Catching up on Rip City

Blazers – Rockets

Last night Portland beat a 16-16 Houston team at the Rose Garden by 15 (largest lead: 23). Houston is better than you might believe, though. I think this is a good opportunity to talk about margin of victory (MOV, or point differential if you prefer) a little bit. Despite their .500 record, the Rockets’ MOV is actually better than that of the Blazers, and better than 10 of the 15 Eastern Conference teams. Additionally, the Rockets are now playing with PG Aaron Brooks (23 minutess last night) who was out for 21 games due to injury. They are out of the playoffs currently, but the Rockets are a better team than that .500 record would indicate.

MOV explains over 93% of the variation in win-loss records this season, and thus has been a very accurate indicator of a team’s ability to win games. But what about that other 7%? Obviously, there are weeks where a team wins a nail biter by 1, then another one by 3, then gets hammered by 25. This team went 2-1 on the week, yet had an average MOV of -7.0 points. In other words, in the short term sometimes scores just work out that way due to dumb luck, but in the long term MOV will tend to balance out and explain records extremely well. Small sample sizes can do funny things to stats.

However, in some cases a team might be built to win close games over the long haul. Teams that over perform their MOV expectations for a whole season are likely to be teams that understand how to play situational basketball in the fourth quarter. Thus, they may be able to win the close ones, occasionally take a pounding, and still be able to sport a winning record with an average MOV (0.0). Maybe these teams have a go-to guy late in games, or maybe they shoot free throws really well down the stretch. In any case, they get it done, and it’s not just randomness.

Teams like Houston that under perform MOV expectations may either be unlucky, or perhaps just can’t win the close ones. Regardless, Portland handled Houston from start to finish, and situational play didn’t even matter once the Blazers built a 23-point lead. That’s why I chalk this one up in my hypothetical stat vacuum of a world as a big win over a winning team J.

Last 10 games

In mid December I wrote about the Blazers’ shooting woes –when nearly every major contributor was shooting worse than the 2009-10 season.  At the time, the Blazers’ field goal percentage stood at a paltry 43.3%. It has not improved. In the last ten games, the Blazers accumulated a 6-4 record against average competition (average MOV of -0.1). Despite wins against the Jazz (twice) and Houston, the Blazers also played the Warriors twice and the Wolves –the 13th and 14th best teams in the Western Conference, respectively. A 6-4 record against average competition is hardly something to brag about, but here are some things to get excited about:

*We have a winning record at 18-16, just 3 games off last year’s pace of 21 – 13.

*We have played well without Roy in the lineup – plus 3.0 MOV with an 8-3 record. It would be ridiculous say that the Blazers are better without “normal” Roy, but this season has not featured “normal” Roy.

*Matthews is a stud. When adjusted for threes and free throws, his true field goal percentage is 57.8% this season, exactly the same as some guy named James.

*We have played 15/34 games at home, just 44%, and we are 12-3 at home. Complex math formula: winning home record + increase in future home games = more wins.

*Splitting the season into two halves, our defense has improved by 1.9 points per game in the second half. That’s a big deal. In a regression analysis of just this season, 1.9 points saved defensively equates to a 6.5% increase in win percentage. In other words, that’s an extra win over 17 games, and around 5 more wins in 82 games. 46-36 looks a whole lot better than 41-41.

*Przybilla is likely to return sometime during the Blazers’ upcoming road trip…

Which begins Tuesday night at Dallas at 5:30!



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