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Three Stats to Watch: Sunday, May 23, 2021

Before Sunday's four Game 1s tip off, here are three stats to watch and how they will impact each matchup.

Brian Martin, for NBA.com

After surviving the Play-In Tournament, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers begin their title defense on the road against the Suns.

(8) Washington Wizards at (1) Philadelphia 76ers, 1 p.m. ET, TNT
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(7) Los Angeles Lakers at (7) Phoenix Suns, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
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(5) Atlanta Hawks at (4) New York Knicks, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
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(8) Memphis Grizzlies at (1) Utah Jazz, 9:30 p.m. ET, TNT
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1. Efficiency Ratings

TEAM OFF RATING DEF RATING NET RATING
WAS 110.7 (17) 112.3 (20) -1.6 (22)
PHI 112.5 (13) 107.0 (2) 5.5 (5)

No team saw a bigger in-season turnaround this season than the Washington Wizards, who went 17-32 through the first two/thirds of the season before closing with a 17-6 record since April 7. So their efficiency rankings above are a bit misleading as they are weighed down by the Wizards’ early-season struggles and do not show just how well this team has been playing heading toward the postseason.

Since April 7, the Wizards have the second-best record in the league, rank seventh in both offensive (116.2) and defensive (110.5) rating and fifth in net rating (5.7). During that same time, the Sixers ranked third in net rating (7.2), but their advantage (plus-1.5) is much smaller than when comparing the full season (plus 7.1).

TEAM OFF RATING DEF RATING NET RATING
LAL 109.8 (24) 106.8 91) 2.9 (8)
PHX 116.3 (7) 110.4 (6) 5.9 (3)

With their top two scorers missing a combined 63 games – 36 for Anthony Davis, 27 for LeBron James – the Lakers’ offense took a step back this season (24th in league) compared to their championship season a year ago (11th in league). However, their defense remained stout, leading the league in points allowed per 100 possessions.

Meanwhile, the Suns finished the regular season as one of two teams (along with Utah) to rank in the top seven in both offensive and defensive rating. They were also the only two teams to crack the 50-win plateau in this 72-game season.

TEAM OFF RATING DEF RATING NET RATING
ATL 114.3 (9) 112.1 (18) 2.2 (11)
NYK 110.2 (22) 107.8 (4) 2.4 (9)

The Knicks and Hawks finished the regular season with matching 41-31 records, nearly matching net ratings (2.4 for New York, 2.2 for Atlanta), but they got there in different ways. The Hawks relied on their top-10 offense to carry them night-to-night, while the Knicks finished fourth in defensive rating to make up for their 22nd-ranked offense. Which will win out in a seven-game playoff series? The Knicks swept the Hawks in the regular season, 3-0, to earn the head-to-head tiebreaker and home-court advantage in this series.

TEAM OFF RATING DEF RATING NET RATING
MEM 111.7 (15) 110.5 (7) 1.2 (14)
UTA 116.5 (4) 107.5 (3) 9.0 (1)

The Jazz finished with the top net rating in the league by a wide margin, a 2.9 point advantage over second-ranked LA Clippers. Can the Jazz carry that regular season success into the playoffs? Over the past three seasons, the team that finished with the top net rating did not reach the NBA Finals: 2017-18 (HOU, 8.4, lost West Finals); 2018-19 (MIL, 8.6, lost East Finals); 2019-20 (MIL, 9.4, lost East Semis). In 2016-17, the Warriors posted an 11.4 net rating and won the NBA championship.

2. Clutch / Close Games / Blowouts

TEAM CLUTCH WIN% W-L (+/-5 PTS) W (20+ PTS)
WAS 19-20 (0.487) (18) 15-12 4
PHI 25-9 (0.735) (1) 10-5 11

The Sixers finished with the top record in clutch games and had the fifth-highest point differential on a per-minute basis (0.32), as the Sixers finished plus-44 in 136 clutch minutes.

The Wizards have two of the top five clutch scorers this season – Bradley Beal finished second with 150 points in 141 clutch minutes; Russell Westbrook finished tied for fourth with 131 points in 154 clutch minutes.

