The United States may or may not have played the better football in Monday’s match against Ghana. But it came away with three huge points. That, coupled with Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Portugal, makes the U.S. slight favorites to advance to the knockout stage. FiveThirtyEight’s World Cup predictions now give the United States a 63 percent chance of advancing, up from 33 percent on Monday morning.This forecast is based on simulating the rest of the group stage 10,000 times, using estimates of team strength from ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (see here for a lot more methodological detail). It helps to have a computer to do this work when there are so many permutations to consider.There are nine remaining scenarios involving the Americans’ results, among them possibly beating, losing to or drawing with Portugal, and then the same possibilities against Germany. Some of these are relatively easy to resolve, but others are more complex and depend on the outcomes of the other remaining matches in Group G — Germany against Ghana and Portugal against Ghana — and possibly FIFA’s tie-breaking procedures.FIFA’s first tiebreaker is based on goal differential. That greatly advantages Germany, with its +4 so far, and greatly harms Portugal, with its -4. The next tiebreaker is based on goals scored (for that reason, it was slightly better for the U.S. to beat Ghana 2-1 than by the 1-0 scoreline that held for most of the game). Finally, head-to-head results are considered — so if it comes down to the U.S. and Ghana and they’re tied on both goals scored and allowed, the U.S. would go in ahead.Here’s the Americans’ outlook, in brief:Win twice, advance to the knockout stage.Win once and draw once, advance.Draw twice, advance.Win once and lose once, almost certainly advance (there’s one highly unlikely mathematical exception).Lose twice, and almost certainly go out (there’s one highly unlikely mathematical exception).Draw once and lose once, and it gets complicated. It’s considerably better for the U.S. to draw against Portugal and lose to Germany than the other way around.Now here’s the long version:Beat Portugal, beat Germany: U.S. is in. This rather optimistic scenario is easy to figure. You win all your matches, you win your group.Beat Portugal, draw Germany: U.S. is in. This scenario guarantees advancement and a tie for first place in the group. If Germany also beats Ghana, however, the U.S. would likely lose the tiebreaker and finish with the second qualifying position.Beat Portugal, lose to Germany: U.S. is in unless it gets really unlucky. This scenario generally leads to a second-place finish in the group. The exception would be if Ghana beat both Portugal and Germany. In that case, Germany, Ghana and the U.S. would finish in a three-way tie atop the group. One team — probably not Germany and possibly the U.S. — would be the odd one out based on goal differential.Draw Portugal, beat Germany: U.S. is in. This scenario delivers seven points and guarantees the U.S. first place in the group.Draw Portugal, draw Germany: U.S. is in. Two draws will be good enough. There won’t be enough points to go around the rest of the group to prevent the U.S. from advancing, though it would probably do so as the second-place team — either because the U.S. finishes second outright or because it loses the tiebreaker to Germany.Draw Portugal, lose to Germany: U.S. is favored to advance but not safe. This is among the more likely outcomes, so we’ll break it down in more detail. There are a number of permutations based on the results of Ghana’s games against Germany and Portugal.Under three permutations — Ghana draws with Portugal and either draws with or loses to Germany, or Ghana beats Portugal and loses to Germany, the U.S. will have sole possession of second place and advance.But under another permutation, the U.S. would be out despite its four points. This case happens if Ghana beats Portugal and Germany, giving both Ghana and Germany six points.In the other permutations, the U.S. would finish in a tie for second place, with Germany winning the group. If the tie is with Portugal, the U.S. would likely advance on the basis of goal differential. If the tie is with Ghana, it’s a little harder to say.Lose to Portugal, beat Germany: U.S. is almost certainly in. The only exception is if, in addition to these results, both Germany and Portugal beat Ghana. In that case, the U.S., Germany and Portugal would be tied atop the group with six points. The U.S. would likely get the second position based on goal differential, however, so this scenario is quite safe.Lose to Portugal, draw Germany: U.S. is a slight underdog to advance. This case is inferior to losing to Germany and drawing with Portugal because it gives Portugal three points and makes it much more of a threat to advance. The permutations get complicated:The U.S. is almost certainly out in the cases where Portugal beats Ghana. That, coupled with a Portuguese win against the U.S., would give Portugal six points and it would leapfrog the U.S. in the standings. (The only exception is if Germany gets blown out by Ghana so badly that it loses the tiebreaker to the U.S. — not at all likely.)Only one permutation guarantees the U.S. entry: if Germany beats Ghana but Ghana beats Portugal.A number of other permutations involve ties for second place, sometimes against Germany (bad for the U.S.) and sometimes against Portugal (good for the U.S.).Finally, there could even be a four-way tie for first if Ghana draws with Portugal and beats Germany!Lose to Portugal, lose to Germany: U.S. is mathematically alive but needs a miracle. This almost certainly dooms the United States. But just as there’s a wild-card scenario in which it could win twice but fail to advance, there’s one in which it could lose both remaining matches but move on. That would happen if Ghana beats Portugal and loses to Germany. Then Germany would win the group with nine points, and the U.S. would be in a three-way tie for second with Portugal and Ghana. The U.S. would need to beat both teams on the tiebreaker. It wouldn’t be how you script these things, but neither was Monday’s win.One final note: The Americans’ chances to advance should improve slightly when we rerun the numbers on Tuesday morning, as they’ll reflect the change in the Soccer Power Index, which we update overnight. It’s not that the United States’ SPI will increase so much as that Portugal’s will decline: Portugal looks much more beatable (or at least drawable) after its 4-0 defeat. SPI is not sophisticated enough to account for the red card to Portugal’s Pepe (who will miss the match against the U.S.) or the injury to the U.S.’s Jozy Altidore — nor for the fact that the Americans’ quality of play on Monday was not as impressive as the scoreline.
