BPI viewer’s guide to weekend action

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
11:13
AM ET

Getty ImagesVirginia tries to remain perfect against Duke in this weekend's top matchup.
This weekend’s slate is highlighted by two double-ranked ACC matchups and a Missouri Valley Conference game with conference title implications.

Using ESPN's Basketball Power Index below are the five “can’t miss” games of the weekend.

Duke Blue Devils (8th in BPI) at Virginia Cavaliers (2nd in BPI)
Saturday, 7 PM ET on ESPN
BPI Projection: Virginia, 86 percent likely to win
Matchup Quality: 90.3


Can Duke knock off Virginia? BPI sees this game as a larger mismatch than most, which is more a statement about Virginia's strength than an indictment of Duke.

Playing at the second-slowest pace in the country, Virginia may not be considered the most exciting team in Division I, but it is one of the most efficient. The Cavaliers rank second in net efficiency behind Kentucky and are holding opponents to a stifling 83.5 points per 100 possessions, which is on pace for the third-best rate in the last four seasons. They also rank 13th in offensive efficiency, making them one of two teams to rank in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (Utah is the other).

Virginia has the highest BPI in the country in conference games, but we will learn a lot about the Cavaliers in their next three ACC tilts (vs Duke, at UNC, vs Louisville). According to BPI’s projections, Virginia has a 45 percent chance to come out of that stretch unscathed and a 20 percent chance to finish the regular season undefeated.

North Carolina Tar Heels (6th in BPI) at Louisville Cardinals (10th in BPI)
Saturday, 4 PM ET on ESPN
BPI Projection: Louisville, 60 percent likely to win
Matchup Quality: 87.2


As the only team in the BPI top 10 with four or more losses, North Carolina has been BPI’s outlier this season. BPI accounts for the fact that the Tar Heels have played the eighth-hardest schedule and have five wins against top-50 opponents. Louisville, in comparison, has lost its last three games against top-50 foes, including a 72-71 loss at UNC in early January.

One thing to watch Saturday is if Louisville can contain North Carolina’s big men on the offensive end. UNC averages the most points in the paint per game (38.8) among major conference teams and outscored the Cardinals 40-26 in the paint in their first meeting.

Wichita State Shockers (13th in BPI) at Northern Iowa Panthers (17th in BPI)
Saturday, 4 PM ET on ESPN2
BPI Projection: Northern Iowa, 57 percent likely to win
Matchup Quality: 84.4


Wichita State and Northern Iowa each enter this game 19-2 and in the top 20 of BPI. No other team from the Missouri Valley Conference ranks in the top 60 of BPI. Both teams have been consistent throughout the season, and if not for two close losses, either could be undefeated.

BPI currently projects that Wichita State should be a 4-seed and Northern Iowa a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament at this point in the season. The Missouri Valley Conference has not had two top-7 seeds in the same year since the tournament expanded in 1985.

Alabama Crimson Tide (56th in BPI) at Kentucky Wildcats (1st in BPI)
Saturday, 7 PM ET on SEC Network
BPI Projection: Kentucky, 98 percent likely to win
Matchup Quality: 82.7


Kentucky leads the nation with a 94.9 BPI rating. Since the first year of BPI (2011-2012), no team has had a BPI rating that high at this point in the season. The Wildcats are allowing 77.6 points per 100 possessions, on pace for the best defensive efficiency in the last 15 seasons. They also lead the nation in net efficiency by a wide margin.

Meanwhile, Alabama (13-7) may be stronger than its record suggests. Four of Alabama’s seven losses have been by two points or fewer; only Cal State Bakersfield has more one- or two-point losses than the Tide.

If Kentucky can get past Alabama, it will be one step closer to an undefeated regular season – one that BPI projects they have a 48 percent chance to accomplish.

Wisconsin Badgers (5th in BPI) at Iowa Hawkeyes (47th in BPI)
Saturday, 12 PM ET on ESPN
BPI Projection: Wisconsin, 74 percent likely to win
Matchup Quality: 81.6


After Wisconsin’s 32-point rout of Iowa on January 20, the Hawkeyes are looking for revenge. First they must shore up their defense; the Badgers averaged 1.5 points per possession against Iowa, their most efficient game in the last four seasons, and turned the ball over once in 54 possessions.

