-07 season.

Bryant’s longest streak of 40-point games was a nine-game run in which he averaged 44 points per game in the 2002-03 season.

30/10 for Williams, 30/15 for Love

Deron Williams had 35 points and 14 assists in the New Jersey Nets win over the Phoenix Suns. That is Williams' 13th 30-point, 10-assist game since the 2008-09 season. The only players with more in that span are LeBron James (17) and Dwyane Wade (15).

Kevin Love scored 34 points and pulled down 15 rebounds for the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was his 10th career game with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds, which moves him into a tie for 9th most among active players, despite only being in the league for four seasons.

Plus-Minus Note of the Night
It was a good day for the San Antonio Spurs bench in a 99-83 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Danny Green
In the 30 minutes that third-year swingman Danny Green was on the floor, the Spurs outscored the Trail Blazers by 29 points.

It was the best plus-minus of Green’s career by far, surpassing a plus-15 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Milwaukee Bucks on March 6, 2010.

Bulls, 76ers defend homecourt well

January, 10, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Info
One of the most notable storylines in the early part of this NBA season is that offenses have not been in sync.

As a result, several teams have gotten out to great starts defensively. Two of them were on display Monday Night.

The Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers set a new standard for defending their homecourt with their victories over the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.

It’s a bit of an obscure record, but a notable mark nonetheless, one provided by the Elias Sports Bureau. In the NBA’s shot clock era (since 1954), this year’s Bulls (206) and 76ers (221) have allowed the fewest points in their first three home games.

The previous mark was set by the 2003-04 Spurs, who allowed 229 points in their first three home games.

After beating the Pistons 92-68, the Bulls have now held two of their three opponents at home to below 70 points. They held the Grizzlies to 64 points on New Year’s Day.

Also via Elias, the Bulls are now 13-0 against the Pistons over the last four calendar years, the best record for any NBA team against a particular opponent over that span.

The 76ers continue along in surprising fashion. Through eight games, they are holding opponents to just under 90 points per 100 possessions, which represents an early dramatic improvement from last season, in which they allowed 102.5 points per 100. Philadelphia’s +14.7 point differential is the best in the NBA.

Chandler getting into flow for Knicks
Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler had his best game since joining the New York Knicks, going 7-for-8 from the field and scoring 20 points in a win over the Charlotte Bobcats.

Chandler had a pair of alley-oops among his seven baskets. He’s had four alley-oops in his last two games after netting five in his first seven games.

Plus-Minus Note of the Night
The Minnesota Timberwolves got far better production from their bench than their starters. All five Timberwolves reserves finished with a positive plus-minus, but each of their starters had a -11 plus-minus or worse in a 97-87 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Most impressive was J.J. Barea. The Timberwolves outscored the Raptors by 21 points when Barea played and they were outscored by 31 when he was off the floor.

Rookie Ricky Rubio finished a +1 in 30 minutes. He is now a +49 through the Timberwolves first nine games.

What 2 Watch 4: NBA Season Preview

December, 24, 2011
By Micah Adams and Jason Starrett, ESPN Stats & Information
With the season set to tip-off on Christmas Day, here are four major statistical storylines to keep a close eye on:

Can the Mavericks repeat?
With the departure of Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, the Dallas Mavericks will be the first defending champion since the 1998-99 Bulls to lose three of its top seven in minutes played from the previous season’s NBA Finals.

Added to the mix are Lamar Odom and Vince Carter. In Odom, the Mavericks added an incredibly efficient half-court scorer according to our video-tracking friends at Synergy Sports. Among all qualified forwards, he ranked third in the NBA in points per play in the half court, trailing only Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki.

Carter is also a good fit. Last season, only five teams scored more points on spot-up shots. In 2010-11 Carter ranked in the Top 25 in the NBA in field goal attempts per game, field goal percentage and points per game on spot-up shots.

How does Chris Paul improve the Clippers?
As a pick-and-roll ball handler last season, Chris Paul ranked sixth in the NBA in points per play among the 103 players with at least 100 pick-and-roll plays. As a team the Los Angeles Clippers ranked 17th in pick-and-roll efficiency while Paul’s old team in New Orleans ranked seventh.
Chris Paul
Look for Paul to help improve the Clippers jump-shooting woes as well. Last season the Clippers shot just 35.1 pct on jump shots which ranked dead last in the NBA. Paul ranked 20th in jump shot FG attempts, but did so with great efficiency, connecting on 44 percent. Of the 19 players which took more jumpers, only Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry and Ray Allen shot a better percentage.

While the loss of Eric Gordon hurts, consider this: accounting for three-pointers, Gordon had a 48.5 adjusted FG pct on jump shots... worse than both Paul (49.8) and Chauncey Billups (52.7).

