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.

4-Point Play: Clippers want Paul at hoop

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesThe Clippers have fared better when Chris Paul has attacked the paint and drawn fouls.
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 (third in BPI) and the Houston Rockets (10th in BPI) at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Clippers a 51 percent chance of winning:

1. Particularly with the loss of Blake Griffin, the Clippers need Chris Paul to be aggressive going toward the basket. When Paul is getting into the paint, he draws fouls, and in Clippers wins, he is averaging a free throw attempts rate -- free throw attempts divided by field goals attempts -- of 0.31, whereas in losses he is averaging 0.20.

2. The Clippers are a better team when Matt Barnes is helping to facilitate the offense. In wins, he has an assist percentage of 8 percent, and in losses he has an assist percentage of 4.3 percent.

3. The Rockets lead the league in 3-point attempts by more than 300 shots but shoot a league-average 34 percent on 3-pointers. Pablo Prigioni is a career 41 percent 3-point shooter; now that he is in Houston, he should get a lot of looks from beyond the arc.

4. Trevor Ariza has been one of the Rockets’ primary shooters, leading the team in 3-point attempts, and they need him to be shooting those well. In wins this season, Ariza has hit 35 percent of his 3-pointers; in losses, he is making 27 percent of those shots.

Clippers have had Rockets' number

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
The Los Angeles Clippers, who have the most efficient offense in the NBA, begin a stretch of four road games tonight (8 ET, ESPN) when they face James Harden -- one of this season's most dynamic offensive players -- and the Houston Rockets.

The Clippers are 4-5 this month, but 4-1 since opening February with four straight losses.

The Rockets have won two in a row to start a five-game homestand. Houston is 10-2 in its past 12 home games and is 20-8 at home this season.

The game appears to be a tossup: ESPN's Basketball Power Index gives the Clippers a 51 percent chance of winning.

Here are some of the key stats to know heading into this matchup.

Advantage: Clippers
They recently have matched up well with the Rockets, winning six straight and 11 of the past 12 meetings. The Clippers won both games this season handily: 102-85 on Nov. 28 in Houston, and 110-95 on Feb. 11 in Los Angeles.

If the playoffs began today, these teams would meet -- and that wouldn’t be good news for the league’s top scorer. Harden, who leads the NBA with 27.3 points per game this season, averaged 12.5 points on 33.3 percent shooting in those two games.

Harden has scored 20 or more points in two of 18 career games against the Clippers. Since joining the Rockets, he has averaged 17.9 points on 36 percent shooting in seven games; Houston is 0-7 in those games. Harden has averaged 5.5 free throws against the Clippers this season and 9.5 against every other team.

Star watch: Who benefits with Griffin, Howard out?
Both Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard are sidelined by injuries.

The Clippers are 33-18 with Griffin this season and 4-2 without him.

DeAndre Jordan is thriving in Griffin’s absence, averaging 16.7 points and 17.8 rebounds.

The Rockets are 22-10 with Howard this season, and 16-8 without him.

Donatas Motiejunas is averaging 9.6 points in 32 games with Howard. That number increases to 14.1 in 24 games without him.

How the Rockets will play
The Rockets have attempted a league-low 495 midrange shots this season. To put in perspective of how few that is, consider this:

LaMarcus Aldridge has attempted 539 (44 more than Houston).

The Pistons have the second-fewest in the NBA with 833 (338 more than Houston).

The Knicks lead the league with 1,691 (1,196 more than Houston).

The Rockets are averaging what would be an NBA-record 33.7 3-pointers per game. That’s 5.9 more 3s per game than the next closest team (Trail Blazers).

Clippers’ weakness
The Clippers don’t have any concerns offensively. They rank first in offensive efficiency and second in points per game. That’s not the case defensively, however. Last season, the Clippers were seventh-best in defensive efficiency, but they rank 18th this season.

After playing the third-place team in the Western Conference, the Clippers will travel to face the West’s No. 2 team, the Memphis Grizzlies. This is part of what ESPN’s Basketball Power Index ranks as the 10th-most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA. BPI says the Rockets have the seventh-most difficult remaining schedule.