The Badgers received a 99.5 Game BPI score against Iowa, making it the “best win” of the season for a Big Ten team. The path to repeating that performance will be difficult in Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes are 10-2 this season.

Note: The games are ranked by Matchup Quality, a metric that ranks games on a 0-to-100 scale based on how good each team is and how close the game is expected to be.

4-Point Play: Mavericks at Heat

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
10:40
AM ET

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Chandler Parsons and the Mavericks visit Chris Bosh and the Heat tonight (8 ET, ESPN).
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Friday’s game between the Dallas Mavericks (4th in BPI) and the Miami Heat (18th in BPI). Our BPI gives the Mavericks a 61 percent chance of winning.

1. The Mavericks have the top offense in the league, but a below average defense. The defense plays its best when actively creating turnovers. When Mavericks opponents are turning it over on more than 12 percent of their possessions, the Mavs give up 101 points per 100 possessions. Yet when opponents turn it over less than that, the Mavs give up 106 point per 100 possessions.

2. Chandler Parsons' average assist rate has dropped this season from 17 percent to 10 percent, but when he is above that 10 percent mark, the Mavericks average 113 points per 100 possessions. When Parsons falls below 10 percent, they average 109 points per 100 possessions.

3. Chris Bosh's game has changed and evolved over time, but while he teamed with LeBron, his skilled passing was not needed. In his last four seasons with the Raptors, Bosh had an average assist percentage of 12 percent. While playing with LeBron, his AST% fell to eight percent, but this season it has jumped right back up to 12 percent.

4. Miami has to keep Dallas off the foul line. When Miami allows opponents a Free Throw Attempt Rate above 0.29, then they give up 108 points per 100 possessions, but when they keep their opponents' FTAr below 0.29 then they give up 100 points per 100 possessions.

Hawks lead the way for All-Star reserves

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
10:02
PM ET
The NBA announced the 14 All-Star reserves on Thursday night, and while Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Korver will not be making the trip to New York, here's a look at who was named.

•  Three Hawks -- Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague will join their coach, Mike Budenholzer, in New York as All-Stars. It’s the first time the Hawks have had three All-Stars in a single season since 1979-80 (John Drew, Eddie Johnson & Dan Roundfield).

•  Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have each made the All-Star team in all five of their seasons together. Wade has 11 straight All-Star selections and the only active players with more selections than Wade are Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowtizki.

•  Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, who joins Teague as first-time All-Stars on the Eastern Conference team, is averaging 20.1 PPG this season, up seven points from last season’s average. According to Elias, that’s the largest increase among NBA players who have played at least 70 percent of their games in each of the past two seasons.

•  Rounding out the group of first-timers is the other half of Golden State’s Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson. Thompson and Stephen Curry give the Warriors multiple All-Stars for the first time since 1992-93 (Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin). Thompson is the only player in the top 10 in points per game and 3-point shooting this season.

•  Kyrie Irving rounds out the Eastern Conference reserves, joining his teammate LeBron James, who was named a starter. It’s Irving’s third selection, and he’s one of three Eastern Conference players averaging 20 PPG and 5 APG along with James and Wade.

•  Thunder teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both named to the Western Conference reserves. It’s Durant’s sixth selection and Westbrook’s fourth. Westbrook is fourth in Player Efficiency Rating this season, while Durant is second, behind only Anthony Davis.

•  Their former teammate James Harden made his third All-Star team, and all three of his selections have come since his move to Houston. Harden is the league’s scoring leader at 27.3 PPG, and he also is tops in Win Shares with 10.

•  Chris Paul was named for the eighth time and he’s got an NBA-best 4.5 assist-to-turnover ratio this season. Despite averaging 17.5 PPG, his lowest since 2006-07, Paul is third in points created by assists per game (22.4).

•  LaMarcus Aldridge made his fourth All-Star game, and he is one of three players in the NBA averaging 20 PPG and 10 RPG this season. The others are All-Star Anthony Davis and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, who was not selected.

