NBA Playoff Projections Watch: February 15
I have a confession: I don't get the Harlem Shake. I don't think it's funny. I've already seen the backlash around the Internet about it not being the actual "Harlem Shake" and all, but I can't even agree with that. I just don't care about it in the least.
What's funny is that I actually kind of like the song. I can do electronic music. But this? It just feels... forced.
Some memes are starting to wear on me, and I now feel like I actually have an informed opinion of things like, "Wait, you really think that the Harlem Shake tops Gangnam Style?" I don't know whether this is a good or bad place to be. But it makes rankings things extraordinarily easy.
Because this is numberFire, and ranking things in terms of memes is actually part of the job description, I decided to put this week's NBA playoff chances in terms of meme funniness from the past year. Not to claim that Kobe is Overly Attached Girlfriend or anything... actually, that's exactly what I mean.
The Ermahgerd Category
30. Charlotte Bobcats: 0.0% Playoff Chance
29. Sacramento Kings: 0.0%
28. Phoenix Suns: 0.0%
27. Orlando Magic: 0.0%
26. Cleveland Cavaliers: 0.0%
25. Washington Wizards: 0.0%
24. New Orleans Hornets: 0.0%
23. Minnesota Timberwolves: 0.3%
I get it! People speak with a bit of a lisp when they have a retainer! That sounds somewhat funny-ish! Now, make way while I look for something that's actually worth my time rather than a cheap knockoff of a joke.
Sorry to say it to fans of these teams, but as it stands, the bottom eight of the NBA are nothing but cheap knockoffs. At the beginning of the season, not a single one of these teams was in our playoff projections. Now that we're at the All-Star Break, I'm still not getting any of the hype.
For the first time this season, that now includes you, Rubio and Co. We had them as very fringe contenders for a while, but recently, the wheels have come off. In losing five of their last six, the Timberwolves have dropped all the way to 0.3 percent playoff chances, effectively killing any hope they had of competing with their current 19-31 record.
The main issue down the stretch has been the Timberwolves' main strength all season long: rebounding. When Kevin Love went down with his injury about a month ago, the T'Wolves were in the top three in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. Now, they sit in sixth in both categories - not a large drop, but evidence that something is starting to go wrong.
Without the rebounding, well, the Timberwolves simply have no other redeeming characteristics as a team. The Timberwolves have played eight games in February. They have won the rebounding percentage battle in four of those eight games. They were 2-2 in games where they won the rebounding battle. They went 0-4 when they lost the rebounding battle.
The Harlem Shake Category
22. Detroit Pistons: 3.3% Playoff Chance
21. Portland Trail Blazers: 5.3%
20. Dallas Mavericks: 5.4%
19. Toronto Raptors: 5.9%
Sure, there are some redeeming qualities. That Baauer bass line is sick. Rudy Gay was actually a solid pickup for Toronto. Harlem Shake led to an awesome Azealia Banks remix. And the Damion Lillard-led Blazers are a ton of fun to watch. But when push comes to shove, I'll go to the stuff with more redeeming value every time.
For a while, the Blazers were legitimate contenders. But their current five game losing streak, which has pushed them under .500 on the year, has all but ended their playoff hopes heading into the All-Star break. The reasons are numerous - I've talked a lot about their lack of a Four Factors strength in the past - but their current losing streak is as simple as not being able to defend shots.
While the Blazers themselves shot above .500 eFG% in three of their four games over the past week, they also allowed opponents to shoot at .500 or better in every single one. In two games, against the Heat and Rockets, their opponent shot over .600 eFG% on the game. So despite being strong in other aspects of the game (Portland actually had a better turnover percentage, rebound percentage, and free throw factor than Houston), they simply couldn't get the job done.
The Overly Attached Girlfriend Category
18. Philadelphia 76ers: 11.9% Playoff Chance
17. Los Angeles Lakers: 42.1%
You simply can't get away from them. They're everywhere. And while the Overly Attached Girlfriend seems like a nice enough person in real life, you realize that this isn't going anywhere and getting somewhat annoying... fast.
At this point, it's not too hard to scroll down and see that every single current team projected to make the playoffs has at least 75 percent odds of doing so. That means that if the Lakers or the Sixers were to make the playoffs, it would take both fixing some of their own current weaknesses and seeing one of the current playoff teams fall to do so.
For the Lakers, it's all about that sweet, sweet turnover percentage. L.A. Lite (this year anyway) sits in 23rd of offensive turnover percentage and 28th in defensive turnover percentage at 12.2 percent of possessions. Of course, that's nothing new; the Lakers were in 20th and 30th, respectively, in those categories last season. But when your defensive eFG% percentage drops from sixth to 17th, you need another part of your game to step up. The Lakers haven't done that.
