Chicago-OKC in Championship Preview?
COULD CHICAGO-OKLAHOMA CITY BE A CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW?
It's natural down the home stretch of the NBA season to start thinking about the NBA playoffs. There's a frantic battle this year for playoff positioning. And, given the nature of this sport, an understanding that no matter where teams are positioned, it's still just a handful of teams who truly have a chance to win the championship trophy.
Among the teams on that short list are the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder, who are squaring off today in a national TV game on ABC. It's true that Miami-Oklahoma City last week was previewed as a possible championship preview. Take Chicago-Miami, and put them up against OKC, San Antonio, and maybe one or two other teams and any of those games have a chance to be hyped that way.
But...as we speak, Chicago and Oklahoma City are the top seeds in their respective conferences. If they hold onto those positions, they'll have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. This would be the "most likely" of the various matchups.
So...obviously...if you're hoping to pick winners throughout the playoffs and in an eventual best-of-seven series matching these two teams...you need to pay attention to today's game!
To help get you ready, we've compiled some of our traditional indicator stats for the NBA. These are different than the colleges because we're using public domain stats from free websites, and nobody in the NBA quite does what Ken Pomeroy does in the colleges. But, we can use a similar approach to reach the same insights. Today gives us a chance to show you what our previews will be looking like down the stretch and into the playoffs as we transition into a heavy rotation of NBA and MLB coverage in the NOTEBOOK.
Before you look at the stats, you need the right context for the stats. We start with strength of schedule as measured by Jeff Sagarin of USA Today.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
There are only 30 teams in the NBA. That means Chicago has played the weakest schedule of ANYBODY in the whole league. Part of that is because they never have to play themselves. But, the bulk of it comes from getting to play in the very weak Eastern Conference. We're not suggesting Chicago is a pretender or anything. But, they have had an easier path this year than any other franchise. That means they won't be quite as good as their won-lost record or their stats would suggest.
For their part, Oklahoma City has had it relatively easy by Western standards so far. Many others in that conference have been dealing with much more demanding challenges. That's going to matter in the playoffs when the Thunder face other Western foes. Here vs. Chicago, we have to remember that the stats are going to be smiling on the Bulls in a way we need to adjust for.
Chicago: 1st in the NBA
OKC: 12th in the NBA
Rememer that "efficiency" in stat handicapping is scoring adjusted for pace. Those are the rankings in points allowed per possession with NO regard for tempo. Edge here to the Bulls...but the difference would be smaller if you flipped schedules. You probably already knew that Chicago plays great defense. You may not be aware that OKC is close to top 10 against what basically amounts to an average schedule. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get all the highlights because of their shotmaking abilities. Just don't get the idea that OKC is all offense. They don't have an elite defense...but they're going to rank well amongst the Western teams in the postseason on both sides of the ball.
Chicago: 1st in the NBA
OKC: 4th in the NBA
Again, no surprise with the Bulls. They're a classic "defense and rebounding" team (and we love the classics!). Be aware that Oklahoma City is a lot closer to that than you probably realized. In fact, flip schedules and these teams might be even! Chicago ranks as the best vs. the weakest schedule in the league. Oklahoma City ranks fourth against a mid-level schedule. We strongly encourage you to watch this part of the game on ABC today. Your eyes will be attracted to the shooters. FOCUS on how teams box out and attack the boards.
OKC: 1st in the NBA
Chicago: 4th in the NBA
We move away from "defense and rebounding" to look at offense. Oklahoma City ranks first in the league, which is a clean ranking because of their schedule strength. Chicago is a very high 4th in the league...but that would obviously drop if they weren't playing the easiest schedule in the league. This is why we work so hard to encourage you to add context to your handicapping. Oklahoma City is closer to Chicago on defense than you thought...possibly dead even with them in rebounding...and clearly better than them on offense.
Chicago: 6th in the NBA
OKC: 30th in the NBA
We don't always include this stat in a preview because it's not as correlated to winning as many handicappers and pundits believe. Turnovers kill you in football. But, they're not necessarily a horrible thing in basketball if they come from attacking the basket. Sure, losing the ball is bad. Attacking leads to extra free throws, extra dunks, and extra putbacks on offensive rebounds. You can live with poor turnovers if you're doing those other things well.
And, here, Oklahoma City HAS THE BEST OFFENSE IN THE LEAUGE even with the worst turnover rate! That's basically the ultimate proof that it's okay to make turnovers on offense as long as they're part of an aggressive attack.
The problem is...what generally works over all your games in the big picture may not work so well when you're matched up against a GREAT defense. If you're turnover prone anyway....then your number of mistakes is going to go up. If you need offensive boards to help make up for your turnovers...you may not be getting so many against a team like the Bulls. And, can you count on the refs to put you on the free throw line when you're playing a team that gets so much defensive respect?
This is another area you should pay close attention to on Sunday's telecast. Does OKC's aggression get them into trouble? Or, will the number of free throws and second chance points make up for the turnovers that are bound to happen for a quality defense?
We're very much looking forward to watching this game as fans. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK may or may not have a pick in the game. You'll have to purchase the Sunday slate a few hours before the game tips off (it's the earliest starter). We're also looking at Miami/Boston on ABC, Denver/Orlando on the NBA Network, Indiana/Houston, and Golden State/LA Lakers for possible information plays in the NBA card.
Of course, Monday brings championship night in the NCAA Tournament. Don't forget that Major League baseball gets rolling on the mainland with Wednesday Night action on ESPN (the old Sunday night opener is now on a Wednesday Night), with everyone else getting started Thursday and Friday.
If you have any questions about our programs, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. The great thing about pro basketball and pro baseball is that the busy schedules allow you to cash tickets seven days a week! You'll make back your initial investment in the first week...then you'll be winning with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK all summer long.
That's no BULL! Get ready to feel the THUNDER of JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING ONSLAUGHT!
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