NBA

Jazz break through for maiden championship as Nets wait goes on – Stats Perform AI predicts NBA playoffs

By Sports Desk May 18, 2021

It is that time of year again – the NBA playoffs.

Although this season has a different feel due to the new play-in tournament, it's crunch time as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers eye back-to-back championships.

The Utah Jazz claimed the best record in the league for the first time in their history, while Eastern Conference top seed the Philadelphia 76ers and the star-studded Brooklyn Nets loom large.

With the play-in tournament due to get under way to determine the final eight teams from each conference set to feature in the playoffs, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers to find a worthy winner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

The Stats Perform model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team.

Those ratings are paired with the team's opponent and adjusted for each team's pace. In addition, the home team get a slight boost for home-court advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. The winners receive a victory in the race for the Larry O'Brien Trophy – this was done for every game in the playoffs.

So, here are the AI-generated results in the event that the play-in winners are the Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards.

 

Suns sizzle as Lakers crash out, Heat stun Bucks in sweep

Much has been made about the Phoenix Suns this season. Led by All-Star Devin Booker and star veteran Chris Paul, the franchise returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10. Second behind the Jazz in the Western Conference, the Suns ease past the Lakers 4-1. Winning the opening three games 120-93, 90-88 and 105-104, Phoenix never look back as they end the Lakers' quest to land consecutive championships for the first time since 2009-10.

The Milwaukee Bucks loaded up heavily in the offseason, bringing in Jrue Holiday to aid two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in his quest for a title and the franchise's first since 1971. But after trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and semi-finals, the third-seeded Bucks are sensationally swept 4-0 by last season's runners-up the Miami Heat.

Eastern Conference top seed for the first time since 2001, the Joel Embiid-led 76ers flex their muscles 4-2 against the Wizards but it is not easy. Dropping consecutive games to Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Washington, Doc Rivers' Philadelphia rally past the Wizards 112-109, 91-99 and 110-104 to bounce back from last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics.

Boasting a three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, the second-seeded Nets dig deep against the Celtics 4-3 in the east. With all eyes on the star-studded Nets big three following an injury-interrupted regular season, Brooklyn lose two of the opening three matchups but reel off back-to-back victories to set the tone before progressing beyond the first round for the first time since 2013-14 thanks to a 110-91 Game 7 triumph.

Looking to put last season's playoff capitulation behind them, having sensationally surrendered a 3-1 lead at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers make light work of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks 4-1. A 128-106 rout in Game 1 ignites the Clippers, while the third-seeded Nuggets – spearheaded by MVP favourite Nikola Jokic – are upstaged by the Portland Trail Blazers 4-3. Following in the footsteps of the Clippers, Denver cough up a commanding 3-0 lead as Damian Lillard's Trail Blazers complete a stunning comeback.

The New York Knicks and their fans have been waiting since 2013 to play postseason basketball. Their playoff return does not disappoint as the fourth seed – spearheaded by All-Star Julius Randle – make the most of their home-court advantage against the Atlanta Hawks to come out 4-3 winners. Trae Young's Hawks race out to a 3-1 lead but the Knicks are not to be denied.

 

Trail Blazers continue giant-slaying run, Clippers bow out to Jazz as 76ers roll on

Ranked sixth heading into the playoffs, the Trail Blazers defy their seeding by producing another shock performance, this time outlasting the highly fancied Suns in seven games. Western Conference finalists in 2018-19, Portland humble Phoenix 129-96, 117-86 and 126-92 in Games 1, 3 and 4 to seize the momentum and while the Suns storm back to force a series decider, Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Trail Blazers step up to the plate.

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert experienced consecutive first-round exits in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but featuring in their first Conference semi-final since 2018, the Jazz prove too hot for the fourth-ranked Clippers and take a 4-2 series win. Utah, who beat Los Angeles in two of the three regular-season contests, win the opening three games of the second-round series and never look back as pressure mounts on Leonard, Paul George and the championship-chasing Clippers.

The standout teams in the east, the 76ers and Nets barely raise a sweat en route to the Conference Finals. In pursuit of a first championship since 1983, the 76ers sweep the Knicks 4-0, while the Nets end Miami's hopes with their own devastating 4-0 success.

