Kentucky impressive in the clutch

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4

Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsKentucky came up big in the clutch once again to defeat Georgia on Tuesday.

Tuesday against Georgia, Kentucky once again stepped up in a close game, finishing the game on a 16-2 run to beat the Bulldogs. Kentucky has been clutch all season long when the game is close down the stretch and that clutch play is a big reason why the Wildcats are off to a 30-0 start.

Kentucky in the Clutch
In 42 minutes of clutch time this season (defined as the last five minutes of the second half/OT with the score within five points), Kentucky has outscored its opponents by 30 points.

Kentucky has been even better in clutch time as of late. In its last five games where the score was within five points late (Vanderbilt, Georgia, at Florida, at LSU, at Georgia), Kentucky has outscored its opponents 36-9 in 16 minutes of clutch time – a margin of 67.5 points per 40 minutes! That includes outscoring Georgia 10-0 in clutch time on Tuesday.

How they're winning these games
Kentucky owns the nation’s best defense and that defense has stepped up with the game on the line.

In the last three minutes of the second half and overtime in one-possession games this season, Kentucky has held its opponents to 1-for-15 shooting, including 1-for-10 on 3-pointers.

The Wildcats are even better in the final minute, holding opponents to 0-for-9 shooting in the final minute of the second half and overtime this season, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

When the score is within three points, Kentucky's defense has improved throughout its games. In the second half and overtime of those situations, Kentucky is holding opponents to 31.3 percent shooting, including 6-for-34 on 3-pointers.

Kentucky is one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams this season, grabbing 40.4 percent of its missed shots (sixth in Division I).

But the Wildcats have been even better on the glass when the game is tight. Kentucky has an offensive rebound percentage of 50 percent in clutch time this season, including a whopping 71 percent in its last five games of clutch time. For reference, Baylor leads the nation in offensive rebound percentage at 42.6 percent.

Kentucky has also kept opponents off the offensive glass. The Wildcats have grabbed 78 percent of their opponents’ missed shots in clutch time, including 92 percent in their last five games.

This is a far cry from Kentucky’s usual performance, as the Wildcats rank 238th in Division I in defensive rebound percentage this season (68 percent).

Free Throws
If there’s one thing Kentucky isn’t among the elite at it’s free throws. The Wildcats rank 96th in Division I in free throw percentage this season (71.1 percent). But like its defense and rebounding, Kentucky’s free throw performance has improved in the clutch, especially as of late.

The Wildcats are 15-18 (83.3%) on free throws over their last five games of clutch time. They’re shooting just 72 percent from the line during all other times in those games.

Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY SportsDamian Lillard and Chris Paul face off tonight in Los Angeles.
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Los Angeles Clippers (second in BPI) and the Portland Trail Blazers (sixth in BPI) at 10:30 ET on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Clippers a 71 percent chance of winning:

1. There is a 24 percent chance that the Clippers and Trail Blazers will face each other in the first round of the playoffs.

2. DeAndre Jordan has a 31 percent defensive-rebounding percentage, and is averaging 2.3 blocks and 3.1 personal fouls per 36 minutes. The only players to have a defensive-rebounding percentage above 30, and average more than two blocks and three fouls per 36 minutes are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dwight Howard, Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert, and Chris Kaman.

3. The Trail Blazers do best when Damian Lillard is focused on getting to the rim. In wins Lillard averages 5.7 free throws and 6.7 three point attempts per 36 minutes. In losses, Lillard averages 4.1 free throws and 7.9 three point attempts per 36 minutes.

4. The Trail Blazers are one of only five teams with an offense and defense both at least one point above average. The other four are the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, and Hawks.

Inside DeAndre Jordan's rebounding streak

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
Trivia question: What is the record for most consecutive games with at least 15 rebounds? We'll get to the answer shortly.

In a 23-point loss to Oklahoma City on Feb. 8, DeAndre Jordan had a fairly nondescript game: eight points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes.

Just one night later at Dallas, Jordan exploded for 22 and 27, beginning a nine-game tear the likes of which have never been done in a Clipper uniform, as his nine straight games with at least 15 rebounds is a franchise record.

What you see above are all 182 of Jordan’s rebounds over the last nine games as well as every missed shot that led to a Jordan rebound.

Just how many rebounds is that?