•  Last, but certainly not least, is Tim Duncan. The Big Fundamental earned his 15th career All-Star selection, which is tied for third-most all time with Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal. Duncan is sixth in blocks per game this season and fourth in defensive win shares.
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NBA

Seahawks' D in midst of an impressive run

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
2:20
PM ET
The turning point in the Seattle Seahawks' season was undoubtedly their 24-20 loss to Kansas City in Week 11. The Seahawks allowed a season-high 190 rushing yards, including 159 to Jamaal Charles, and fell to 6-4 with a 56 percent chance of missing the playoffs, according to numberFire.com.

Since that loss, Seattle has won eight straight games and is riding a defense that -- when healthy -- is looking a lot like its defense at the end of last season.

What might not have been widely understood is how average Seattle’s defense was in its first 10 games. The Seahawks’ defense ranked 13th in efficiency during that time and was costing the team about 1.2 points per game.

Fast-forward eight games, and Seattle is in the midst of one of the best defensive stretches in the last few seasons. The Seahawks are holding opponents to 9.8 points per game and have an NFL-best 10.3 defensive efficiency since the start of Week 12.

For context, Seattle held its opponents to 11.5 points per game and averaged a 10.6 defensive efficiency rating per game in its final eight contests of the 2013 season/postseason, which was capped off by an impressive defensive outing (21.6 efficiency rating) against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Opposing quarterbacks have struggled to solve Seattle’s defensive puzzle. Each quarterback the Seahawks faced during their eight-game winning streak posted a QBR at least 27 points below what he had entering the game. That includes Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton in the playoffs.

Although Seattle has not faced a daunting set of quarterbacks during that time, the Seahawks made bad quarterbacks look worse and above-average quarterbacks look bad.

In fact, until meeting Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game, Seattle had held seven straight teams to a Total QBR below 31. Since the start of 2006, no team had held seven straight opponents to a QBR that low.

One difference in limiting these QBs has been the play of the secondary. In the past eight games, including the playoffs, Seattle has the most interceptions (seven) and is tied for the fewest completions allowed (12) on throws of 15 yards or longer.

So what has changed in the past eight games?

First, Seattle’s starting lineup finally got healthy. In six of its past eight games, Seattle started the same 11 players on defense. In the two games with a different lineup, cornerback Tharold Simon was the only differing starter.

This consistency coincided with the return of linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five games with a turf-toe injury. Wagner’s first game back was against Arizona, the start of Seattle’s eight-game winning streak. During that streak, the Seahawks have led the league in almost every defensive category.

Upon Wagner’s return, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told ESPN.com’s Terry Blount: “It was great to have him out there. I went up to Bobby and said, ‘Geez, I didn’t realize what a factor you are.’ He is one of the heartbeat guys for this club.”

Even Carroll’s praise might be understating Wagner’s impact. With him on the field, Seattle is holding opponents to a 36.8 Total QBR, compared with a 60.3 Total QBR without him.

Seattle’s defensive resurgence also coincided with the return of Kam Chancellor from injury and the improved health of others in the secondary.

Will the Seahawks’ defense continue its suffocating play in the Super Bowl?

The health of the unit, so important in the team’s late-season surge, might be in question as Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are battling injuries. Seattle’s ability to overcome the injuries -- and Tom Brady’s efficiency against Seattle’s defense -- might determine how the game unfolds.


Blount's production comes at a low cost

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
9:49
AM ET

Matt Slocum/AP PhotoIn two playoff games against the Colts, LeGarrette Blount has seven rushing touchdowns.
A key component of managing a roster is finding value in how resources are allocated, both in draft-pick management and navigating free agency. It’s hard to argue that the New England Patriots haven't done that with LeGarrette Blount -- not once, but twice. His production has been inconsistent (matching his career path), but given the minimal investment in Blount’s services, the Patriots have found good value.

It took two games against the Indianapolis Colts for Blount to become the Patriots’ all-time leader in playoff rushing touchdowns (seven). Between those performances were two playoff games in which Blount had a combined eight rushes for seven yards.

The Patriots signed Blount for the veteran minimum before Week 12, and he had 12 rushes for 78 yards in his first game back in Foxborough, a 34-9 win against the Lions. Blount stepped up his production down the stretch with the Patriots, ranking 13th in the league in rushing yards since Week 12 (including playoffs). Only DeMarco Murray and C.J. Anderson (eight) had more rushing touchdowns since Week 12 than Blount (six), a solid return given that his 2014 salary-cap hit ranks 155th among running backs.