 

Nets conquer 76ers, Jazz rally past Blazers

A matchup many predicted when the 76ers appointed head coach Rivers and the Nets landed former MVP Harden in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets in January. Philadelphia's cast of Embiid, fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, sharp-shooter Seth Curry and Danny Green come up against Durant, Harden, Irving and Blake Griffin, and it is Brooklyn who prevail in a thriller. The Nets and 76ers split the opening six games before a deciding seventh game. With a championship berth on the line, Steve Nash's Nets edge the 76ers 112-109 as question marks again emerge over whether the Philadelphia franchise can succeed with both Embiid and Simmons.

Not since 1997-98 had the Jazz secured a spot in the Finals, having enjoyed back-to-back appearances in the midst of Karl Malone's greatness, but Utah end that drought against Portland. The Jazz overturn 1-0 and 3-2 deficits to finally end the Trail Blazers' fairytale run as Portland fall agonisingly short of their first Finals appearance since 1992.

 

Jazz make history

The last five head coaches to win a title in their first year were Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors, 2019), Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016), Steve Kerr (Warriors, 2015), Pat Riley (Lakers, 1982) and Paul Westhead (Lakers, 1980). Rookie and two-time MVP Nash has been looking to join that list with a Nets side eyeing their maiden championship – having faced a long wait since joining the league in 1976-77.

Despite a frightening array of talent, the Nets go down 4-1 in the Finals as the Jazz make history, headlined by a resounding 121-102 win in Game 5.

After consecutive Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998, the Jazz finally break through for their first NBA title thanks to coach Quin Snyder, Mitchell, Gobert, Mike Conley and Co.

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    Roy Keane could not understand Michael Carrick's praise for his Manchester United players after a 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Sunday.

    United battled to a point away at the Premier League leaders, following up a 2-0 win at Villarreal in Carrick's first game as interim manager.

    The former midfielder is set to be replaced by Ralf Rangnick – another interim appointment – but was encouraged by their display, even as they attempted just three shots. United last had as few as three attempts against Manchester City in April 2017.

    There was certainly a shift in United's approach from their previous league game at Watford, the 4-1 defeat that spelled the end for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seeing only three high turnovers in an extremely passive performance.

    Starting on the path to the more aggressive set-up Rangnick is likely to employ, United had a season-high 14 high turnovers at Stamford Bridge.

    But ex-United captain Keane was irked by the change under Carrick, who previously formed part of Solskjaer's staff.

    Following a Sky Sports interview in which Carrick took issue with the penalty awarded against Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the pundit was asked for his opinion.

    "I disagree with everything he said in that interview," Keane said. "Everything he said – he's talking about a plan, he's talking about the penalty.

    "Of course it was a penalty. We've all looked at it, it's a penalty.

    "He's talking about the players' efforts, he's proud of them... He's been working with the players for the last few months. He was working alongside Ole, he was in the dugout with Ole, and now all of a sudden he's proud of them this week and they had a plan?

    "What about all the other games they had? Why aren't they making effort in the other games? Why aren't they closing down people in the other games?

    "He's talking about the high press – we've seen all the stats before the match, and they're the worst in the league at closing people down, winning the ball back.

    "He's praising players, praising players for doing their jobs. He mentioned the three midfielders... It's ridiculous.

    "He was sitting in the dugout for the last few months with Ole, the last few years – he was sitting with Mourinho, as well. Now, all of a sudden, he's proud of the players this week? He's working with the same players."

  • Carrick dismisses theory Rangnick influenced Man Utd set-up in Chelsea draw Carrick dismisses theory Rangnick influenced Man Utd set-up in Chelsea draw

    Manchester United caretaker manager Michael Carrick insisted his team's set-up in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Chelsea was not influenced by Ralf Rangnick, the man expected to be appointed until the end of the season.

    Carrick was put in charge after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's sacking last weekend and has overseen a win and a draw in his two matches at the helm.

    The tussle with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge came amid reports suggesting United have agreed a deal to appoint Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season, at which point he will move into a consultancy role.

    Rangnick has a fine reputation both as a coach and director, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel considering him an inspiration, while he helped transform German clubs Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig.

    While no announcement has been made yet by United, it was widely speculated that Rangnick's famed style of play – based on aggressive pressing and attacking – was being looked to by Carrick at Stamford Bridge.

    Cristiano Ronaldo, criticised in some quarters for his off-the-ball work ethic, was dropped to the bench and United appeared to press with much greater purpose than they generally did under Solskjaer, though Carrick seemed to suggest it was a mere coincidence rather than a plan hatched by Rangnick.