Will youth be served in Oklahoma City?
While James Harden and Serge Ibaka continue to improve, the main focus is on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Durant is looking to become the first player since Michael Jordan in 1997-98 to lead the league in scoring three straight seasons. Westbrook meanwhile is coming off a 2010-11 season in which he emerged as one of the league’s best finishers at the rim, ranking sixth in points scored within three feet.

Perhaps the biggest concern with the Thunder is the potential for an alpha-dog dispute. Durant was the unquestioned go-to guy down the stretch during the regular season, an assumption which was then challenged by Westbrook during the postseason (see chart).

Regardless of who takes the big shots, an improvement on their combined 3-26 effort would surely bring OKC closer to a title.

Bigger impact on the East: Richard Hamilton or Tyson Chandler?
While many presume we won’t know anything new about the Miami Heat until the playoffs, the same can’t be said for the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks who added major pieces in Richard Hamilton and Tyson Chandler.

The Bulls brought in Hamilton to take the place of Keith Bogans, who despite starting all 82 games, averaged just 4.4 PPG which was the fewest among all players with at least 50 starts. With Derrick Rose having the second-highest usage rate in the NBA last season, scoring without the ball is an essential skill for all other Bulls players. Among guards, Hamilton has the fifth-most assisted FG on shots beyond 15 feet over the last three seasons.

Chandler’s most significant responsibility will be to improve a Knicks interior defense which allowed opponents to shoot 45.3 percent on post ups last season (21st in the NBA). On post up plays in which he played single coverage, Chandler held opponents to 41.4 pct shooting. That is at least 5 points better than any of the players who saw minutes at center for the Knicks last season.

Playing overseas is a heavy decision to make

July, 12, 2011
Harper By Zach Harper
When players come back from injuries, the idea of rehabbing and working out all the time not being able to equate to “in-game” shape is always confusing.

It makes sense for the most part. When you’re lifting weights, running on the treadmill, taking a spin class or even fighting for that last piece of bacon, you’re using a lot different muscles and using them in different intervals than when you’re on the basketball court. And being able to do that on back-to-back nights or four games in five nights at the NBA level has to take even longer to retrain your body how to recover.

Still it seems weird that the best athletes in the world would essentially be out of shape despite the copious amounts of training they do to get themselves back to being able to play.

If taking extended time off from playing NBA basketball is such a difficult task, are players like Deron Williams and Joakim Noah priming themselves for a big return if the NBA does indeed have another lockout-shortened regular season?

When the NBA returned from its brief absence in 1998, a lot of the players were, for lack of a better term, hefty. There are rumors that Vin Baker came back roughly 60 pounds heavier than before, and Shawn Kemp had certainly seen slimmer days (even though he actually had a very productive 1999 season compared to the previous year). Sure, there were a lot of players that stayed in shape and got themselves ready to go for the brutal grind of cramming 50 games into three months, but a lot of guys also left themselves susceptible to injury by not returning in top physical form.

But with Williams reportedly heading to Turkey as the heir apparent to Allen Iverson and Noah playing for Team France in the European Championships in Lithuania, should more players be taking their cues from these two players and try to stay active in organized basketball?

As of right now, the NBA is full of bored players who are lying down on the ground, taking pictures of themselves “planking” and then tweeting it out to their followers. Since it’s still just July and they have no promise of playing an NBA season this fall, it’s not really a big deal. Guys right now would usually be checking out the Summer League action in Las Vegas or going for a summer vacation to get away from everything.

But with no end in sight to the lockout and threats of owners sacrificing an entire season just to get their way, you have to wonder at what point these players will become motivated to stay in shape.

For a good chunk of August and September, Noah will be practicing with Team France and trying to help them qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London. If the lockout ends in time for training camp in September, he’ll be in better playing shape than most other peers around the NBA.

If the lockout extends beyond September and begins to consume preseason and regular season games, Williams will more than likely head to Turkey and play for Besiktas. Once again, he’ll be practicing with his stepteam and playing in real games. If the lockout ends and brings him back to the NBA for the rest of whatever is left of the 2011-12 season, he’s likely to have the upper hand with conditioning and play at the beginning of the season.

Granted, there are injury risks for going off to play outside of the NBA, just like there are for players coming back to a shortened season while out of shape. Unless you’re Carlos Boozer, it’s pretty hard to get injured just walking around your house, looking for the next hilarious place to plank from. But being rusty in the NBA isn’t just a potential detriment to your team; it’s also a risk to your health with injury.

Williams and Noah aren’t the only guys exploring their options. Andrei Kirilenko is reportedly offering his services to European teams for the low asking price of $5.8 million this winter. A few teams were courting Amar’e Stoudemire before he decided to stay loyal to the Knicks.