Low-cost acquisition
In 2013, New England traded the rights to running back/return specialist Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick (which turned out to be defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, who is out of the league) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Blount, an undrafted free agent signed by the Tennessee Titans and claimed off waivers by the Buccaneers before the 2010 season.

Blount’s 944 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns led the Patriots in 2013 (including playoffs), with a 5.2 yards per rush average that trailed only Andre Ellington (5.5) among qualified running backs.

Blount capped his successful year with a 24-rush, 166-yard performance against the Colts in New England’s 2013 divisional playoff win before the Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos in last year’s AFC Championship Game. Blount signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers for almost $4 million, but was released after 11 games.

Tough to tackle
The numbers support Blount as a key contributor in New England’s Super Bowl game plan. No back in the league has been harder to bring down than Blount: He averaged an NFL-best 2.6 yards after contact per rush in the regular season.

One common theme for the teams that beat the Seahawks this season has been a successful ground game. Each of the four teams to beat Seattle rushed at least 27 times and for more than 100 yards.

Irving dominates, but Cavs lack continuity

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
12:18
AM ET
ESPN Stats & InformationKyrie Irving was one point shy of tying the Cavaliers' franchise scoring record.
Kyrie Irving scored a career-high 55 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 99-94.

Irving's 55 points are the most in Cavaliers franchise history by a player not named LeBron James, and just one point shy of matching James for the most by a Cavalier.

If you're a Cavaliers fan, it's been a while since you've seen a performance like that in Cleveland. In fact, it's the most points scored by a Cavalier at home in franchise history.

LeBron has eight 50-point games with the Cavaliers, but all of them have come on the road. The only previous 50-point game by a Cavalier at home was by Walt Wesley in 1971. The only visiting player to score more than Irving's 55 at Cleveland was Michael Jordan, who scored 69 points in 1990.

Irving made a franchise-record 11 3-pointers, breaking the record of 10 previously set by C.J. Miles last season. Irving joins Joe Dumars as the only players in NBA history with at least 10 3-pointers and 10 free throws in a game.

It was just the Cavaliers' second win in 10 games this season without James. Irving has stepped up in such games with 27.3 points per game, compared to 20.7 when James is in the lineup. Irving has eight more field goal attempts per game without James, but he has also been less efficient (lower field goal percentage and more turnovers per game).

Lack of continuity for Cavaliers
Another missed game by James continues a theme of inconsistency for the Cavaliers in terms of their lineup. Throughout the season, the Cavs have dealt with injured stars and trades.

Their 25-12 record with James (.676 win percentage) would be second in the East behind the Atlanta Hawks.

But even that doesn't represent the current Cavs team at full strength. Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert recently joined the team. In the eight games with Mozgov and Smith after James returned from injury, the Cavs were 7-1. Their offensive efficiency in those eight games (115.9 points per 100 possessions) would rank first in the league for the season.

In their past five games together, it's even better. Not only would their offensive efficiency in that span rank first in the league (116.0), but their defensive efficiency (97.4) would rank second.

It's just a matter of continuity -- whether or not the Cavaliers can stay healthy and continue the rhythm they developed in those eight games.

The Cavaliers most used lineup includes Anderson Varejao, who is out for the season. Their next-most used lineup -- Irving, LeBron, Kevin Love, Shawn Marion and Tristan Thompson -- has played just 110 minutes together this season. The New York Knicks are the only team whose most used lineup has played fewer minutes together.

Top stats to know: Duke at Notre Dame

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
12:28
PM ET

USA Today SportsJerian Grant and Notre Dame host Quinn Cook and Duke tonight at 7:30 ET, ESPN2.
No. 4 Duke travels to South Bend to take on No. 8 Notre Dame in one of six remaining ACC games between current top-10 teams.

Offensive Firepower
When these teams meet, offense will be on display. Notre Dame leads the nation in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and Duke ranks fourth.

Notre Dame is the only team in the nation that has averaged at least one point per possession in all of its games this season, which is largely a result of its efficiency in the half-court. The Irish lead the nation in points per play in half-court sets and Duke is not far behind in ninth.