    Asked by BBC Sport if Rangnick had influenced their set-up, Carrick said: "No, that's not the case."

    Instead, the approach was based on an acceptance that United would have to graft for any form of positive result.

    "To come away disappointed and to feel like you have left something out there is a positive," Carrick said. "That intent and that hunger summed us up today. We knew it wasn't going to be free-flowing football at times, but we were prepared to dig in."

    United took the lead early in the second half with one of just three shots they had over the match – Jadon Sancho seized on a Jorginho error before beating Edouard Mendy, though the Italy midfielder later made amends from the penalty spot.

    "I don't think it was a penalty at all," Carrick said. "They have had a lot of shots, David [De Gea] had [some] saves, which we knew before the game he would have to make one or two.

    "Other than that, I have felt quite comfortable in the game. Of course, we want to be better. I'm not getting carried away, but I thought we defended well. I cannot fault the boys one bit."

    While Carrick might have felt Chelsea did not offer much, expected goals (xG) data suggests the Blues would have been worthy winners, creating chances worth 2.54 xG to United's 0.82.

    This was not lost on De Gea, who made four of his five saves in the first half, though the in-form Spanish goalkeeper considered the bigger picture.

    "On the pitch, in the goal, I was feeling danger for nearly the whole game," De Gea told Sky Sports. "We defended well, they missed big chances as well, and then once they gave us a chance and we score.

    "It is not enough to draw but, at the moment, with the way we are, it is a big point. The last games before, we were conceding three or four goals.

    "Now we concede one from a penalty, and a clean sheet against Villarreal. We are improving, but this is just two games. We need to show it in the games that are coming.

    "We were playing very poor. At least now we are defending well. We are fighting for every ball. I think that's good. Like I say, I'm proud of the team, we are fighting for every ball, but that's the minimum for Manchester United players."

  • Tuchel aims to 'steal back' points Chelsea dropped in Man Utd draw Tuchel aims to 'steal back' points Chelsea dropped in Man Utd draw

    Thomas Tuchel declared himself "absolutely happy" with Chelsea's performance against Manchester United and promised to "steal back" the points they dropped in a 1-1 draw.

    Premier League leaders Chelsea moved only a point clear of Manchester City after they were held at home on Sunday.

    Jadon Sancho pounced on a Jorginho error to score his first Premier League goal, before the Chelsea midfielder responded by converting an equalising penalty.

    This was a second consecutive home game in which Chelsea have failed to deliver maximum points, also drawing 1-1 with Burnley.

    Frustratingly for Tuchel, the United match followed the pattern of the Burnley game in that Chelsea dominated; across those games, the Blues have attempted 49 shots and faced just eight while taking 100 touches in the opposition penalty area.

    "We cannot be surprised. Things like this happen," the coach told Sky Sports.

    "It's happened now twice to us that we invest so much and we play such good games against Burnley and Man United and feel a bit disappointed, because we feel we did by far enough and pushed the limits and pushed the standards to win these games.

    "Over a long season, you drop points and you dig in and you try to steal them back if somebody steals points from you. This is what we do.

    "We don't count the points, when we are four up or one down or whatever. We are in the middle of the race, and this is where we want to be. From there, we go."

    Tuchel said he could "not at all" see the influence of Ralf Rangnick – his mentor, set to be appointed at Old Trafford – in United's play and was also "not at all" surprised by the visitors' performance.

    Of his own side, he said: "I'm happy, absolutely happy. I was happy to coach the team, I saw a huge effort, big intensity.

    "We had so many ball recoveries in the opponents' half, put the pressure up high. We controlled the counter-attacks before they started. We were brave and courageous.

    "They defended deep and you need maybe the first goal to open it a bit and to gain the last per cent of maybe freedom and confidence to have follow-ups and goals and big chances.

    "If you don't score, you always run a bit behind, because you feel that you're the stronger team, you play in the opponents' half.

    "We had two or three big chances that we should have maybe used, but in general I'm very happy, because I like the way we played."

    Chelsea are now winless in eight against United in the Premier League, their second-longest such league sequence in this fixture.

    It was the fifth time the Blues have hosted United as the Premier League leaders, winning three and losing one of the previous four. The three victories were followed by title triumphs.

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