Perimeter work triggers Kentucky's defense

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25

Mark Zerof/USA TodayAndrew Harrison (left) and Aaron Harrison are among the SEC’s top defensive players.
When coach John Calipari led the Kentucky Wildcats to the 2012 NCAA championship, his team led the nation in effective field goal percentage defense, block percentage and 2-point field goal percentage defense. As good as that team was, this season’s squad might be better.

The 2014-15 Wildcats allow 81.3 points per 100 possessions, on pace to be the best defensive efficiency in the last 15 seasons and 7.5 points per 100 possessions better than that allowed by the Anthony Davis-led 2012 team.

What’s the biggest difference between the teams? Perimeter and pressure defense. Kentucky this season is allowing a 3-point field goal percentage of 27.5, lowest among major conference teams and 4.3 percentage points better than the 2011-12 team.

And that’s when opponents can get a shot off. The 2014-15 Wildcats are forcing a turnover on 23 percent of opponents’ possessions, good for 23rd in the nation and seventh among major conference teams. The 2011-12 team was less prolific in forcing turnovers, doing so 17 percent of the time, ninth-fewest among major conference teams.

The performance of Kentucky’s guards has been a catalyst for the Wildcats’ defensive success. Aaron Harrison and Tyler Ulis rank in the top 10 in the SEC in fewest points allowed per play among players to defend at least 100 plays.

What the Kentucky guards do best is force turnovers.

Kentucky’s success at turning the ball over is helping the Wildcats’ offense. Kentucky scores 18.3 points per game off turnovers, fifth-most in the nation and second in the SEC (Arkansas, 19.4). Expressed as a rate, 24.5 percent of Kentucky’s points come off turnovers, sixth-most in the nation.

Kentucky’s interior defense has impressive stats of its own. Forward Willie Cauley-Stein ranks among the Division I leaders in defensive win shares. Four of the top 12 players in the SEC in block percentage are forwards on Kentucky’s roster, and the team has allowed a 2-point field goal percentage of 37.4 (second in the nation).

But despite the success of the interior players, 42 percent of the points scored against Kentucky are coming inside the paint, third-most in the SEC. Even though Kentucky is known for its size and the defense of its forwards, the defense of the guards is making it more difficult for opponents to score.

Injuries again a thorn to Derrick Rose

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
What is the statistical impact of the Chicago Bulls losing Derrick Rose to knee surgery?

Perhaps not as great as you think.

The Bulls are 7-4 without Rose this season, compared to 29-17 with him. Their efficiency numbers, as noted in the chart on the right, are nearly the same with him as they are without him.

Rose had also struggled in clutch time this season (the final five minutes, score within five points). His 52 points in those situations were 12 fewer than Jimmy Butler and 24 fewer than Pau Gasol despite having taken 25 more attempts than each of them.

Though Rose was playing, his play this season was up and down. He ranked 33rd among point guards in our new stat, real plus-minus, which estimates a player's on-court impact on his team's performance, taking into account teammates, opponents and additional factors.

Rose was averaging 18.4 points per game, his lowest in a season playing at least 15 games since 2009. He was shooting 40.7 percent from the field, on pace to be the worst field goal percentage of his career.

Rose was still doing a lot, even though he wasn't necessarily effective. He currently ranks fifth in the NBA in usage percentage, which gauges how often he took a shot or free throw or committed a turnover, relative to the rest of his team.

Butler will be among those most impacted by Rose's absence. He's averaged 19.8 points with Rose this season and 22.3 points per game without him.

Aaron Brooks should also see an increase in minutes. Brooks is averaging 19.2 points per 36 minutes this season, which, over a full season, would be his best rate since 2009-10 (19.8).

Since winning the MVP in 2010-11, Rose has been unable to stay on the court. Rose played in 99 percent of Bulls games in 2010-11 but has played in 33 percent of Bulls games since then (he missed the entire 2012-13 season).

The Bulls are paying Rose almost $19 million this season and owe him more than $40 million over the next two seasons.

Over the past four seasons, Rose has missed time due to a sprained toe, strained back, groin injury, ankle injury, torn ACL, torn meniscus and a hamstring injury.


Westbrook makes NBA Mount Rushmore

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24

Getty ImagesRussell Westbrook's hot stretch puts him in the company of LeBron James and Michael Jordan.