Top Players
Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant have had a lot to do with that half-court production. Okafor is shooting 65.1 percent in the half-court, best in the ACC (min. 20 att), while Grant leads the ACC with a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Okafor and Grant both have an argument for Wooden Award honors. Which player has been more valuable to his team is up for debate, but depending on which advanced metric you choose, both players have been among the best in the nation.

Hollinger’s player efficiency rating (PER) is a rating that captures how efficient a player is while he’s on the court. Helped by his ACC-high 67.1 effective field goal percentage, Okafor ranks second in the nation in PER (33.9) behind Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (36.0).

Another measure of player production is win shares, which uses advanced offensive and defensive stats to estimate the number of wins a player produces for his team. In part due to his ACC-high 31.6 percent assist rate, Grant is one of the top two in the nation in win shares (5.0) along with Utah's Delon Wright.

BPI Notes
Although Duke and Notre Dame thrive on the offensive end, they both could use some help defensively. Each ranks outside of the top 50 in defensive efficiency, which is one reason why neither team is ranked in the top five of ESPN’s Basketball Power Index despite their superb records.

According to BPI, assuming average pace, Duke is about 1.3 points better than Notre Dame on a neutral court. Duke has more wins against opponents ranked in the top-50 of BPI, and despite its double-digit losses to Miami (FL) and NC State, the Blue Devils have had more impressive wins than Notre Dame.

Game BPI is a way to measure the impressiveness of a win. It is a score for each game that accounts for pace-adjusted scoring margin, opponent and site of game. Duke has a higher average Game BPI and four more wins with a Game BPI above 90 than the Irish.

Despite Duke’s higher BPI rating, the two teams are so close that Notre Dame’s home court advantage gives it the edge tonight (7:30 ET, ESPN2); the Irish have a 59 percent chance to win according to BPI.

4-Point Play: Nets at Hawks

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
10:52
AM ET

Alex Goodlett/Getty ImagesBrook Lopez and the Nets take on Kyle Korver and the Hawks tonight (8 ET, ESPN).

The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Brooklyn Nets (22nd in BPI) and the Atlanta Hawks (10th in BPI). Our BPI gives the Hawks a 70 percent chance of winning:

1. The Hawks rely on Kyle Korver to be historically good. Only seven players in NBA history have taken more than 250 3-point shots and had a True Shooting % greater than 65 percent, and Korver leads them all with a TS% of 74 percent. When Korver has a TS% of at least 65 percent, the Hawks win 83 percent of their games. When he is below 65 percent TS%, they win only 71 percent of their games.

2. Defensively, the Hawks are at their best when forcing opponents into mid-range shots. When opponents are scoring 16 percent or more of their points off of mid-range shots, the Hawks give up only 97 points per 100 possessions. When opponents are at 16 percent or less, the Hawks give up an average of 102 points per 100 possessions.

3. The Nets rely on the offensive glass. When they are getting 23 percent or more of the available offensive boards, then they score 102 points per 100 possessions. When they are below 23 percent, they score only 97 points per 100 possessions.

4. The Nets are at their most efficient when Joe Johnson is launching threes. When Johnson is taking more than six 3-point shots per 36 minutes, the Nets score 102 points per 100 possessions. When he is taking fewer than that, they score only 98 points per 100 possessions.

4-Point Play: Wizards at Suns

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
10:35
AM ET

AP Photo/Alex BrandonThe Wizards look to extend their win streak to three tonight in Phoenix (10:30 ET, ESPN).
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the Washington Wizards (13th in BPI) and the Phoenix Suns (14th in BPI). Our BPI gives the Suns a 66 percent chance of winning:

1. The Wizards are only an average offensive rebounding team, getting 25 percent of available offensive boards. When they are rebounding well though, they become a much more formidable team. The Wizards win 75 percent of games in which they get more than 25 percent of offensive rebounds and 50 percent of games where they get fewer than 25 percent.

2. The Wizards need Marcin Gortat to stay out of foul trouble. When Gortat is fouling less than 3 times every 36 minutes, the Wizards defense gives up 98 points per 100 possessions which is second only to the Warriors. When he is fouling at a higher rate than that, they are giving up 103 points per 100 possessions which is league average.