Jordan has 66 more rebounds than any other player since Jan. 9. The gap between Jordan and Hassan Whiteside (second over that span), is larger than the gap between Whiteside and the player with the 58th-most rebounds over that span (Nick Collison and Harrison Barnes) and larger than the gap between Whiteside and Ricky Rubio.

If you took away all of Jordan's offensive rebounds, Jordan would still lead the NBA in rebounding over this stretch. That's dominating your skill set.

Rather than take away the offensive rebounds, let’s focus on them simply because they paint a picture of just how critical Jordan’s run has been to Doc Rivers’ team.

Prior to this run, Jordan was averaging 4.4 offensive boards per game. Since that game at Dallas, he’s averaging 6.1 offensive boards per game, effectively creating two extra possessions for an offense that leads the NBA in points per possession.

Based on our tracking, Jordan’s 55 offensive rebounds have led to 57 second-chance points; or 6.3 second-chance points per game. By comparing Jordan’s offensive rebound rate during this stretch (18 percent) to the league average for starting centers (10 percent), you’d expect about 3.5 second-chance points per game from an average center, which means Jordan has essentially “added” three additional points per game on the offensive glass alone.

How big of a difference is three points?

If you subtracted that from their season averages, the Clippers would fall from second to fifth in points per game and second to 10th in average scoring margin. Considering no team in NBA history has won an NBA title when ranked that low in scoring margin, you can make a case that without Jordan’s work on the offensive glass alone, the Clippers wouldn’t even be in the conversation among title contenders.

Some other notes on our video tracking of Jordan’s rebounds:

Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick tied for the most missed shots that led to offensive rebounds, with 11 each.

In terms of scoring, the largest beneficiary of Jordan’s offensive boards was Jamal Crawford who scored 17 2nd-chance points off of those extra opportunities.

They were tough rebounds. All but three of his offensive rebounds were contested rebounds meaning there’s more to it than simply “right place, right time”.

He’s not simply playing volleyball with himself either. Only seven of his offensive rebounds were of his own misses.

While the focus here is on his rebounding, it’s also worth mentioning that Jordan is seriously challenging Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record for highest field goal percentage in a single season (72.7 percent in 1972-73). Jordan’s field-goal percentage is 71.7 entering Wednesday night.

So how is he doing it?

By knowing his own limitations and staying comfortably close to the basket. As you can tell by the zone chart above, Jordan has made only a single shot from outside the paint the entire season. Of his 279 makes, 186 of them have been dunks.

This is nothing new for Jordan.

Over the last 15 seasons, there are over 3,500 instances of a player attempting at least 300 shots in a single season. Of all of those seasons, Jordan owns the three highest in terms of percentage of total attempts within five feet, including his mark of 97 percent this season which is the highest of them all.

Trivia answer: 186 by Wilt Chamberlain. The earliest Jordan could get there is the 74th game of the 2016-17 season.

4-point play: Lakers vs. Heat

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4

Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty ImagesGoran Dragic has been getting to the free throw line more since joining the Heat.
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers (26th in BPI) and the Miami Heat (18th in BPI) at 8PM ET on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Heat a 73 percent chance of winning.

1. The Miami Heat are projected to win 37 games, have a 60 percent chance of making the playoffs, and have the second-easiest remaining schedule, according to ESPN's BPI.

2. Goran Dragic has a career average of 4.2 free throw attempts per 36 minutes, but was getting a career low of 2.9 free throws per 36 minutes this season in Phoenix. Since coming to Miami, he has averaged 6.1 free throws per 36 minutes.

3. The Lakers will keep their first round pick provided it is in the top 5, otherwise it will belong to Philadelphia. The Lakers have a 74 percent chance of keeping their pick, according to BPI.

4. Ed Davis leads the Lakers in scoring efficiency with a true-shooting percentage of 60 percent and is seventh in the league with an offensive rebound percentage of 13 percent. The only 25-year-olds to have seasons at those levels or above since 2000 are DeAndre Jordan, Tyson Chandler, and Robin Lopez.

Top stats to know: Bills', Eagles' big swap

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills traded a conditional draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for running back Bryce Brown.

This offseason, it looks like the Bills are going back to the Eagles to help their ground game, and they’re netting a much more prominent running back.

They reportedly acquired LeSean McCoy from the Eagles for linebacker Kiko Alonso, who starred as a rookie in 2013 but missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL.

The deal can be announced after the new NFL year starts on March 10.