Russell Westbrook is in the midst of a ridiculous statistical stretch, one that includes a 20-point, 10-assist, 11-rebound triple-double Tuesday against the Pacers.

He's averaging 29.5 points, 10.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game in 10 games so far this month.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes Westbrook is the first player with 20 points and 10 assists in four straight wins since Magic Johnson and Kevin Johnson accomplished the feat for the Lakers and Suns in the 1989-90 season.

It got us to thinking about great stretches by great players.

Compare Westbrook to some of these:

Kevin Durant: Jan. 2014: Durant had five 40-point games, including four 45-point games. He became just the fourth player since the merger with four 45-point games in a single month and joined Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dominique Wilkins.

LeBron James: Feb. 3-12, 2013: James became the first player in NBA history to record at least 30 points while shooting at least 60 percent from the field in six straight games.

Kobe Bryant: March 16-23, 2007: Bryant had four straight 50-point games and topped 60 in two of them. Honorable mention: a stretch of nine straight 40-point games in 2003.

Michael Jordan: March-April 1989: Over an 11-game stretch, Jordan had at least 10 assists in each game. Jordan had 10 triple-doubles in those two months, while averaging 34 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds per game.

Magic Johnson: March 31 to April 5, 1987: Johnson had four straight triple-doubles, the longest streak of his career. The Lakers won all four games and averaged more than 120 points over that stretch.

Wilt Chamberlain: December 1961 Chamberlain scored at least 50 points in seven straight and 11 of 12 games overall. From Dec. 8, when he scored 78, to Dec. 29 when he had 60 points, Chamberlain averaged 60.7 points. The only game in which he failed to score 50 was one in which he had “only” 43.


Westbrook's numbers might add to MVP

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24

Mark D. Smith/USA TodayRussell Westbrook has posted rarely seen statistics this season for the Thunder.
Let’s play the blind résumé game for NBA Most Valuable Player. Below is a list of three MVP candidates. Two have been in the conversation most of the season, and the other has been gaining steam over the past few weeks. Based on individual numbers, whom would you take?

If you picked Player B, you went with the player gaining steam, Russell Westbrook. Player A is James Harden, and Player C is Stephen Curry. Below are stats on both sides of the argument; some in support of Westbrook winning the award and some that show why he won’t.

Why he will win
Westbrook is posting a career-high 29.2 player efficiency rating this season and trails only Anthony Davis (31.2).

Westbrook is averaging a career-high 26.1 points, 8.0 assists and 6.4 rebounds (also a career high) per game this season. Three players in NBA history have averaged 26-8-6 in a season: Oscar Robertson (eight times), LeBron James (2009-10) and Michael Jordan (1988-89).

No one has been responsible for more of his team’s points than Westbrook this season. He has been responsible for a career-high 44.1 points per game.

Westbrook is scoring nearly 36 points per 36 minutes with Kevin Durant off the court, compared with 22.3 points per 36 minutes with Durant on the court. His PER increases dramatically with Durant on the bench.

Westbrook’s play of late with Durant sidelined has added momentum to his MVP candidacy.

In the past five games Durant has missed, Westbrook is averaging nearly 33 points and 10 assists per game and shooting better than 50 percent from the field. The Thunder have won four of those games.

Westbrook ranks 12th in the NBA with 6.8 win shares (from -- an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player). But Westbrook himself has missed 14 of the Thunder’s 56 games.

No one has more win shares than Westbrook among players who have played 42 games or fewer this season. Durant is second with 5.0 in 27 games, and DeMarcus Cousins is third with 3.9 in 42 games.

Why he won’t win
Durant and the Thunder are in eighth place in the Western Conference. Since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84, two players have been voted MVP from a team finishing worse than a 2-seed: Karl Malone in 1998-99 and Michael Jordan in 1987-88 (both were 3-seeds).

The only player in NBA history to win MVP from a team that missed the postseason is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76.

Westbrook and the Thunder had a .528 win percentage at the All-Star break. Three MVPs have been on a team that had a worse record at that time. The teams of 55 of the previous 59 winners had a win percentage of at least .600 at the All-Star break.

Westbrook has missed 14 games this season. The only MVP in NBA history to miss 14 or more games in his MVP season was Bill Walton, who missed 24 games in 1977-78 for the Trail Blazers. The only other player to miss more than 10 games in an MVP season is Allen Iverson, who missed 11 games in 2000-01.