Dwayne Bowe has agreed to sign the franchise tender the Kansas City Chiefs offered, just when camp broke. Could it have been a coincidence? Sure it. Wink, wink.Bowe would never admit to just waiting for the Chiefs to training camp, which can be torturous, to end to finally sign his contract that will pay him $9.5 million this season.Whatever the case, the Chiefs are glad to have their star receiver back in the fold.It was unclear whether Bowe would join Kansas City for its trip to St. Louis for a preseason game Saturday. The team will resume practice at its facility near Arrowhead Stadium next week.The more pressing question is whether Bowe can learn new coordinator Brian Daboll’s offens
During last night’s Knicks vs. Raptors preseason game, Toronto’s forward Tyler Hansbrough, known as ‘Psycho T’, nearly lived up to his nickname when he turned to confront the person who fouled him, but noticed that is was somebody even crazier than himself.Once he realized that it was Metta World Peace, Hansbrough’s reaction was priceless. Good thing this incident was captured on video and preserved in history forever.In the video, it appears Hansbrough quickly tried to squash the beef by saying, “my bad, my bad.”After the incident and the video going viral, World Peace came to Hansbrough’s defense on Twitter, encouraging him to keep playing ball like a hard-nosed player:“Tyler Hansbrough, dont listen to these fools. Keep being s hard nose ball player!!!— Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace) October 22, 2013.“I would play on Tyler’s team anyday.. you guys are silly!! Stop adding fire to pre season ball. Fighting doesnt make u tough. win’n does! — Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace) October 22, 2013.“Tyler Hansbrough is a tough kid . Stop be silly people!!! He is going to be a champ one day. Keep being tough Tyler!!— Metta World Peace (@MettaWorldPeace) October 22, 2013.”
Another NBA season gets underway tonight, and aside from the obvious question — can the Warriors piece together three consecutive championships? — there are several things worth watching. We took a crack at analyzing a handful of them, and how we think they might play out, just ahead of the games on opening night.Will the Timberwolves overcome the drama to reach the playoffs again?Minnesota coach and team president Tom Thibodeau has gone out of his way to paint the Timberwolves’ current situation as “not unusual.” But it’s hard to picture anything messier than what the past few weeks have brought this club.Jimmy Butler, a free agent after this season, requested a trade. The Timberwolves have seemed reluctant to make that happen, confusing and frustrating interested teams. It all bubbled over last week with Butler’s outburst during a scrimmage, raising the question of why on earth the two sides still hadn’t divorced yet. And now, it seems that Butler and Thibodeau will at least start the season together after this awkward tango.It’s painfully obvious why Thibs wouldn’t want to part ways with the player who was the team’s most valuable last year: His job(s) could be on the line if this season is a failure.Yet even if off-court chemistry weren’t a problem, other issues remain. Minnesota has looked awful, a concerning sign even if it is a symptom of Butler’s absence. The club owned the NBA’s worst defense by far in the preseason, and three different rotation players this past week said they think the defense likely needs to switch pick-and-rolls more than it has done in order to be successful.When I asked Thibodeau last week how the club could go about fixing its defense, he was quick to tell me that the Wolves ranked seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency while the starting five1Among five-man groups who spent 400 minutes or more together. was on the floor last season yet 30th (dead last) when their bench was playing.2This would be the five-man bench lineup with Tyus Jones, Jamal Crawford, Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica and Gorgui Dieng, the league’s worst bench-only group (by net rating) to log at least 75 minutes last season. Knowing Thibodeau’s rotational tendencies, if that pattern repeats itself, it will likely result in his starters playing huge minutes — and not all of his starters seem to be on board with that.No one knows how it’ll all play out. But there figures to be even less room for error now than there was last season, when Minnesota reached the playoffs on the final day of the campaign. So the fact that not everyone is on the same page — and perhaps not even reading from the same book — is problematic heading into an incredibly important year for the franchise.Will the Lakers be able to run as much as they’d like?It seems like every NBA coach in recent memory has said that he’d like to get out in transition more than the previous season. But with the Lakers — who have a front office led by the person who ushered in the Showtime era — that strategy will almost certainly go beyond just words.Los Angeles finished the preseason second among NBA teams in pace, a trend that, should it hold, would allow the Lakers to rely less on their half-court offensive sets. This may take some time to iron out as Lonzo Ball and company adjust to playing alongside LeBron James — and vice versa.Last week, we analyzed some ways the team could ensure that its pace would be among the league’s fastest. But perhaps the most surefire way for the Lakers to accomplish this is to secure defensive rebounds. And that may be a problem. The Lakers — who lack depth at center and are likely to feature several small-ball lineups this season — wrapped preseason by finishing 23rd among NBA teams in defensive rebound percentage.L.A. will almost certainly be good in transition this year. It will run some drag screens or an occasional give-and-go, like this one that produced a LeBron-to-Lonzo alley-oop last week.The Lakers can be successful when they crank up the tempo. The question is whether they’ll force the turnovers and secure the rebounds that allow them to play that style.Have the Bucks really overhauled their offense?Last season was likely an exercise in frustration for fans of the Milwaukee Bucks.On the one hand, the franchise had Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player so multitalented that it’s difficult to put his skill set into words. On the other hand, Antetokounmpo played within an offensive system that didn’t do anywhere near enough to make the game easier for him, particularly with regards to spacing. In last season’s first-round playoff series with Boston, he’d sometimes drive to the basket only to find two extra defenders in the paint because a pair of his teammates didn’t keep their distance and dragged their men into the play by mistake.If things go right for the Bucks this year, though, those sorts of images will soon feel like a distant memory. And that’s because the team’s offense has shown brisk signs of overhaul.Milwaukee last year ranked just below league average in attempts that came from the