You'd think that when everyone was rested and focused, the best NBA teams would crush the worst teams given the talent disparities from top to bottom. And, you'd think that when everyone playing tonight was playing again tomorrow night, the tendency to save energy would lead to tighter scoring margins. Why go all out to win big when you have to come right back the next night and play again? Do what it takes to grind out a victory and take care of business.
Let me take you on a brief stroll down Paradox Alley.
Several days ago I talked about the importance of emphasizing "double hermit" games on the schedule. Those are matchups where BOTH teams didn't play the night before, and don't play the night after either. The game sits like a hermit on the calendar for BOTH teams. It's as clean a test as you're going to get because there are no fatigue issues, and no distractions.
Monday's holiday schedule saw nine double hermit games. The final victory margins in those matchups were (from low to high): 3-4-7-8-8-9-9-11-14.
Wednesdays schedule saw nine more double hermit games. The final regulation victory margins in those matchups were (from low to high): 0-2-4-5-8-8-9-13-15
Friday, none of the first eight games on the schedule were double hermits. In fact, EVERY single team in action was also playing Saturday night. That's 16 teams playing on night one of a back to back...all matched up against each other. The final victory margins in those matchups were (from low to high): 5-9-14-15-18-24-40-41.
Let me stack those so it's easier to compare:
3-4-7-8-8-9-9-11-14 in Monday's double hermits
0-2-4-5-8-8-9-13-15 in Wednesday's double hermits
5-9-14-15-18-24-40-41 with no double hermits
When everyone was fresh and focused, we generally saw single digit victory margins (even in best vs. worst games like Toronto/San Antonio or Detroit/Boston). The midpoints were in the 8-9 range, about what you'd expect given that it's not a league of parity right now. But, when teams had other business on their mind the next night, scoring margins exploded.
If you fall behind in a double hermit, you keep your starters in and try to come back. If you fall behind on night one of a b2b, it's a bad gamble to try and come back because you could screw up two games instead of one. Many teams choose to take the loss and hope for a split rather than risk falling short and having nothing left in the tank in 24 hours.
So, suddenly, a good team like Atlanta can lose by a ridiculous score of 100-59 at home to New Orleans. Toronto, who hung very tough at New Orleans and San Antonio earlier in the week loses by 40 in Orlando. Utah falls by 24 in Boston, to the same Celtics team who just beat Detroit by four a couple of days ago.
You can see what's happening by looking at the minutes played by starters on those teams who took their medicine...
ATLANTA'S STARTING FIVE MINUTES PLAYED
32-33-37-39-45 in last hermit
TORONTO'S STARTING FIVE MINUTES PLAYED
29-33-37-38-42 in last hermit
UTAH'S STARTING FIVE MINUTES PLAYED
27-31-31-33-41 in last hermit
Big differences obviously.
Let's think about it this way. Who is Atlanta? Are the the Hawks a composite average of all their performances? Should ANY performance count in the evaluation? Or, just the games where starters are generally in the 32-33-37-39-45 range in minutes? Do you even want a laydown in the sample? All that does is tell you what can happen when they call it a night early in a special situation.
A 100-59 loss is going to muck up some averages! Is it a result that really tells you anything meaningful about the team? The team, as its constructed when it's actually going all out to win?
This isn't that big a deal once 82 games are in the books to give you a full season sample size. It's a bigger deal at the halfway mark. It's an albatross if you're looking over a monthly or two week sample. Why try to analyze a team with an albatross blocking your view?
If I asked you what to expect from Atlanta Saturday Night in Charlotte, or next Wednesday in Milwaukee, are you going to say "Well, it's going to be a disaster, those guys are 41 points worse than New Orleans"?
No, you'd pretty much throw the game out of the mix. You KNOW Atlanta blew off the second half.
Who is Atlanta? How do you capture that numerically?
Emphasizing double hermits, the cleanest games you're going to get (though only perfectly clean if all the key players are healthy, or not distracted by trade talks), allows you to discard or at least de-emphasize the outliers. Yes, the sample size is smaller. At least it's a relatively clean sampling that approximates the right minute averages for the starters.
As the season progresses on the fly, would you rather trust a dozen double hermit games for a team, or 30-40 games that include a 100-59 tank job? And, honestly, you'd want to give yourself some leeway to exclude outliers in the double hermits if they happen. Basketball can be a messy sport.
*The only double hermit game on the Friday card, by the way, was the Lakers/Nuggets game on ESPN. Will finish this post before that game ends.
*We had three Superleague games on Friday's card. New Orleans, Boston, and San Antonio get wins over Atlanta, Utah, and New York respectively. Let's run the standings through Friday's action:
New York 5-9
San Antonio 12-5
LA Lakers 5-5
Oklahoma City 8-9
New Orleans 8-10
Pretty good evidence that the West is stronger than the East in the upper echelons. The West is 10 games over .500 in these, the East 10 games under .500 (as all games within a conference would cancel out).
Saturday's Superleague games:
San Antonio at New Orleans
New York at Oklahoma City
(There are no double hermits Saturday). The following teams will be rested vs. opponents playing night two of a b2b:
Dallas at New Jersey
Charlotte vs. Atlanta
Miami vs. Toronto
Philadelphia vs. Utah
Chicago vs. Cleveland
Oklahoma City vs. New York
LA Clippers vs. Golden State
There's only one game Sunday because the NBA doesn't want to compete with Championship Sunday in the NFL. Rested Denver will host Indiana who will be on night two of a b2b.
See you again Monday night...