Teammates don’t tend to win MVP in consecutive seasons. The Boston Celtics are the only team in NBA history that had two different players win the MVP award in back-to-back seasons: Bob Cousy (1956-57) and Bill Russell (1957-58).

Stats to know: Harden's triple-double

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
Five stats to know about James Harden’s triple-double (30 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) for the Houston Rockets on Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves:

1) Harden is the sixth player to record multiple triple-doubles this season, along with Michael Carter-Williams (3), Rajon Rondo (3), Eric Bledsoe (2), Kobe Bryant (2) and Russell Westbrook (2).

2) Harden’s four triple-doubles have all come in the past three seasons, and all have been in games in which he scored at least 20 points. His four 20-point triple-doubles tie Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant for the most in the NBA over that span.

3) The Elias Sports Bureau notes Harden and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only players to score 30 points in a triple-double in Rockets franchise history. Olajuwon did it five times, most recently in 1995-96.

4) Harden was 12-of-15 at the free throw line. He has now attempted an NBA-high 531 free throws this season. That's 154 more than Jimmy Butler, who has the second-most, with 377. The gap between Harden and Butler (first and second) is the same as the gap between second and 34th place in that stat.

5)Harden got 30 points on a night when he shot poorly (7-of-20). Elias notes he's the first player since 1975 to score 30 points in a triple-double and shoot 35 percent or worse from the field. Basketball legend Pete Maravich did as much for the Jazz against the Lakers in March of that year.


Westbrook's performance was 'Magic'al

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
Russell Westbrook seems to have figured out how to play well when Kevin Durant is not alongside him.

Westbrook had 21 points, 17 assists and eight rebounds in only 27 minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night. The 17 assists are the most by a Thunder player since the team moved to Oklahoma City prior to the 2008-09 season.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Westbrook is the second player in NBA history to have at least 20 points, 15 assists and five rebounds in a game in which he played less than 30 minutes. The other is Magic Johnson, who did it twice -- once in 1984 against the Sacramento Kings and once in 1989 against the Indiana Pacers.

Westbrook shot 44 percent in the first 10 games that he played in but Durant missed, averaging 27.1 points and 7.2 assists as the Thunder went 5-5. He has shot 51 percent and averaged 32.8 points and 10.2 assists in the past five games that Durant has missed. The Thunder are 4-1 in those five games.

He had a new partner to help him along today. Enes Kanter had 20 points and 12 rebounds in his second game with the Thunder. He’s the first Thunder center to have a 20-10 game since the team moved to Oklahoma City.

Westbrook’s MVP case
Westbrook is averaging 26.0 points, 7.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds. Only five players have averaged 26-7-and-6 over a full season: Oscar Robertson, LeBron James, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

Westbrook has been responsible for 43.4 points per game this season, a career-high. Only James Harden (44.1) has been responsible for more of his teams points per game this season.


Earnhardt Jr. projected to win Daytona 500

February, 21, 2015
Feb 21

Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesDale Earnhardt Jr. is projected to win at Daytona Sunday.
Here are the projections for Sunday’s Daytona 500. 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 2.5-mile superspeedway) and time of year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the defending Daytona 500 champion and will now try to become the fourth driver ever (and first in 20 seasons) to win back-to-back Daytona 500s. Junior has finished in the top two in three straight Daytona 500s - his six career top-two finishes in the 500 are tied for third-most all time.

• The 2015 Daytona 500 will be the final one for Jeff Gordon as a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver. He’s a three-time Daytona 500 winner, tied for the third-most all-time. He’s also one of three drivers to win at least three Daytona 500s and three championships, along with Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough.

Kevin Harvick broke through and won his first championship last year, and now he’ll look to be the first defending series champion to win the Daytona 500 since Dale Jarrett in 2000. Harvick won the 2007 Daytona 500 and will try to become the first driver to win a 500 for Stewart-Haas Racing.

• Hendrick Motorsports has won the last two Daytona 500s. Another win this year would make them the first team to win three straight Daytona 500s, and would tie them with Petty Enterprises for the most Daytona 500 wins for a team with nine. The entire Hendrick stable is projected to finish in the top 10 on Sunday.