The Sixers, meanwhile, have scored less than a guy trolling outside McFadden's for drunk girls. Their 101.3 offensive rating currently sits 29th in the NBA, also known as one spot away from being last. How bad does that look for their playoff chances? Well, no NBA team has finished in the bottom five of offensive rating and still made the playoffs since the '04-05 Bulls, who had the 27th-best offensive rating and still grabbed the four seed. Of course, they also had the second-best defensive rating to go along with it. The Sixers are 11th in that category.
The Grumpy Cat Category
16. Utah Jazz: 76.9% Playoff Chance
15. Houston Rockets: 80.7%
14. Milwaukee Bucks: 86.8%
13. Golden State Warriors: 89.7%
We're now starting to get to the legitimate contenders. What, you don't think Grumpy Cat is legitimate? You obviously need another look at that face.
So stern. So angry. And so similar to the face that I make when I watch the Jazz, Rockets, or Warriors play defense.
Those three squads ranks 22nd, 21st, and 19th in the NBA respectively in terms of defensive rating. That's not good. Adding to the suck-fest is that only the Warriors are in the top half of the league in defensive eFG%, and they sit in 11th. I'm sure that won't be a problem against the Thunder, Spurs, or Clippers, though. Those three teams are only each in the top five of offensive eFG% and top six of offensive rating.
The Bucks, meanwhile, have the offensive prowess of a guy who had a few too many Millers before heading to the YMCA. Their .469 offensive eFG% ranks 26th in the NBA. That's behind such illustrious teams as the Kings (No. 21), Suns (No. 22), and Cavs (No. 23). Of course, the Pacers are also down there at No. 24, but at least Indiana has their top-ranked defensive rating to lean on. The Bucks, meanwhile, have been falling down the defensive rating rankings recently, currently sitting in 10th.
The U Mad? Category
12. Boston Celtics: 94.2% Playoff Chance
11. Atlanta Hawks: 98.7%
10. Brooklyn Nets: 99.5%
9. Chicago Bulls: 99.7%
8. Memphis Grizzlies: 99.8%
7. Denver Nuggets: 99.8%
6. Indiana Pacers: 99.9%
Know what, Cam'Ron? I am mad. I'm mad that these guys have been getting no respect. Two of these teams - the Pacers and Nuggets - even have above a three percent chance at the NBA Title according to our analytics. But still, nobody's talking about them as the legitimate contenders that they are.
The most interesting team to me is the Celtics, whose playoff chances have jumped over five percent since last week's Projections Watch. And while I'm talking about a team that has Paul Pierce and Jason Terry - as well as one that recently lost Rajon Rondo - this C's squad has gotten it done with their defense.
Over Boston's last nine games, only three teams - the Clippers, Raptors, and Bobcats - have posted defensive ratings above 100. For reference, the Pacers have the best average defensive rating in the NBA this year, and that's at 99.3 points per 100 possessions. With Avery Bradley as the starter, the Celtics have been doing even better.
Add to that only allowing a 110 or higher defensive rating once over that span to the Clippers while holding Denver, Miami, Chicago, and the Lakers under a 100 offensive rating, and you have a defensive juggernaut on your hands. There's a reason that they've won eight of their past nine games.
The Gangnam Style Category
5. New York Knicks: 100.0% Playoff Chance
4. Los Angeles Clippers: 100.0%
3. San Antonio Spurs: 100.0%
2. Miami Heat: 100.0%
1. Oklahoma City Thunder: 100.0%
Find me a person who hates Psy. OK, a non-racist person. What, you can't find somebody who genuinely hates on the most-watched Youtube video of All-Time?
That's when you know you have something solid on your hands. All five of these teams are elite, and nobody else in the NBA is up on their level. Sure, watching Grumpy Cat might be fun for a while. But at the end of the day, you know who's King.
Very soon, the overall King may very well be King James; the Heat have moved from fourth to third to second on our overall team rankings over the last three weeks. The Right Honorable LeBron is the main reason why: after his most recent hot stretch, LeBron now sits second in effective field goal percentage (.602, behind only Tyson Chandler), the highest non-point guard in assist percentage (13th at 34.1 percent), and the top overall player in Player Efficiency Rating (31.2, 2.0 ahead of Durant).
And that stretch has led Miami on a tear. Including last night's win against Oklahoma City, the Heat have now won seven straight games. In four of their last five, they've posted an eFG% over their league-leading .545 average, taking down the defenses of Houston, both L.A. teams, and Portland. Now that's showing who's the true King with swagger, hip-thrusting in an elevator all the while.