Bills boost their ground game
The Bills decided to give their running game a jolt. It posted the second fewest expected points added (EPA) on rushing plays in 2014. The only team to rank worse was the Cardinals.

The Bills averaged 3.7 yards per rush in 2014, 26th in the league. Bills rushers didn't get much room, averaging 2.0 yards before contact per rush (28th in the league).

The Bills have had only one 1,000-yard rusher in the past five seasons (C.J. Spiller - 1,244 in 2012). McCoy has rushed for 1,000 yards in four of the last five seasons.

McCoy will have the second-highest cap hit of any running back this season ($11.95 million, nearly $3.5 million less than Adrian Peterson).

Why McCoy might have struggled in 2014
McCoy went from ranking fifth in the NFL in yards per rush in 2013 (5.1) to ranking 22nd in 2014 (4.2).

Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson was suspended for the first four weeks of last season, and McCoy’s play improved with Johnson’s presence.

McCoy averaged only 48 rushing yards per game and 2.8 yards per rush the first four weeks of the season, then averaged 94 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per rush the rest of the season.

One possible reason for McCoy's down 2014 season was offensive line instability. Only the Titans and Falcons (10) had more linemen with at least 100 snaps than the Eagles (9). In 2013, the Eagles were one of five teams that had the minimum five different linemen record at least 100 snaps.

McCoy does have a lot of wear on his legs. His 626 carries over the last two seasons are the most in the NFL. His 1,566 rushes and receptions are tied with Matt Forte for the most in the NFL over the last five seasons. McCoy leaves the Eagles as their all-time rushing yardage leader (6,792).

What Alonso brings
Alonso’s 159 tackles ranked third in the NFL in 2013, the third-most in a rookie season over the last 10 seasons. No Eagles player had more than 82 tackles in 2014.

Alonso had 117 tackles on rushing plays during his 2013 rookie season. Those 117 are the most for anyone in a season over the last three seasons.

Alonso and Luke Kuechly (2013) are the only two players to have a season with at least 150 tackles and four interceptions in the last 10 seasons.

Kelly gets his Ducks in a row
Alonso will become the ninth Oregon Duck on the Eagles roster. All nine played at Oregon under current Eagles coach Chip Kelly.


Would new team help revive Johnson?

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3

Matthew Emmons/USA TodayAndre Johnson’s 6.0 receptions per game is the highest average in NFL history among qualified players.
Andre Johnson has been granted permission to seek a trade from the Houston Texans, according to ESPN Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and other media reports.

Stats & Info takes a look at what the 12-year veteran has done -- both long-term, when he was among the best receivers in the NFL, and more recently, when he has become less dangerous to opposing defenses.

Since Johnson entered the NFL in 2003, no player has had more targets, catches and receiving yards than Johnson.

His 1,012 career receptions are the most in NFL history through a player's age-33 season, and his average of 6.0 receptions per game is the highest in NFL history (minimum 100 games played).

Performance comes at a price
Among wide receivers, only Calvin Johnson has a higher salary-cap charge for 2015 than Johnson.

The relatively high salary is accompanied by declining production. Johnson averaged 62.4 receiving yards per game last season, his least since 2005 and 25 yards less than his 2013 average.

Despite an NFL-high 306 receptions the last three seasons, Johnson is tied for 53rd for most receiving touchdowns in that time (12).

If the Texans trade (or release) Johnson before June 1, they will take a $7.3 million cap hit of dead money for 2015. With Johnson’s scheduled cap hit to be $16.1 million, such a move would net the Texans a savings of $8.8 million.

The Texans have $13.4 million in cap space for 2015, which is eighth lowest in the league.

Lasting impact with Texans
Johnson has 13,597 career receiving yards, 8,980 more yards than the next closest player in Texans franchise history (Owen Daniels). The 13,497 yards rank 12th on the NFL’s all-time list and rank sixth for the most receiving yards with one team. Jerry Rice is the leader with 19,247 yards with the San Francisco 49ers.

Johnson is also the Texans’ franchise leader in receiving touchdowns with 64. Daniels is the next closest with 29.

He has amassed these statistics catching passes from a group of quarterbacks -- headed by Matt Schaub -- that is not particularly noteworthy. Johnson has caught 487 passes from Schaub, 278 from David Carr and lesser amounts from Sage Rosenfels, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tony Banks, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Dave Ragone and Jake Delhomme.