most efficient parts of the floor, taking 64 percent of its shots from inside the restricted area or outside the 3-point line. But this preseason, the Bucks led the NBA in that capacity, taking a whopping 81 percent of their shot attempts from those regions. For context, the Houston Rockets, who avoid midrange shots like the plague, led the NBA last season by taking 82 percent of its shots from the restricted area and behind the 3-point line.This change comes just months after the team hired former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, who has long prioritized four- and five-out lineups3And it seems that literally everyone on this Bucks roster has the green light. Even 6-11 center John Henson, a career 57 percent free-throw shooter, managed to try five triples during the preseason. that not only spread the floor with great tempo but also seek to make the extra pass to keep defenses off balance.This Bucks’ roster — with rookie Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova — has far more perimeter threats than it did last season. And because Budenholzer’s teams have always been pick-and-roll heavy, with bigs who can stretch the defense by popping as opposed to just rolling, Antetokounmpo figures to be positioned in the middle of the floor, where opponents will be able to give him considerably less attention. If they do load the paint against him, he’ll have an abundance of sweet-shooting teammates open in the corners for a change. (For what it’s worth, the Bucks managed to connect on an impressive 47 of 92 corner 3-point tries that stemmed from Antetokounmpo’s kick-out passes last season, per Second Spectrum.)Giannis was already one of the scariest players in the league. Now, finally, he’s part of an offensive attack that may be more worthy of his vast, budding talent.Can the Spurs really make the playoffs again, despite their injuries and departures?Some are tip-toeing around this question out of respect for what San Antonio has done in the past, so fine: I’ll be the blunt one. I see almost no way the Spurs reach the playoffs for the 22nd straight time. I stopped just shy of that prediction last year, but I did feel pretty strongly that San Antonio would have a rougher-than-usual campaign, before we knew of the depths of the Kawhi Leonard situation.This suggestion isn’t exactly groundbreaking, given that Kawhi is now a Raptor, Tony Parker is a Hornet and Manu Ginobili is retired. Perhaps even more of a blow, the Spurs have now lost three guards — all-defensive second teamer Dejounte Murray, 2018 first-round pick Lonnie Walker and backup point guard Derrick White — to long-term injuries, leaving the club thin at the position. (Keep in mind that this is all happening mere months after the Spurs allowed forward Kyle Anderson, a capable ball-handler, to sign with Memphis in free agency.)The Spurs still have a number of key holdovers who are capable of giving opposing teams headaches, including LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills and Pau Gasol. And they’ll also have DeMar DeRozan, who came over in the Leonard deal. Coach Gregg Popovich has said that while he and his staff will work to get DeRozan up to speed on the team’s offensive concepts, he won’t try to change his game.“DeMar is already an All-Star. He’s played a certain way. There’ll be some things we try to add to his game if he’s willing,” Popovich told reporters. “I’m not going to jump on him the way I did [Aldridge]. I tried to turn [Aldridge] into John Havlicek. I think it confused him.” (Aldridge requested a trade two years after joining the Spurs, but the two sides worked the problem out.)Now, with a limited number of ball-handlers, the club will have to rely on DeRozan to create some looks. Aldridge can shoulder some of that responsibility from the post, too, as he drew more double-teams while posting up than any other player in the league.What remains worth watching here, given the team’s history, is whether Popovich can squeeze another elite defensive showing out of this unit, despite not having any elite stoppers or rim protectors for once. The Spurs have had an all-defensive team selection in 30 of the past 33 seasons, including each of the past six years.If San Antonio can cobble together a top-four defensive showing, which it’s done each of the past six seasons, perhaps the Spurs can prove me wrong. But that will be a tall task in light of all these injuries.How long will Hayward take to jell with the Celtics?I’m not all that big on analyzing an individual player’s preseason numbers, but I can admit that I was paying some attention to Gordon Hayward’s, given that he’s coming back from an injury.Those numbers weren’t pretty: 25 percent shooting (5-of-20) for just 21 points in his three games. He showed a little rust on the defensive end at times, too, nearly fouling out of a game against Charlotte. It may take awhile for him to assert himself consistently, but the beauty of his situation is that it’s really not a problem since he plays alongside Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum4Speaking of preseason struggles, Tatum shot just 33 percent — 14-of-42 for 38 points — over four games on even worse scoring efficiency than Hayward’s. and Al Horford.Hayward’s instincts and timing looked just fine, particularly in screen-roll action with Aron Baynes. Watching their chemistry this early on suggests that Hayward will at some point flourish in his minutes with Horford because of how solid a screener he is.Hayward has always moved well without the ball and can draw attention from the defense with his cutting ability, so he shouldn’t clash much in terms of role with Tatum or Brown. But if he or one of the other wings isn’t seeing enough shot opportunities, it won’t be difficult to find more time for that player with the second unit. All of that leads me to trust that Boston — even if it doesn’t find a rhythm right away to begin the season — will settle into place over time.The club had the worst effective field goal percentage among NBA teams this preseason. But given all the time that Irving and Hayward missed, and the time it could take for everyone to settle into the new roles they’ll have to adopt, it shouldn’t be a big deal if the Celtics aren’t hot out of the gate. (Toronto should adopt this philosophy, too, with Leonard.) As long as they’re clicking by midseason — and I don’t doubt that coach Brad Stevens will get them there — they’ll be right where they need to be.Which teams out West can truly push Golden State? While the Lakers have to be taken far more seriously now with LeBron, let’s be real here: There are only two or three teams in the West that could realistically make the Warriors uncomfortable in a seven-game series.We all know Houston should be one of those clubs, if only because of what the Rockets did last postseason, when they pushed Golden State to seven games in the conference finals. They might have won the series if not for Chris Paul’s injury or the biblical 3-point shooting drought they experienced at