3. Despite playing a very small lineup, the Suns can play at least average defense when they are able to create turnovers. When they are creating turnovers on 12 percent or more of their opponents’ possessions, they give up the league average 103 points per 100 possessions. When they are not getting turnovers on at least 12 percent of possessions, they give up 106 points per 100 possessions.

4. As a team, the Suns need to be aggressive towards the basket and get to the free throw line. When they have a Free Throw Rate of 20 percent or higher, they score 108 points per 100 possessions, but when they are below that, they score only 104 points per 100 possessions.

Zach Randolph extends his range

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28
12:27
AM ET

Wire photos

The Memphis Grizzlies continue to roll now that Zach Randolph is back in their lineup.

The Grizzlies, who are 4-5 without Randolph this season, improved to 29-7 with him after a convincing 19-point win in Dallas.

Randolph finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He has 10 straight double-doubles since returning from injury. The Grizzlies are 8-2 in those 10 games.

Randolph was 10-of-15 from the field and is now shooting 51 percent from the field this season, including 59 percent in his last 10 games. He is almost a lock to improve on his shooting from 2012-13 and 2013-14 (46 and 47 percent, respectively). Even if Randolph missed his next 40 shots, he would still be shooting better than he did last season.

The typical scoring method for the Grizzlies this season has been in the paint. They average 47.2 paint points, second-most in the NBA, led by Randolph’s 10.5 points per game in there.

But Tuesday was a little different. Randolph found a groove in a spot that he doesn’t typically shoot from -- outside the lane on the right side, from the top of the circle to the bottom of the circle.

Randolph, who had shot from that area only about once per game since his return, nailed all seven of his shots there on Tuesday.

Also worth noting about Randolph’s stellar play is that in a season featuring an increased emphasis of playing on back-to-back days, Randolph has fared well when he should be more tired.

He is averaging 20.2 points and 13.8 rebounds in the six instances during which he's played without a day of rest this season.

Defending Dirk
The Grizzlies also got things done on the defensive end, holding Dirk Nowitzki to 11 points, his fewest since an 11-point game on Dec. 9 ... also against the Grizzlies.

In three games against Memphis this season, Nowitzki is 16-of-42 from the field (38 percent), including 2-of-12 from 3-point range.
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NBA

Seahawks, 2003 Patriots share similarities

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
3:30
PM ET

Wire photosTy Law was All-Pro in 2003 for the Patriots. Richard Sherman was All-Pro this season for the Seahawks.
Russell Wilson leads the 2014 Seattle Seahawks into Super Bowl XLIX in his third season as a starter, just as Tom Brady led the 2003 New England Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVIII in his third year starting. But that’s just where the similarities begin between the 2014 Seahawks and 2003 Patriots ...

No. 1 seed in conference
The 2003 Patriots finished the regular season 14-2 and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The 2014 Seahawks finished the regular season 12-4 and were the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Both teams started slowly. The 2003 Patriots were 2-2 before winning their final 12 regular-season games. This season's Seahawks were 3-3 before they won nine of their last 10 regular-season games.

Accurate quarterbacks
Tom Brady threw 23 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in 2003, a ratio of 1.92. That was the seventh-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL.

Russell Wilson threw 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season, a ratio of 2.86. That was the seventh-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL.

Dominant defenses
The Patriots allowed 14.9 points per game in 2003, the fewest in the NFL and their second fewest in franchise history.

The Seahawks allowed 15.9 points per game this season, the fewest in the NFL and their third fewest in franchise history.

Both defenses relied on shutdown cornerbacks. Ty Law was first-team All Pro in 2003 for the Patriots, and Richard Sherman was first-team All Pro this season for the Seahawks.

Unheralded receivers
Deion Branch led the Patriots with 57 receptions in 2003, which tied for 42nd in the NFL.

Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks with 66 receptions this season, which tied for 42nd in the NFL.

The 2003 Patriots ended their season by winning Super Bowl XXXVIII, the same way the 2014 Seahawks hope to end their season in Arizona.

Lynch has second gear after first contact

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
9:16
AM ET

Kirby Lee/USA TodayMarshawn Lynch’s average yards after contact is higher in the postseason than in the regular season.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 157 yards and totaled 183 yards from scrimmage in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers to lead the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

Both totals were career highs for Lynch and highly valuable in a game Russell Wilson posted the second-worst Total QBR (13.6) of his career.