An upgrade in the player passing him the ball should benefit Johnson.

If Johnson were to leave the Texans this offseason, there will have been only one receiver with more 1,000-yard receiving seasons with his original franchise than Johnson’s seven: Rice (12).

The good news for Johnson? Every receiver to post at least five 1,000-yard seasons before changing teams (Rice, Steve Smith, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Anquan Boldin and James Lofton) went on to have another 1,000-yard season with a subsequent team.

Numbers show tight race for last No. 1 seed

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
Who should be the final No. 1 seed?

There appears to be little debate over the first three projected No. 1 seeds -- Kentucky, Virginia and Duke -- even though the Blue Devils rank seventh in BPI and eighth on

Villanova, Wisconsin, Arizona, Gonzaga and to a lesser degree Kansas appear to be in contention for the last spot. Very little separates these teams; according to BPI, assuming an average pace, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Arizona and Villanova are separated by at most 0.8 points if they were to play on a neutral court.

Below is a case for and against each of the teams:

Villanova is projected to be the final No. 1 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. The Wildcats are arguably playing better than any other team in the country, riding a 10-game winning streak and posting the best BPI since the start of February.

But how strong will Villanova be when it reaches the tournament? The Wildcats rank 10th in net efficiency, the points per 100 possessions by which they outscore their opponents, which is a major reason they are sixth in BPI.

Wisconsin ranks third in BPI behind Kentucky and Virginia, and when at full strength, the Badgers are projected by BPI as the second-best team in the country.

Wisconsin has perhaps the worst blemish on its résumé of any 1-seed contender -- a 67-62 loss at Rutgers (No. 180 in BPI). Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky missed that game with a concussion, but Wisconsin is the only team of this group with a loss to an opponent ranked outside the BPI Top 150.

Arizona has lost three games by a combined nine points and has the second-best BPI in conference play this season, behind Kentucky.

Digging deeper into those losses, however, reveals that two of the three came to opponents ranked outside the BPI Top 100. The Wildcats are the only team in contention for the 1-seed with two such losses.

Gonzaga suffered its two losses by a combined six points to teams ranked in the Top 25 of BPI. The Bulldogs are efficient, particularly on offense, but have they played anyone to warrant a No. 1 seed?

Gonzaga has played the easiest schedule of the 1-seed contenders (101st-ranked schedule in BPI) and is 1-2 against BPI Top 50 opponents.

Kansas has a 1.5-game lead in the Big 12, the deepest conference in the country based on average BPI rating. Kansas has played the toughest schedule in the nation, according to BPI and RPI, and has done well against top competition. No team has more wins against BPI Top 25 opponents than the Jayhawks (seven).

Although Kansas’ top-25 wins are impressive, its losses are worrisome. The Jayhawks have six losses this season, three more than any of the other teams above, and the average margin of defeat in those games was 12.5 points.

Jack has a knack for the late-game basket

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
Stephen Curry usually has the magic touch in games like the one between the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets last night.

But he was on the opposite end of this one, as Jarrett Jack beat him and the Warriors with a late hoop.

Jack and Anthony Davis are the only two players to make multiple go-ahead shots in the final two seconds of a tie game in the fourth quarter or overtime this season.

Jack is 2-for-2 on go-ahead field goal attempts with less than 24 seconds remaining in either the fourth quarter or overtime this season. His teammates are a combined 1-for-9 in such situations.

The NBA’s Twitter account noted that Jack is 5-of-6 on shots taken with the score within three points in the final 30 seconds of games this season.

Jack hit a game-winning shot over DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers with 1.3 seconds left exactly a month ago.

Jack’s production with the Nets is a hair below what it was with the Warriors two seasons ago, but he is enjoying his best season in awhile in one regard.

Jack is shooting 49 percent from 2-point range. He hasn’t shot that well over a full season since shooting 51 percent on 2-pointers for the Toronto Raptors in 2009-10.

The Nets didn’t just win because of Jack’s shot, though.

They held Klay Thompson to seven points on 3-of-17 shooting (his worst shooting in a game this season). It was the first time Thompson was held to single digits this seaosn.

They shut out Andrew Bogut for 11:26 in the second half, after Bogut had scored 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first half.

They held Curry to two baskets in the first three quarters. Curry scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to bring the Warriors back into the game. That was one shy of the most by any player in the fourth quarter of a loss this season (Aaron Brooks had 19).