the worst possible time. Yet while that club almost knocked off Golden State, this one is a little different. Exit Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Enter Carmelo Anthony (who played well, and was used very well, in preseason), James Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams.I think Houston’s chances boil down to something relatively simple: If its defense slips past the top 10 as a result of those changes, or finds itself in far more compromising positions after switching this season, it’s hard to see how the Rockets will beat Golden State. The improvement on D was what made them such a tough matchup to begin with, and I fear they might have lost too much on that end to stay on even footing with the Warriors. We’ll see.The Jazz, on the strength of their stifling, league-best defense, are a compelling pick for many. But just like Houston had to get more consistent on D to make a real run at the West, Utah will likely have to do the same on offense. In particular, the Jazz have struggled to produce steady, consistent offense against such versatile defenses as those of Golden State and Houston, which switch pick-and-rolls repeatedly.That dovetails with the need for a leap from Donovan Mitchell, who figures to have a greater target on his back after a historically great rookie season at the rim for someone his height. Getting the more aggressive version of Ricky Rubio that we saw in the Oklahoma City series would help Utah’s cause as well.And while I’m not as high on Oklahoma City — primarily because of the seriousness of Andre Roberson’s injury from last year and his recent rehab setback — I can envision a best-case scenario where the Thunder make noise out West. If Roberson returns anywhere near close to form on defense, he and Paul George would immediately become the best defending wing duo in the league, much like last year. That’s exactly the sort of length you need to effectively defend the best offenses come playoff time. (Looking directly at you, Pelicans.) Also, Nerlens Noel quietly appears to be a great fit at center for OKC’s second-unit defense, while ex-Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder should get ample opportunity to help off the bench — if not start, depending on Russell Westbrook’s status after a recent knee scope.In a worst-case predicament, either Roberson comes back and isn’t anywhere near as effective or he doesn’t come back at all, limiting this club’s defensive potential — which would be a shame, given that the Thunder probably do have enough scoring to at least hold their own with the conference’s other top dogs. (And they perhaps have fewer questions about offensive fit than last year, when Anthony was on the team.)It will almost certainly take a Herculean effort to knock off Golden State as the Warriors bid for a three-peat. But there are plenty of other storylines to enjoy in the lead-up to all that.Check out our latest NBA predictions.
2013CHAK. Walker & R. Sessions65.756.746.851.3 1997PHOJ. Kidd & K. Johnson83.076.746.939.7 Troy Williams15-2.7+0.5 Ryan Anderson25+1.8-2.2 2016HOUJ. Harden & T. Lawson77.657.751.947.3 2003MILG. Payton & S. Cassell73.763.454.551.5 2014TORG. Vasquez & K. Lowry79.564.243.345.1 2003DALN. Van Exel & S. Nash71.260.749.847.2 With Wednesday’s bombshell that the LA Clippers are trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, the main question on most NBA observers’ minds is this: How exactly is the new pairing between Paul and James Harden — two ace playmakers who’ve spent years as the focal point of their respective offenses — supposed to work together in harmony?Both Paul and Harden ranked among the league’s top four players in assist rate last season, and both were among the top 50 in usage rate as well.1OK, so it’s more Harden who dominated the usage rate rankings (he ranked fourth and Paul was 47th). But still. They’re both used to dominating the ball and calling the shots. But come next season, one (or, more likely, both) will probably have to adjust to a different role in order to coexist.In the modern NBA, we’ve never really seen a pair of playmakers be thrown together quite like this. I went back to the 1976 NBA-ABA merger and searched for any time two players who logged at least 1,500 minutes with a high assist rate (at least 30 percent) and a high usage rate (at least 20 percent) came together after playing some (or all) of the previous season on different teams.2I also ensured they played 1,000 or more minutes the next season on the same team. There were only 13 situations fitting those criteria; Paul and Harden would become the 14th.(And the cut-offs I used in each stat were liberal — Paul and Harden each had assist rates in excess of 45 percent and usages over 24 percent last season, far above the thresholds I imposed.) Replacement level player40-1.7-0.3 The Rockets are going to be good, but not Warriors-goodCARMELO projections for the 2017-18 Houston Rockets We’ve never seen a pairing like CP3 and Harden beforeTeams on which players with a previous assist rate of at least 30 percent and a previous usage rate of at least 20 percent played together 2012LACM. Williams & C. Paul82.762.345.847.2 Nene15-0.6+1.5 2015TORK. Lowry & G. Vasquez65.156.344.045.2 To qualify, players had to play at least 1,500 minutes the previous season, at least partially for different teams. They also had to play at least 1,000 minutes during the season in question.Source: Basketball-Reference.com Eric Gordon25+1.8-2.4 James Harden35+5.8+0.8 Clint Capela25-0.9+1.3 2002DALT. Hardaway & S. Nash70.159.845.444.3 2017DETR. Jackson & I. Smith74.562.853.046.9 The fact that the Rockets’ new pairing is unique doesn’t mean it won’t work. First of all, having more gifted passers on the floor is almost always a good thing — ball movement greases the wheels of the modern scoring machine, after all — which is probably why the teams above improved their offenses by an average of 3.0 points per 100 possessions (relative to league average) after acquiring their new playmakers. Secondly, both Paul and Harden are great shooters: CP3 knocked down 39 percent of his 3-pointers these past three seasons, and Harden was a 37 percent shooter from downtown as a member of the Thunder early in his career, before he was asked to carry so much of the Rockets’ offensive burden.To that last point, Harden’s workload has increased so much in recent seasons that he was doing nearly the work of two players anyway. If it weren’t for Russell Westbrook redefining just how much responsibility a single player can bear, we’d be talking about Harden putting on arguably the greatest one-man show in NBA history. Having Paul aboard will lighten the all-around load for a player who’s also proven he can be one of the most efficient complementary scorers in modern history.Of course, the Rockets also dealt away a number of players to get Paul, who missed 21 games with an injury last season. So depth might be a concern: even after picking up CP3, FiveThirtyEight’s preliminary CARMELO projections think the Rockets only have 56 wins of talent on hand for next year, only a game better than they did last year. (Though a bunch of the teams’ minutes will go to players who aren’t signed yet. The projection assumes the Rockets will resign Nene, which they haven’t yet.) 2011MIAD. Wade & L. James78.258.468.463.1 Harden and Paul’s combined assist rate of 97.5 percent last season easily tops the list, and their combined usage of 58.6 percent ranks third (trailing only LeBron James’ partnerships with Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving). As far as teams with two world-class facilitators go, the 2017-18 Houston Rockets will be unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed in NBA history.