Lynch will look to cap a career-best season with another big performance in Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots.

Better than ever
Lynch has rushed for 1,000 yards and scored double-digit touchdowns in every full season he has played with the Seahawks, but the 2014 season has been his best.

Lynch scored a career-high 17 touchdowns in the regular season, 13 rushing and four receiving. Lynch had five receiving touchdowns in the first seven seasons of his career.

Although he gained more yards from scrimmage in 2012 (1,786) than he did in 2014 (1,673), he made the most of his touches this season. Lynch gained a first down on 26 percent of his offensive touches this season, the highest of his career.

Of course, Lynch is best known for his physical running style. He averaged 2.53 yards after contact on 280 rushes this season. ESPN Stats & Info’s yards-after-contact data goes to 2009, and in that time there have been two instances of a player rushing 200 times and averaging more yards after contact –- and that includes Adrian Peterson’s MVP campaign in 2012.

Key to the Seahawks
Since joining the Seahawks during the 2010 season, Lynch has led the NFL in rushes (1,346), rushing yards (5,930) and rushing touchdowns (54).

As Lynch goes, so do the Seahawks. Including playoffs, the team has gone 39-11 (.780) in games Lynch scores a touchdown and is 14-0 when he scores at least twice. When Lynch doesn’t score, the Seahawks have gone 16-18 (.471, including playoffs), and that doesn’t include the one game Lynch missed since Seattle acquired him (a loss).

Lynch has averaged 107 yards from scrimmage, including 90 yards rushing, in Seahawks wins in his career. In losses, he has averaged 74 yards from scrimmage, including 62 rush yards.

That success has been magnified in the postseason, where Lynch has exceeded his regular-season averages. In nine postseason games, Lynch has averaged 5.0 yards per rush, compared with 4.4 in the regular season. The increase almost exactly matches his increase in rushing yards after contact from the regular season to the postseason.

Lynch has 815 career yards rushing in the postseason, which ranks 13th all time. He needs 77 yards to pass Larry Csonka and move up to eighth. If Lynch does so, he’ll be behind six Hall of Famers (Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris, Thurman Thomas, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen and John Riggins) as well as former Super Bowl and NFL MVP Terrell Davis.

Seahawks' trends equal Patriots' openings

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
9:21
AM ET
The New England Patriots’ game plan seemingly changes week to week based on their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

In the divisional playoffs, the Patriots went an entire half without handing off the football to a running back. In the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots rushed 40 times for three touchdowns.

The Seattle Seahawks provide the Patriots their biggest challenge to date. The Seahawks led the NFL in points and yards allowed the last two seasons, the first team to do so since the 1985-86 Chicago Bears.

So how should the Patriots’ offense approach the Seahawks’ defense?

Avoid the right
Richard Sherman has lined up on the offense’s right on 99 percent of his snaps this postseason, and his presence has made passing to that side a problem for opposing offenses.

When targeting receivers outside the right numbers against the Seahawks this postseason, opponents are 6-of-17 (35 percent) with a touchdown (Randall Cobb) and three interceptions (two by Sherman). Of the six completions, four were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

On passes to the rest of the field this postseason, the Seahawks have allowed a 68 percent completion percentage and two touchdowns and have one interception.

When the Patriots played the Seahawks in 2012, Tom Brady was 3-of-10 with a touchdown and an interception throwing outside the right numbers.

At the time, Sherman was in his second year and emerging as a star. Brady didn’t avoid him much then, but he might this time if the divisional playoffs are any indication.

In the divisional playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens used inexperienced cornerback Rashaan Melvin almost exclusively on the left side (59 of 60 snaps). Brady threw 34 of his 50 passes left of the hashes.

Ground game is key
Running against the Seahawks is key, as they allowed 139 yards on 33 rushes on average in their four losses this season (an average of 73 yards on 22 rushes in 14 wins).

The Seahawks’ rush defense is strong, however, ranking second in yards per rush allowed (3.4) in the regular season. The Seahawks are particularly strong after contact, allowing a league-low 1.35 yards per rush after the first hit.