James has historic futility at line

March, 1, 2015
Mar 1

Bill Baptist/Getty ImagesSunday’s game against the Rockets was memorable -- for the wrong reasons -- for LeBron James.
In a close loss, LeBron James has never been worse from the free throw line, and it cost the Cleveland Cavaliers, who went down 105-103 to the Houston Rockets in overtime Sunday.

James made three of 11 free throws (27 percent). That is the worst free throw percentage of any game in which he has had at least 10 attempts in his career, including the postseason.

And, relevant to Sunday’s game, the eight missed free throws match his career high in a game in which his team lost by three or fewer points.

Perhaps the most memorable misses by James came with four seconds left in overtime and the Cavaliers trailing by one point. James missed two free throws, forcing the Cavaliers to foul the Rockets. Overall in the fourth quarter and overtime, James missed three of the four free throws he took.

It was the first time in his NBA career -- regular season or playoffs -- that James missed more than one potential game-tying or go-ahead free throw in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime of a game.

It was the ninth time in James' career he shot below 50 percent from the line with at least 10 attempts. His eight missed free throws tie the second most in his career.

Harden's drives lead to the line
James Harden scored nearly half of his 33 points on drives Sunday. Harden’s drives also resulted in 11 free throw attempts; the Cavaliers shot eight free throws as a team off drives.

Sunday’s game was Harden’s 15th as a Rocket in which he had at least 30 points and at least 15 free throws attempts. That broke a tie with Moses Malone for the most in franchise history.

James struggles late
In addition to the missed free throws, James struggled from the field. He shot 22 percent from the field in the game's final 10 minutes.

In the clutch (defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the score is within five points), James was 2-of-9 from the field and 1-of-4 from the free throw line for six points Sunday. It was the first time he missed seven field goal attempts and three free throws in the clutch.

The Cavaliers had 40 3-point attempts, tying a franchise record.

The Cavaliers had won their previous 16 games in which they scored at least 100 points, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was the longest streak of its kind in the NBA and the longest such streak for the Cavaliers since they won 21 straight games in which they scored in triple figures in 2009-10.

Paul's play drives Clippers past Bulls

March, 1, 2015
Mar 1

Jeff Haynes/APChris Paul scored 28 points and had 12 assists against the Bulls.

The list of players missing from Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls was impressive. But unlike Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, Chris Paul was conspicuous by his presence in Los Angeles' 96-86 win.

Paul scored or assisted on 63 percent of the Clippers’ field goals Sunday (12 field goals, 12 assists). He entered the game second in the NBA in that category, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, scoring or assisting on 42 percent of his team’s field goals. John Wall of the Washington Wizards entered the day leading the NBA at 43 percent.

With Paul on the court, the Clippers outscored the Bulls by 20 points, compared to a minus-10 differential with Paul off the court. The Clippers shot 48 percent from the field when he was on the court and 25 percent with him on the bench.

The per-play effect of Paul’s play was just as stark. The Clippers averaged 0.99 points per play with him on the court but 0.52 points per play without him.

Pick-and-roll strategy works for Los Angeles
The Clippers’ pick-and-roll ball handlers scored 24 points, nearly 10 points more than their season average. Paul, who finished with 28 points, got more than half of them off pick-and-roll plays.

The Clippers improved their record to 6-3 since Griffin was sidelined by surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

The Clippers’ second-leading scorer was reserve Jamal Crawford, with 16 points. Entering the game, he was averaging 16.5 points off the bench, the most in the NBA this season.

Crawford won the NBA's Sixth Man Award last season and is challenging to become the first repeat winner since Detlef Schrempf in 1990 and 1991 for the Indiana Pacers.

Mirotic gets no scoring help in fourth quarter
Rookie Nikola Mirotic led the Bulls with a career-high 29 points. Entering Sunday, the Bulls had been 17-4 when he scored 10 or more points.

Mirotic scored 16 of the Bulls’ 17 points in the fourth quarter. A free throw by Joakim Noah accounted for the Bulls’ other point.

Already missing Rose, the Bulls lost Jimmy Butler with an elbow sprain during the game. He scored 10 points in 22 minutes before the injury.