(That history, it should be noted, seldom saw these kinds of team-ups at all until very recently, probably because teams worried about the defensive consequences of playing two point guards together — a concern that is vanished in the “positionless basketball” era.)VIDEO: Chris Paul and James Harden are a rare duo YEARTEAMPLAYERSAPARTTOGETHERAPARTTOGETHER PLAYERTOTAL MIN. PLAYEDOFF. PLUS/MINUSDEF. PLUS/MINUS Trevor Ariza30-0.1+0.8 COMBINED ASSIST %COMBINED USAGE % WINSLOSSES 2009CLEL. James & M. Williams67.358.155.657.2 2015CLEL. James & K. Irving63.663.659.258.5 Rockets’ projected record55.526.5 Team total240+7.1-0.4 Chris Paul30+6.2-0.1 *This projection assumes the Rockets resign Nene. 2018HOUC. Paul & J. Harden97.5—58.6— One more factor to consider: the diminishing returns we have to discuss whenever we talk about superteams. If we’ve learned anything from the brief history of these lineups at work, it’s that teams with complementary skills — like the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors and 2007-08 Boston Celtics — retain more of their on-paper production than teams like the 2010-11 Miami Heat, whose stars (James and Wade) duplicated many of the same skills.In Paul and Harden, there are a lot of skills being duplicated. But the Rockets are hoping that it will be offset by the sheer talent and adaptability of the players involved. Either way, it should be one of the more interesting experiments ever conducted on an NBA court.CORRECTION (June 29, 11:17 a.m.): A previous version of this story listed Montrezl Harrell on the projected roster for the 2017-18 Rockets. Harrell was traded to the Clippers in the Chris Paul deal. The table has been amended with a new win projection for the 2017-18 Rockets, giving Harrell’s minutes to forward Troy Williams.
Things That Caught My EyeChapecoense make a return!Five days after the one-year anniversary of the crash that killed 71 people and nearly destroyed the Chapecoense soccer team, the rebuilt Brazilian club clinched a return to the 2018 Copa Libertadores, the very tournament that the 2016 squad was traveling to compete in the final against Atletico Nacional. The 2-1 victory over Coritba meant Chapecoense will finish eight and qualify for the group stages of the South American club competition. [Goal]Tiger Woods? Now there’s name I haven’t heard in a few days.Tiger Woods, golfer, competed in the Hero World Challenge last week mounting another return to professional golf. Despite being the 1,199th ranked golfer in the world, Tiger has been claiming headlines despite not winning a tournament since 2013. Indeed, he gets more ink than all the people who have at times held the No. 1 world ranking since 2014. Tiger Woods has been the most written about player in golf for 24 of the past 47 months. On one hand, that’s nuts, on the other hand, the whole objective of golf is to play the least amount of golf, right, so from that point of view the golfer not playing all that much golf may very well be the best, right? Right? [FiveThirtyEight]Ohio sports receives newest chip for amply chipped shoulderThe College Football Playoff selection committee was presented with a difficult decision on whether to award Big Ten champion Ohio State with the fourth playoff berth or whether to give America another Alabama-Clemson game. Going into the day, we estimated there was a 40 percent change Ohio State would get the ticket, 28 percent chance it’d go to Alabama, and a 20 percent chance it’d go to USC. Only one other time in playoff history did a team that wasn’t a conference champion get into the playoff Clemson will face Alabama and Oklahoma will play Georgia in the first games of the playoff. [FiveThirtyEight]How fortunate for RussiaRussia, the hosts of the 2018 World Cup, got into what appears to be one of the weakest groups in modern World Cup history, with Group A — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia and Uruguay — having an average Elo rating 97.8 points lower than cup average. That’s the lowest since 1986. As a result, Russia has a 74 percent chance of advancing out of the group stage. [FiveThirtyEight]Try out our fun new interactive, Which World Cup Team Should You Root For?Ingram & Kamara remain ridiculousThe tandem running backs of the New Orleans Saints have been running all over the league this season, and Sunday’s win over NFC South rivals the Carolina Panthers involved both racking up more than 100 yards from scrimmage, the fourth game this season they’ve both pulled that off. No running back duo has pulled off such a feat since Roger Craig and Wendell Tyler for the 49ers in 1985. [ESPN]Niners win and give Cleveland a path to the top pickA San Francisco 49ers win over Chicago means that Cleveland is two games ahead of San Francisco and New York Giants in pursuit of the the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL draft. By day end Sunday they had in the ballpark of a 90 percent chance of claiming the top pick. [ESPN]Make sure to try your hand at our fun NFL can you beat the FiveThirtyEight predictions? game!Big Number6 winsKansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, and Oakland are each 6-6, and any of them could plausibly win the AFC West. Right now Kansas City has the inside track, with a 59 percent chance, Los Angeles has a 26 percent chance and Oakland has a 15 percent chance. For each team, winning the division the only conceivable path to the postseason: They’d each be fighting the 7-5 Ravens and 8-4 Jaguars or Titans for those wildcard spots. [FiveThirtyEight]Leaks from Slack: Sunday, noonishneil:Bama!andrea:What do we think of this? I was biased in favor of Ohio despite my Michigan background but thought they’d choose AlabamaThat said all the stuff about Alabama’s consistency was surprising to me because good teams playing less good teams are going to consistently look better than good teams playing good teamsDoes that make sense?neil:Yeah, definitely. Although to Bama’s credit, they played a number of teams roughly as good as Iowa (Miss State, LSU, etc) and handled them instead of losing by 31. (Then again, they also didn’t have any signature wins like OSU had over Penn St. and Wisc…)In that sense, the committee probably did hold Ohio State’s low point against them, and downplayed their high pointsPredictions NFL NBA See more NBA predictions College Football All newsletters Oh, and don’t forgetThe Detroit’s Silverdome did not implode this past weekend, a state it has had a lot of practice of doing but this was the weekend that they really wanted it to implode. We’re launching a sports newsletter. 🏆 Join the squad. Subscribe See more college football predictions See more NFL predictions
