Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 9:59 AM
We're already about a third of the way into the shortened NBA season. As you get ready for tonight's TNT doubleheader featuring Chicago at New York and Denver at the LA Clippers, we thought this would be a good time to check in on one of our favorite NBA stats.
You longtime readers know we use "Wins Minus Home Games Played" as an "equalizer" stat in both pro basketball and Major League Baseball. Schedules are rarely balanced perfectly in those sports. The standings can be misleading for teams who have played more home games than road games, or vice versa. Running the numbers can be very helpful when it comes to exposing pretenders, or highlighting teams who may be about to get hot because a badly imbalanced schedule is about to bring on a bunch of home games.
Let's go division-by-division and see where things stand. Because of publication deadlines, these are updated through the games of Tuesday Night.
New Jersey -1
New York -2
What the heck? Wins Minus Home Games creates a very bunched up division where you would least expect it. Philadelphia has a huge lead in your morning newspaper. But, they've played a lot more home games than road games...while the two bottom teams in your newspaper (NJ and Toronto) have played a lot more road games than home games. Boston and New York actually sink to the bottom of the standings after this adjustment! Boston entered Wednesday action with 12 home games and only 8 road games thus far. When that equals out, things could get very interesting in this division. We don't mean to suggest that Toronto and New Jersey are budding contenders. The talent just isn't there because of injuries and other issues. The point here is that Boston and New York are playing worse than you may have realized...and that Philadelphia is not nearly the championship threat that their early surge has been suggesting (note that the Sixers have also caught a break with a lot of soft early season opponents).
Hopefully you're perceptions are already changing about what's happened to this point in the NBA. Philadelphia's +2 looks pretty lame compared to what Chicago and Indiana are doing. And, it's not all that much better than what Milwaukee and Cleveland are doing once you adjust for schedule splits. Down at the bottom...Detroit grades out much worse than New Jersey and Toronto because they've been losing against a balanced home/road schedule.
Atlanta takes a surprising lead in this division. Note that they have a road victory at Miami this year. We do have to mention though that Atlanta has had an easy schedule in terms of games vs. bad teams. We will probably have to run some numbers on that for you to help equalize things even more. Not only are the home/road splits meaningful. But, the good/bad splits this year in particular can create some illusions. We'd still take Miami over Atlanta on a neutral court. Just be aware that Atlanta has been doing well this year despite a road heavy early schedule.
Orlando's not the disaster that many believe based on this stat. They did struggle badly during a horrible recent fatigue stretch. Maybe they won't look so bad after more home games vs. bad teams.
Oklahoma City +7
Utah had played 13 home games, and just 6 road games through Tuesday Night...and that expanded to 14 and 6 after publication deadlines. Be careful falling in love with the Jazz. Yes, they're playing better than expected. But, an extremely home heavy schedule is helping to create some illusions.
Both Oklahoma City and Denver are legitimate league powers right now. Let's see if anyone else in the West is up in their rarefied air.
San Antonio +2
New Orleans -8
The Texas teams have been inconsistent, which isn't a surprise given injuries to Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili. You'd have to think that the Mavs and Spurs will be more dangerous in the playoffs (if healthy) than those +2 marks would suggest now. Memphis is in the same boat, with injuries causing a slow start after last year's very strong finish.
LA Lakers even
LA Clippers even
Golden State -5
Very interesting stuff here. The LA teams have had very friendly early schedules in terms of travel. Neither has had an East Coast swing yet. Both are very home heavy in a way that may have inflated people's perceptions of them. Sacramento is one of the few Western teams with a road heavy schedule...which means they may not be as bad as everyone thinks. Let's see how the bottom of this division shakes out when Golden State and Phoenix have played more road games.
Well, clearly Oklahoma City and Denver have some distance between themselves and the rest of the field. You may have heard talk that the Pacific Division champion might finish 9th in the West, and earn a playoff berth at the expense of one of the top eight finishers. That becomes a bit more likely when you use our Wins Minus Home Games data. Let's run the Western standings.
Oklahoma City +7
San Antonio +2
LA Lakers even
LA Clippers even
The two LA teams are currently tied for seventh...which makes it tougher to fall all the way to ninth. There's still a chance Utah or somebody else could catch them from behind though. It would be fitting if a season with a weird start also had a weird finish.
This has been a handy tool for us over the years in both basketball and baseball. We hope you'll study the numbers today so you have some added context as you handicap this weekend's games. Some teams aren't as god as you were thinking. Others may not be as bad.
Featured matchups coming up the next few days in the NBA:
TONIGHT: Chicago/New York and Denver/LA Clippers in the TNT doubleheader, along with Memphis/Atlanta.
FRIDAY: New York/Boston and LA Lakers/Denver in the ESPN doubleheader, along with Miami/Philadelphia (big game!), Memphis/Oklahoma City, and Indiana/Dallas.
SATURDAY: Orlando/Indiana and Denver/Portland in the NBA Network doubleheader, along with Philadelphia/Atlanta, Houston/Minnesota, Chicago/Milwaukee, Oklahoma City/San Antonio, and LA Lakers/Utah.
Business is about to pick up in the NBA!
Be sure you join JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK every day this week for the very best in pro and college basketball selections. You still have time to build plenty of bankroll before Sunday's Super Bowl with our Super Bowl Week Cash Holiday . If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. We will have major releases every day this week in the baskets...and then a GAME OF THE YEAR caliber selection Sunday when the Giants meant the Patriots in Indianapolis.
Back tomorrow with more basketball coverage. Our official "stat preview" for the Super Bowl will go up late Saturday so you have plenty of time to crunch the numbers before you make your final decisions. We'll look at all of our key indicator stats and run the boxscore numbers from the conference championship games at that time.
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