Noah, who had 11 rebounds, has had double-digit rebounds in seven games in a row, lifting his season average to 10.0 rebounds per game. Noah and Pau Gasol (12.1 per game) are one of two sets of NBA teammates averaging 10 or more rebounds this season, the other being Detroit’s Andre Drummond (12.9) and Greg Monroe (10.5). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last NBA teammates to each average at least 10 rebounds per game in the same season (minimum 50 games each) are the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum (11.8) and Gasol (10.4) in 2011–12.

Harvick projected to win at Atlanta

February, 28, 2015
Feb 28

Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesKevin Harvick is projected to win Sunday's race at Atlanta.
Here are the projections for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Atlanta. Our projection system takes into account, among other factors, drivers’ past performances at the current track, pre-race on-track activity (practices and qualifying) and probability of finishing the race. All of the data is then adjusted for the track type (in this case, a 1.54-mile quad-oval) and time of year.
  • Our projections use qualifying and starting grid data as part of each driver’s pre-race measurements, but on Friday 13 cars were not able to attempt a lap due to a large number of cars failing inspection. This unusual situation artificially places typically-strong drivers such as Jeff Gordon (35th), Matt Kenseth (36th) and Jimmie Johnson (37th) at the back of the pack. Since the qualifying and starting lineup data are unusable, we removed them and re-weighted the three practices to compensate (this is the same procedure used when qualifying is rained out and the field is set by owner points).
  • Projected winner Kevin Harvick won Saturday's NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Atlanta and on Sunday will attempt to become the second driver to pull off a weekend sweep at Atlanta. The other to do so was Carl Edwards in 2005. That year, Edwards won four Cup races and five XFINITY races and finished third in each series' points race.
  • Joey Logano is coming off a Daytona 500 win, which gives him six victories since the start of the 2014 season - tied with his teammate Brad Keselowski for the most in the series in that time. Logano will now attempt to become the third driver since 1980 to win the following race after a Daytona 500 victory and the sixth driver in series history to win the first two races of the season (Daytona 500 was not always the first race of season).
  • Gordon is returning to Atlanta for the final time as a full-time driver. He made his series debut at Atlanta in 1992, finishing 31st after wrecking (that race was also Richard Petty’s final Cup Series start). Gordon is a five-time winner at Atlanta, tied for fifth-most in race history.


Russell Westbrook's historic February

February, 28, 2015
Feb 28

Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsRussell Westbrook is the second player to average 30 PPG, 9 RPG and 10 APG in a calendar month.

Russell Westbrook recorded his third straight triple-double on Friday night, albeit in a losing effort to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard just finished a month in which he posted four triple-doubles and did something only one player in NBA history has ever done. Here’s what you need to know about his historic February.

Triple-double machine in February
Russell Westbrook’s three straight triple-doubles to close the month make him the first player to do that since LeBron James in March 2009. In fact, he’s only the fourth player in the past 20 years to record three straight triple-doubles, joining James, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill.

Westbrook finished the month with four triple-doubles, more than any other player has this season.

Westbrook joins Big O
Russell Westbrook finished the month of February averaging 31.2 PPG, 9.1 RPG and 10.3 APG in 12 games. He’s just the second player in NBA history to average 30 points, 9 rebounds and 10 assists per game for a calendar month with at least 10 games played. He joins Oscar Robertson, who had eight such months in his career.

Big nights without Durant
Kevin Durant missed seven games in February and Westbrook elevated his game to cover KD’s absence. He averaged a triple-double when Durant was out in February, averaging 31.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 11.3 APG in the seven games he missed.

Westbrook’s 20-10 games
Westbrook has at least 20 points and 10 assists in six straight games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other active player who has put together a streak like that is Chris Paul, who had a seven-game streak in 2008-09 for New Orleans.

LeBron's big night keys Cavaliers' win

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty ImagesLeBron James outscored Golden State's "Splash Brothers" combined on Thursday.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth consecutive game overall and 11th straight at home on Thursday with a 110-99 win against the Golden State Warriors. Leading the effort was LeBron James, who had 42 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Cavaliers, who are now just one game out of the second seed in the East. Here’s what you need to know about The King's big night.

LeBron moves past Baylor
James recorded 40 points, five rebounds and five assists in a game for the 41st time in his career, breaking a tie with Elgin Baylor for fourth most such games in NBA history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the three players ahead of James are Oscar Robertson (71), Michael Jordan (62) and Wilt Chamberlain (61).