MIN56MIN50CHI 24, MIN 10+3.5– BAL81BAL68BAL 26, CLE 24-10.5– DAL1572541569Dak Prescott055 PIT83PIT83PIT 16, CIN 13-1.7– 1990-17 Avg. 12Colts3–1– ATL54ATL56ATL 34, TB 32-0.4– 5Bears7–7– 7Chargers4–4– LAC1624401580Philip Rivers+1239 Home teams are in bold.Elo quarterback adjustments are relative to average, based on a rolling average of defense-adjusted QB stats (including rushing).Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 11Texans3–1– Home teams are in bold.The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. SEA88SEA86SEA 27, ARI 24-2.0– 10Cowboys3–2– Standard EloQB-Adjusted Elo IND1578441533Andrew Luck+3842 All numbers are as of the final regular-season game of a given year. 2018 probabilities may not add up exactly to 100 percent because of rounding.Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 8Eagles4–3– The remainder of the wild-card field lines up roughly in inverse order between quarterback quality and that of the rest of the team. Some teams — such as Andrew Luck’s Colts and Deshaun Watson’s Texans — have gotten to where they are largely because of their standout quarterback play. Others, like the Ravens, are doing a lot better recently than we’d expect from their QBs’ performance alone. Baltimore has won six times in the seven games since Lamar Jackson replaced Joe Flacco as the starter in Week 11, though Jackson himself ranked third-worst among qualified quarterbacks in QBR this season, and that includes his stellar rushing statistics.3It should be said that Jackson’s poor Elo adjustment also owes at least in part to the fact that new starters — Sunday will mark Jackson’s eighth career NFL start — are assigned a low initial rating when they debut, and that rating gradually improves when (if) the quarterback plays better over time. (Beyond his own stats, Jackson’s effect on the team’s overall running game shows up under the team’s QB-neutral Elo rating.)Everyone else is somewhere in between, including the resurgent Eagles with backup Nick Foles, whose QB adjustment is back roughly where it was after Philly beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but took many twists and turns to get there; the Chargers with 37-year-old Philip Rivers, whose own adjustment has fallen by 38 Elo points since Week 13 with a string of mediocre outings down the stretch; the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys, whose team QB adjustment has hovered around average all season; and Russell Wilson’s Seahawks, whose own run-heavy attack masked another season of highly efficient passing. OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION Of those, Elo gives the best chance of advancing to the Bears, followed by the Ravens. And upset-wise, the best odds belong to the Seahawks against the Cowboys, regardless of whether we adjust for recent QB performance. Whichever teams win, they’ll have to contend with road games in the divisional round — but given the overall state of the league, they’ll still have a better chance than usual to knock somebody off and forge their own path to the Super Bowl.FiveThirtyEight vs. the readersTo keep tabs on each team’s classic Elo as the weekend plays out, be sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction interactive, which simulates the rest of the season 100,000 times and tracks how likely every team is to advance through the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. And even though the regular season is over, you can still pick against the Elo algorithm in our prediction game and keep climbing up our giant leaderboard.According to data from the game last week, here are the matchups in which Elo made its best — and worst — predictions against the reader picks for Week 17: TeamRatingWin Prob.Base RtgStarting QBQB Adj.Win Prob. DAL62DAL56DAL 36, NYG 35-8.2– 1Saints21%–30%– PHI1624391606Nick Foles+234 SEA1605461572Russell Wilson+2645 PHI65PHI71PHI 24, WSH 0+1.6– 3Patriots14–14– HOU1551561537Deshaun Watson+2858 2Chiefs20–21– rank2018 Team How Elo sees the wild-card round playing outWin probabilities for Week 18 games according to two methods — standard Elo and a version that contains an adjustment for starting quarterbacks 4Rams13–10– Because of this logjam of good-not-great teams, nobody heads into the playoffs with better odds than the New Orleans Saints’ 21 percent chance to win it all, according to Elo. That’s the third-lowest pre-playoff championship probability for a Super Bowl favorite since 1990, trailing only the 2015 Carolina Panthers and 2009 San Diego Chargers at 20 percent apiece. It’s also much lower than the 30 percent average for the typical pre-playoff favorite before this year.Overall, this year’s favorites are less likely to win the Super Bowl than usual — meaning the Saints and Kansas City Chiefs have a lower probability than the typical top two going into the playoffs — while most of the lesser teams have a better chance than you’d expect to see in an average year. BAL1627601650Lamar Jackson-4261 BUF59BUF55BUF 42, MIA 17-5.5– NO87NO77CAR 33, NO 14+13.3– PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.ResultREADERS’ NET PTS 9Seahawks4–2– With the NFL’s playoff bracket finally set, it’s time to survey the field and handicap the race for the Super Bowl. What’s interesting about this season is that there are plenty of very good teams but few that could be classified as truly dominant. Nine teams have an Elo rating1FiveThirtyEight’s pet measure for team quality, in which 1500 is roughly average. of at least 1600, but none of them has cracked 1700 on the eve of the playoffs. In only one other season since 1990 — when the NFL expanded its postseason to the current format — have this many teams been squeezed into the 1600-to-1700 range on the Elo scale, and even that season (2015) had one team above 1700: LAC64LAC70LAC 23, DEN 9+1.8– CHI164061%1644Mitchell Trubisky+1866% Given all of this, the wild-card round could take on more significance than usual, since it’s not a stretch to imagine one of the teams playing this weekend taking home the Lombardi Trophy when all is said and done.If Elo had to pick a favorite from that category, it would be the Chicago Bears, who are currently tied for third in the league in Elo and will host the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (tied for No. 7) on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. ET. Chicago finished the regular season having allowed the league’s fewest points, so this is a classic Monsters-of-the-Midway Bears team in that sense. But quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is also playing much better than the typical Chicago QB from playoffs past — he’s no Jim Miller or Rex Grossman, for