It’s one thing to consider going to play organized, professional basketball away from the NBA and another thing to actually commit to it.

Maybe Williams and Noah will get injured during this venture away from the NBA during the lockout. Maybe they are risking all of their guaranteed money waiting for them when the NBA opens its doors back up and invites us all in again.

But it’s a risk that will most likely keep these two ahead of the pack if we end up with another shortened season.

Bulls board way to Game 1 win

May, 16, 2011
By ESPN Stats & Info
After a week in which they were mentioned in the same sentence with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and compared to some of the greatest duos in NBA history, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James weren’t even the most productive pair of teammates in the United Center Sunday. That honor goes to Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, who combined for 49 points to lead to the Chicago Bulls to a 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Wade and James totaled 33 points and eight turnovers while shooting just 12-32 from the field as the Heat suffered their third-largest loss of the season. As a team, the Heat attempted just 68 shots – matching their fewest since late March – as the Bulls dominated the boards and forced 16 Miami turnovers.

Chicago outrebounded Miami 45-33, including a 19-6 edge in offensive rebounds. Joakim Noah pulled down more offensive boards (8) than the entire Heat team. It was Noah’s third game with at least eight offensive rebounds this postseason, the most in the NBA. Chicago’s 19 offensive rebounds and 31 second-chance points were the most allowed by the Heat in any game this season.

As expected, reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose had his way when matched up against the Heat’s point guard tandem of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. Rose scored 21 of his 28 points on the 18 plays he was guarded by a fellow point guard. On the 11 plays when he was defended by another Heat player, most often Dwyane Wade, he managed just seven points and made two of his seven shots from the field.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago, where the Heat will likely need more than 33 points from their two biggest stars if they are going to even the series. Chris Bosh did well to fill the scoring void Sunday, recording a game-high 30 points, but Miami is at its best when Bosh is in a supporting role. After their Game 1 loss, the Heat are now 5-3 this season when Bosh leads the team in scoring. When James is their leading scorer, the Heat are 28-14 and Miami is even better when Wade leads the team in scoring at 30-9.

It’s often said an NBA playoff series doesn’t really start until the home team loses, but a loss on Wednesday would put the Heat in a hole few teams have been able to climb out of. Teams trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series have gone on to lose that series more than 94 percent of the time in NBA history.

Bench lifts Magic to force Game 6

April, 26, 2011
By ESPN Stats & Info
The Orlando Magic avoided elimination Tuesday with their 101-76 win against the Atlanta Hawks. Orlando has forced the series back to Atlanta, where the Magic have yet to win this season (0-4 during regular season and postseason combined).

After shooting playoff record-low 8.7 percent (2-for-23) from three-point range in Game 4, Orlando rebounded to shoot 42.3 percent (11-for-26) from long distance in Game 5.

Orlando won despite a quiet game from Dwight Howard, who tied a playoff career-low by attempting just four shots. He finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds after recording a 20-15 game in each of the first four games of this series. He sat out all but one minute of the fourth quarter.

The Magic overcame the slow night from Howard due in large part to the strong performance from their bench. After totaling 69 points in the first four games of the series, the Magic bench combined for 49 points in Game 5.

Meanwhile, the Hawks did not get a typical performance from their star bench player, Jamal Crawford (8 points). Crawford had scored at least 20 points off the bench in each of the first four games of the series.

Odds against the Magic still remain long, however. In NBA playoff history, just eight teams have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win. The Magic franchise has never done it and the Hawks franchise has never allowed it.

In other Eastern Conference action on Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls enjoyed their first playoff series win since 2007 by closing out the Indiana Pacers. It’s just Chicago’s second playoff series win since the 1998 NBA Finals.

Derrick Rose's sprained left ankle didn't seem to hamper him. After shooting 6-for-22 from the field in the Bulls' Game 4 loss, he found his stroke in Game 5, scoring 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

In the first four games of the series, Rose shot just 29.7 percent from the field when being guarded by Paul George, but shot 66.7 percent from the field against him in Game 5. During the Bulls' decisive 21-8 run over the last 5:52 of the third quarter Tuesday, nine of Rose's 10 points came against George, all from three-point range.

Rose wasn't the only one feeling it from downtown. The Bulls set a franchise playoff record by making 14 three-pointers (previous high: 13), 11 of which came in the second half. The Bulls led at halftime for the first time in the series and never trailed, though at one point the Pacers closed within four points.

In an odd occurrence, noted three-point specialist Kyle Korver dunked in the game. A pretty rare sight -- he had one dunk the entire regular season.

The Pacers have not won a playoff series since 2005.