Against punishing runners such as Jonathan Stewart and Eddie Lacy this postseason, the Seahawks have softened up, allowing 2.27 yards per rush after contact. That’s good news for the Patriots, as LeGarrette Blount led the NFL with 2.57 yards per rush after contact this season.

Feed Gronk
The Patriots know where not to throw the ball, but to whom should they throw? Rob Gronkowski (naturally).

Gronkowski was the Patriots’ leading receiver this season and has a touchdown in five straight games, but going beyond that, tight ends have given the Seahawks’ defense issues this season.

The Seahawks allowed 11 touchdown passes to tight ends in the regular season, tied for third-most in the NFL, with six coming in their four losses.

Seattle ranked 22nd in Total QBR on passes targeting tight ends this season. It ranked first in passes directed toward running backs and wide receivers.

Hassan Whiteside does a lot in a little time

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
4:48
PM ET

David Banks/USA TodayHassan Whiteside (21) set a Heat franchise record with 12 blocked shots.
A player who entered this season with 19 games of NBA experience had one of the most impressive all-around games in Miami Heat history Sunday.

Hassan Whiteside came off the bench for the Heat and registered 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 blocked shots in their 96-84 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Whiteside became the first player with at least 12 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocked shots in a game since Shawn Bradley in 1997-98 with the Dallas Mavericks. In the past 25 years, the only other players to meet those marks have been Shaquille O'Neal (1993-94, with the Orlando Magic) and Dikembe Mutombo (1992-93, Denver Nuggets). Like Whiteside, Bradley came off the bench when he had his triple-dozen.

Whiteside broke the Heat franchise record of nine blocked shots (done by Alonzo Mourning six times). He had the first triple-double that includes blocked shots since Joakim Noah, who had 23 points, 21 rebounds and 11 blocked shots on Feb. 28, 2013.

All 12 of Whiteside’s blocked shots were within six feet of the basket. Seven came when he was a help defender.

Taj Gibson was particularly affected by Whiteside. Five of Gibson’s 10 shots were blocked by Whiteside. No team had blocked five Gibson shots in a game before Sunday.

Whiteside's defense helped the Heat hold the Bulls to their third-worst field goal shooting percentage (35.6 percent) this season. The Bulls shot 33.3 percent in a loss to the Utah Jazz on Jan. 7 and 34.5 percent in a victory at Indiana on Dec. 29.

Whiteside played 19 games with the Sacramento Kings in 2010-11 and 2011-12 and was out of the NBA for two seasons. He became the eighth player in Heat history to post a triple-double, joining LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, O’Neal, Lamar Odom, Billy Owens, Steve Smith and Rory Sparrow.

Whiteside got all of that accomplished in 25 minutes on the court. The last player with 12 or more blocks in 25 minutes or less was Manute Bol in March 1989 for the Golden State Warriors against the Portland Trail Blazers (13 blocks in 20 minutes).

Stats to know: Thompson sets a record

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
1:01
AM ET

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesKlay Thompson scored an NBA-record 37 points in the third quarter on Friday against the Kings.
Klay Thompson made his case to be a 2015 Western Conference All-Star and then some in 12 amazing minutes on Friday night against the Kings.

Thompson scored 37 points in the third quarter, the most in a quarter in NBA history, breaking the mark of 33 shared by George Gervin and Carmelo Anthony.

Perhaps more amazing than that: Thompson was 13-of-13 from the field and 9-of-9 from 3-point range. The nine 3-pointers set a record for a quarter. The 13 field goals tied the NBA mark. Thompson’s teammates were a combined 1-of-7 from the field for four points in the quarter.

Thompson finished with 11 3-pointers for the game, one shy of the NBA record shared by Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall. He shot 73 percent from 3-point range, the best by a player with at least 15 3-point attempts in a game.

Thompson’s performance nearly mimicked that of his teammate, Stephen Curry against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in February, 2013.

Curry shot 64 percent from the field, made 11 3-pointers and finished with 54 points that day. Thompson shot 64 percent from field, made 11 3-pointers and had 52 points in this game.

Coincidence of the Night
Klay and his father, Mychal, each got to be a part of points-in-a-quarter history at Oakland Coliseum.

Mychal Thompson played in the game in which Sleepy Floyd set the NBA playoff record for points in a quarter with 29 for the Warriors against Thompson's Lakers.
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