instance. According to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating,2Which rates QBs on their passing and rushing performance on a 0-100 scale. Trubisky was the NFL’s third most effective quarterback on a per-play basis this season. While he had some lows (such as a dreadful 29.5 QBR in an opening-week loss to the Packers) to go with the highs (like a 98.9 QBR vs. Tampa Bay in Week 4, one of the highest single-game marks on record), Trubisky’s strides as a second-year passer helped Chicago’s offense — which ranked a respectable 13th in expected points added — be more in line with its dominating defense.In fact, according to our experimental quarterback-adjusted Elo ratings, Trubisky enters Sunday’s game with the best QB adjustment of any Bears postseason signal-caller since the 1986 Super Bowl, when Jim McMahon was worth approximately 36 more points of Elo than an average quarterback (and promptly shredded the New England Patriots defense for 256 yards and a 104.2 passer rating in a 46-10 rout). Trubisky himself is worth an estimated 18 points of Elo, which is why Chicago stands out if we map out the QB adjustment and base (QB-neutral) Elo rating for each of this year’s wild-card-round combatants: Even though the readers knew about various Week 17 roster shenanigans (such as resting starters) and Elo didn’t, the algorithm did what it’s been doing most of the season, beating the field by an average of 5 points per reader. (Elo beat the average reader 16 times in 17 weeks during the regular season.) Readers picked up points for trusting Luck and Indy against the Blaine Gabbert-led Titans in Sunday night’s do-or-die regular-season finale, and they also got credit for fading the Saints, who were resting starters against the Panthers in a meaningless contest. But at times that knowledge came back to haunt them, such as when they dropped the odds of the Ezekiel Elliott-less Cowboys against the Giants, only to see Dallas storm back and win. (And it was odd to see Elo underestimate the Browns, which it’s been doing all season, only to have that work out at season’s end.)Either way, congrats to Jake Horowitz, who led all identified users in Week 17 with 294.2 points, and to good ol’ Greg Chili Van Hollebeke, who hung on to his No. 1 ranking for the season with 1,168.1 points. Thanks to everyone who has been playing — and the game isn’t over yet! You should keep making picks and trying your luck against Elo throughout the playoffs.Check out our latest NFL predictions. KC88KC86KC 35, OAK 3-2.3– LAR85LAR83LAR 48, SF 32-2.6– 6Ravens6–5– GB65GB67DET 31, GB 0-4.4– This year’s playoffs are more wide-open than usualProbability of winning the Super Bowl by rank (among playoff field) for the 2018 season and the average of the 1990-2017 seasons, according to FiveThirtyEight Elo ratings NE89NE86NE 38, NYJ 3-2.6– Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 17Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 17 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game TEN62%IND55%IND 33, TEN 17+15.1– HOU71HOU74HOU 20, JAX 3-0.1–
OSU coach Urban Meyer studies his opponent before the Buckeyes game against the Oklahoma Sooners on Sept. 17 at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium. The Buckeyes won 45-24. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorWhen the Buckeyes boarded their flight from Columbus to Norman, Oklahoma, for a Saturday showdown with the Oklahoma Sooners, coach Urban Meyer was taken back a bit by his team’s youth. As if he hadn’t realized it since the summer, Meyer noticed the quantity of players that lacked road experience.Following OSU’s 45-24 beatdown of coach Bob Stoops’ Sooners, the Buckeyes instilled confidence in Meyer concerning their ability to perform in the spotlight.“They’re no longer inexperienced,” Meyer said. “I saw (Oklahoma’s) record, and it is one of the top 5 hardest places to play. This was the coming-of-age game.”Meyer added that he was impressed with his team, specifically mentioning the running game. Oklahoma’s defensive line was touted as one of the top units in the country leading up to the matchup. Houston defeated the Sooners through the air, but Meyer stuck with his gut and ran the ball, trying to overpower the opposition.The Buckeyes ran for 291 yards on the ground, by far the most allowed by Oklahoma this season (89 yards to Houston). Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber totaled 123 yards on 18 carries, junior H-back Curtis Samuel had 98 yards on 11 rushes and redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett added 74 yards to the total. The Buckeyes averaged 6.1 yards on the ground as a team.“I feel like we had a lot of confidence coming into this game. I don’t think a lot of people would call us young anymore,” Weber said. “We’re playing really well.”Oklahoma was supposed to be the test before Big Ten play that would define OSU’s place along the college football landscape. It was meant to serve as a statement game for coach Meyer’s team to be ranked among the elite. For many players like Weber, it was their first true road game as a prominent contributor for the Scarlet and Gray. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown planted his flag through the heart of the Oklahoma defense in his first action on the road. The 6-foot-2 Brown tied a school record for four receiving touchdowns in one game. Meyer said that he has his captains to thank for the leadership in a hostile environment.“The maturity of the old guys is outstanding right now,” Meyer said. “J.T. Barrett, (redshirt senior center) Pat Elflein, (redshirt junior right guard) Billy Price up front, and then (junior linebacker) Raekwon McMillan and (redshirt junior cornerback) Gareon Conley … really good leaders on this team right now.”On the defensive side, younger players continue to make game-changing plays as well.Redshirt sophomore Marshon Lattimore added another interception to his stat line on Saturday, nearly having another in the second half. Sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker took a pass from Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to the endzone in the first quarter, putting OSU up by double digits.Redshirt sophomore Malik Hooker, who is tied for the NCAA interceptions lead with Lattimore at three, said that continuing to turn the ball over – make “money plays” – solidifies the no-longer inexperienced defense, despite them still having room to grow.“It definitely makes us feel like we’re some type of good. We don’t want to get too big-headed,” Hooker said. “We got to get in there in the bye week and correct the things we messed up on, and once we get that, I feel like we’re going to be 20 times better.”As OSU is now on its bye week, sitting at 3-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama, Meyer has to be pleased with his team proving its talent when their numbers are called.“We’ve always been loaded,” Weber said. “Last year, we were good enough to play. We just had to wait our turn this year. We’re developing and getting better.”