TEAM CLUTCH WIN% W-L (+/-5 PTS) W (20+ PTS)
LAL 21-14 (0.600) (5) 9-9 8
PHX 25-12 (0.676) (2) 14-10 11

More than half of Phoenix’s games this season were either decided by five point or less (14-10) or by 20 points or more (11-4).

The Lakers secured the No. 7 seed in the playoffs thanks to a clutch 3-pointer from LeBron James with a minute remaining in a tie game with the Warriors. Prior to the Play-In, LeBron had shot 6-18 from the field and 1-10 from 3-point range in single-possession games (score within three points) in the final minute.

TEAM CLUTCH WIN% W-L (+/-5 PTS) W (20+ PTS)
ATL 18-18 (0.500) (T-14) 8-7 5
NYK 20-16 (0.556) (9) 10-10 6

All three regular season games between the Knicks and Hawks had clutch time. In 14 clutch minutes over those three games, the Knicks outscored the Hawks 46-23 and shot 60% (15-25) form the field, 70% (7-10) from 3-point range and 81.8% (9-11) from the free throw line, with 11 assists and only four turnovers.

TEAM CLUTCH WIN% W-L (+/-5 PTS) W (20+ PTS)
MEM 19-19 (0.500) (T-14) 9-10 4
UTA 17-13 (0.567) (8) 6-8 14

The Jazz won as many games by 20 points or more (league-high 14) as they had total games decided by five points or less (14). While the Grizzlies finished the regular season 9-10 in games decided by five points or less, they went 2-0 in such games in the Play-In Tournament to earn their playoff berth and this first round matchup with Utah.

3. The Kerr Stats

TEAM OPP EFG% AST% TOV%
WAS 53.9% (15) 59.0% (19) 13.7% (16)
PHI 52.1% (3) 57.2% (23) 14.3% (20)

The Sixers (18.1 ppg) and Wizards (18.0 ppg) rank fourth and eighth, respectively, in points off turnovers per game. With both teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in turnover percentage, which team will be able to take advantage of the other’s mistakes in this series.

TEAM OPP EFG% AST% TOV%
LAL 52.6% (5) 60.7% (15) 15.2% (28)
PHX 53.4% (10) 62.2% (9) 12.6% (4)

While the Lakers finished with the third-worst turnover percentage over the course of the season (15.2%), the numbers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis both on court (13.5%) were far better than when they were both out (15.7%). In their play-in win over Golden State, the Lakers committed only 11 turnovers, compared to 20 for the Warriors. Phoenix, on the other hand, has excelled at taking care of the ball all season long; having Chris Paul definitely helps as he finished his first season in Phoenix ranked second in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.99.

TEAM OPP EFG% AST% TOV%
ATL 53.0% (6) 59.1% (18) 13.3% (10)
NYK 50.9% (2) 54.3% (29) 13.3% (11)

The Knicks (29th) and Hawks (18th) both rank in the bottom half of the league in assist percentage. Both teams rely heavily on pick-and-roll ball handler plays, which account fo 22.3% of each teams’ total plays (2nd highest frequency in league), per Synergy. The Hawks have the edge in efficiency on those plays, scoring 0.93 points per possession, compared to 0.88 for New York.

The Knicks also rank fourth in isolation frequency, accounting for 8.5% of their plays; nearly double the percentage of Atlanta (4.9%, 25th in NBA). Julius Randle is tied for third in isolation scoring at 5.0 points per game, trailing only James Harden and Damian Lillard.

TEAM OPP EFG% AST% TOV%
MEM 53.5% (12) 62.8% (7) 13.1% (6)
UTA 50.7% (1) 57.3% (22) 14.2% (19)

The Jazz led the NBA in opponent effective field goal percentage (50.7%) thanks in part to their 3-point defense as they allow the second-lowest percentage (34.2%) and third-fewest attempts (31.7 per game). However, their first round opponent, Memphis, does not rely heavily on the 3-point shot (23rd with 31.4 3-point attempts per game). Instead, the Grizzlies lead the NBA in points in the paint (55.8 per game). Utah ranks eighth in lowest field goal percentage allowed inside the restricted area (63.0%) and the rest of the paint outside the restricted area (41.6%).

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