LeBron and The Dream
James became the first player since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995 to have at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against the team with the league's best record at the All-Star break. Olajuwon had 40 points, 13 rebounds and five assists against the Phoenix Suns on March 3, 1995, in a 113-102 loss.

LeBron takes the reins
The Cavaliers scored 77 of their 110 points with James on the floor. James scored or assisted on 54 of those points, just more than 70 percent. It's the third time this season he's scored or assisted on at least 70 percent of his team's points.

Cavaliers heating up
The Cavaliers were 19-20 through 39 games and had one of the league's worst defensive efficiency ratings. Over their past 20 games, however, they're 18-2, lead the league in offensive efficiency at 112.6 and have the seventh-best defensive efficiency in that time.

"Splash Brothers" come up dry
Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, Golden State’s vaunted "Splash Brothers," combined for only 31 points tonight, 11 fewer than James had by himself. The two players combined to shoot 33.3 percent from the floor, their fourth-worst combined shooting percentage of the season. Curry alone was 5-for-17 (29.4 percent), his second-worst shooting night of the season.

Sloan Hackathon highlights vizualizations

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference kicked off Thursday with its inaugural Hackathon – an event hosted by ESPN Stats and Information.

The Hackathon brought together 13 students and 14 professionals with the goal of using ESPN’s state-of-the-art NFL data to create a cutting edge, innovative data visualization.

Upon arrival, the participants were given the back-end data that ESPN utilizes to tell stories everyday. They were tasked with deciphering the code and producing a creative NFL visual.

The winner of the student division will be offered an internship within ESPN Stats and Information, and the professional that comes out on top will join ESPN for dinner Friday night.

Jessica Gelman, The Kraft Sports Group’s Vice President of Customer Marketing & Strategy and co-founder of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference said of the Hackathon, “For the conference we are always looking to innovate and provide new opportunities for people to think about sports analytics. This (Hackathon) seemed like a natural fit.”

Hopes were high heading in the event on both ends and the participants did not disappoint.

The student came from USC, MIT, Syracuse, Ohio State, Emory, Michigan and elsewhere. Their presentations ranged from the sophomore slump to the Robert Griffin III’s sack rate to the correlation between wins and expected wins in the NFL.

Take a look at this visual below from MIT student Eamon Glackin, one of three student finalists. In three-and-a-half hours, he created heat maps to visualize play-calling frequencies and success rates in 2014.

ESPN Stats & InformationPlay-calling frequencies and success rates in the NFL in 2014.

Meanwhile, in the professional division, scientists, investment analysts and others impressed with their interactive and static visualizations.

One attendee created an excitement index, while others used the data to analyze play-calling and run/pass tendencies. Below is a pass chart crafted by Barnett Koryan from Capital One Bank showing pass attempts by frequency.

ESPN Stats & InformationVisualization of pass attempts by direction and yardage last season.

The inaugural Hackathon brought a diverse applicant pool with innovative ideas. Just as the MIT SSAC has grown tenfold over the last eight years, this is only the beginning for the Hackathon.

4-Point Play: Aldridge's defense lifts Blazers

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25

Don Ryan/AP PhotoLaMarcus Aldridge is blocking shots and avoiding fouls at a level few NBA players have achieved.
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the San Antonio Spurs (eighth in BPI) and Portland Trail Blazers (seventh in BPI) at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Blazers a 57 percent chance of winning.

1. The Spurs are getting by playing league-average offense, because their defense is the third best in the league, justly slightly behind the defenses of the Warriors and Grizzlies. The Spurs are fourth in the league in defensive rebounding percentage at 78 percent, and when they exceed that level, they give up 98 points per 100 possessions. They give up 103 points per 100 possessions when they are below their defensive rebounding percentage average.

2. The performance of Tony Parker seems to be dropping off. He has his lowest free throw attempts rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts), assist percentage and usage percentage since his third season in the league. He is also taking more 3-pointers than at any other time in the last 10 seasons and hitting them at 49 percent.

3. LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes and 1.9 personal fouls per 36 minutes. Of the 14 players who have completed a season with more than one block and fewer than two fouls per 36 minutes, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan are among them.

4. Damian Lillard has to play at a high level for the Blazers to win. In wins, he averages a 61 true shooting percentage and gets to the free throw line six times per 36 minutes. In losses, he has a 49 true shooting percentage and gets to the line four times per 36 minutes.