The Ohio State women’s volleyball team beat Wisconsin in dramatic fashion Sunday at St. John Arena, winning 3-2 (20-25, 25-22, 26-28, 25-22, 19-16) and surviving a thrilling fifth set in which each team served for game-point. “You want to win in three [sets], but it’s games like this that our leaders get to step up and people get to show what they’ve got,” sophomore outside hitter Emily Danks said. Wisconsin jumped to a 2-1 set lead, but the Buckeyes rallied back to take the next two. “Whoever had more heart was going to win it,” sophomore setter Amanda Peterson said. “It was a battle all the way.” Sunday’s match was a rematch of the game that OSU and Wisconsin played earlier this season in Madison, Wisc., when OSU won in five sets. “We gave ourselves a little bit of stress and pressure but we came back,” senior outside hitter Anna Szerszen said. “You feel the pressure and you are like, ‘I have to get this swing.’” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said Wisconsin has improved since their last meeting, especially with ball control. “They’re just a good team,” Carlston said of Wisconsin. “They’re a really solid team.” The win puts the Buckeyes’ record at 20-9 this season and 8-8 in Big Ten play. Senior outside hitter Katie Dull led the Buckeyes with a game-high 29.5 points, including 24 kills. Senior setter Betsy Hone led the Buckeyes with 53 assists, and junior libero Sarah Mignin led the team with 23 digs. The weekend was not all good for the Buckeyes, however, as they lost to ninth-ranked Illinois on Friday, 3-1 (25-20, 25-17, 17-25, 27-25) at St. John Arena. “Friday’s loss was tough,” Peterson said. “We were right there with them, we knew we could beat them.” The Buckeyes had to regroup and make the right adjustments coming into Sunday. Szerszen said the team worked on blocking and making sure the front and back rows were on the same page. “We didn’t do a good job of stopping Illinois on Friday,” Szerszen said. Junior outside hitter Kelli Barhorst led the Buckeyes with 16 points in the loss. Hone led the Buckeyes in assists with 44, and Mignin had the team high in digs, with 16. The Buckeyes travel to Penn State on Wednesday, and with four games left in the regular season, need some big wins down the stretch to move up in the Big Ten standings. “Every game in the Big Ten is a huge match,” Szerszen said, “because in any given night, any team can win.”
Suspended players return Ohio State coach Luke Fickell confirmed Tuesday that junior running back Jordan Hall, sophomore defensive back Corey Brown and junior defensive back Travis Howard will be available for Saturday’s game at Ohio Stadium against the Toledo Rockets (1-0). Hall, Brown and Howard were suspended Thursday for receiving impermissible benefits of $300 or less each at a charity event they attended earlier in the year, according to an athletic department press release. Fickell said he was unsure if the players could be assessed additional suspensions later in the season. “They’re available, that’s all I know,” Fickell said. “We’re going to move forward with the guys that are available, and if something comes up, something comes up.” Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Whiting will also return to OSU’s lineup Saturday. Whiting is the first of five players to return to the Buckeyes after being suspended in December 2010 for selling OSU football memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits. The other four players — DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Dan Herron and Solomon Thomas — still have four games remaining in their respective suspensions. Scarlet and Gray ascend in the polls After its 42-0 victory against Akron on Saturday, OSU jumped three spots in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll to No. 15. The Buckeyes leapfrogged Michigan State, which maintained its No. 17 position in the AP’s ranking after its 28-6 home win against Youngstown State of the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision. Wisconsin climbed three spots in the poll to No. 8 and simultaneously overtook Nebraska, which maintained its No. 10 ranking. Penn State rounded out the Big Ten’s presence in the AP poll, grabbing the No. 23 spot after beating Indiana State, 41-7, in its season-opener. Trio of Buckeyes’ seniors named captains for Toledo game Quarterback Joe Bauserman, linebacker Andrew Sweat and defensive back Nate Ebner will act as OSU’s captain’s against the Rockets on Saturday. “It’s extremely exciting, especially being a senior,” Ebner said of his selection as a game captain. “Knowing I can lead the guys out there, it’s a great opportunity. It’s humbling and I’m proud. Buckeye broiler Fickell said that the temperature on the field during Saturday’s game against Akron at the ‘Shoe was 130 degrees. “I think we lost two officials before the game even got rolling,” Fickell said of the excessive heat. “That was adversity we needed to see.” Saturday’s game at the ‘Shoe against Toledo kicks off at noon, and weather.com is forecasting a high temperature of 74 degrees with scattered thunderstorms.