Opening Week (Kind of)

We did our best to get this out right after opening week, but we are both busy college students in our Junior year. That is why it is “Kind of” an opening week spar.

Anyway, here it is.

Joe to Greg

After almost two complete weeks of baseball, we can finally say the season is underway. Seattle looks like a completely different team as they own the best run differential in the league (+18) early on. Their first 16 games come against either the Angels, Athletics, or Rangers; Coming out of the gates with at least 10 wins can put the Mariners in great position to start the season.

I don’t know what to think of the AL East yet, but I think how teams start the season in that division goes a long way in determining who comes out on top at the end. I think there is the possibility of three teams getting into the playoffs out of that division depending on how much they beat each other up. The Miami Marlins have started strong, or at least Giancarlo Stanton (who already has 12 RBIs). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Arizona Diamondbacks have started 2-8, which baffles me because of Mark Trumbo‘s play early on (5 HRs, 13 RBIs, .282 AVG). They’ve dug themselves a hole that they need to climb out of sooner rather than later with the Dodgers and Giants off to strong starts.

What are your early impressions of the league?

Greg to Joe

My early impressions are that the Yankees are severely overvalued in Vegas. Almost every game they have played, the GDM has found an advantage. I was scared when the GDM said I should bet Astros on the first day of the season, but I was quickly calmed down after CC Sabathia gave up 4 runs in the first. Now, I am really thinking that the Yankees are not that good. Their starting pitching is just not good enough. When Masahiro Tanaka (a pitcher that was always touted as good but not Yu Darvish good) is clearly the ace of the staff, you have problems in the pitching department. Tanaka is striking out a lot of guys now, but look for him to turn into more of groundball pitcher with the devastating splitter.

I LOVE watching Jose Fernandez pitch, and I am sure I am not the only one. Whenever he starts, the Marlins are favorites in Vegas, and rightfully so. He just strikes people out like it is nobody’s business. He is averaging 12 strikeouts per nine innings. That is unheard of from a starter. Obviously, that number will go down, but I think that he will be a serious threat to average double digit strikeouts per nine innings throughout the season. That would be why he is my projected NL Cy Young Award winner.

With that prediction out there, do you have any predictions for any of the other awards?

Joe to Greg

Image of CC Sabathia's astonishing weight loss (BleacherReport.com)

Image of CC Sabathia’s astonishing weight loss (BleacherReport.com)

You made a good point about Tanaka. After giving up a home run to the first batter he faced, he’s looked just fine. I can’t remember the analyst who initially mentioned this, but CC Sabathia’s velocity went down when he started losing weight. He wasn’t creating that power behind every pitch, and I think that’s a big reason why he went 14-13 last season. This is a minor prediction, but if Tanaka shines during the first half of the season and Sabathia continues his form from last season, I could see a change in the pitching rotation around the All-Star break. I never played baseball myself so I don’t know all the logistics of changing a starting rotation midway through the season. Nonetheless, I agree that the Yankees starting pitching needs some work.

As far as any other major award predictions, I’m looking for another AL MVP race between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Without trying to sound like too much of a homer, I would love to see Xander Bogaerts explode onto the scene. He has tremendous potential, but I think the expectations for him skyrocketed when he played well in the playoffs last year, which could impact people’s perception of him. On the NL side, I agree with the Fernandez pick. He’s just a stud, but another pitcher I’m starting to like a lot is Fernandez’s teammate, Nathan Eovaldi. He has great velocity on his pitches, average fastball velocity of 95.5 mph. He gets a fair amount of K’s (6 in his first start, 8 in his second), and I think if the Marlins want to contend with the Braves and Nationals, they’ll need support from someone other than Fernandez.

What are your thoughts about Ervin Santana‘s recent start for the Braves? He went eight shutout innings. Could he sneak into the conversation for CY young?

Greg to Joe

Pitching rotation changes don’t need to specifically happen. Tanaka will just be referred to as the Yankees’ ace, and he may already be referred to as that. Sabathia has started to lose velocity on his average fastball since 2009, according to Pitch F/X. The Yankees should have never resigned him to a huge extension in 2011.

As far the awards, the AL MVP shouldn’t be a race. It will be Mike Trout. He was by far the best player in ALL OF BASEBALL the past two seasons, and this year, he will finally get what he deserves. I think Bogaerts will be in the running for AL Rookie of the year, but he will be chasing Jose Abreu, and possibly Tanaka. Abreu is awesome to watch at the plate. I am pumped I have him on my fantasy team in the Barry Bonds’ Ball Sack league.  NL Rookie of the year will go to Chrisitan Yelich, Travis d’Arnaud, Michael Wacha, or Billy Hamilton. If Hamilton steals 80 bases, he will probably win it, but I actually think Yelich could run away with it if he could get his hitting straightened out. My (random) NL MVP prediction is it will come down to Freddie Freeman and Yadier Molina. It will be decided by how many games the Braves and Cardinals win.

I like Nathan Eovaldi too. I think he could be a number 2 or 3 starter in the Marlins’ rotation when they are in contention again, which will be two years from now.

Ervin Santana’s start does not mean much to me. I think that will be the best game he pitches all season. I think that Santana will revert to his normal self and finish with an ERA and FIP around 4. We’ll see if I am right about this, but we’ll find out as the season goes on.

You excited about the Sox – Yanks series this weekend?

Joe to Greg

I’m excited for the Sox-Yanks series because I’m starting to appreciate the amount of games that Derek Jeter has left in the rivalry. That being said, they just lost this afternoon after a big performance against none other than CC Sabathia! I love this guy! Keep having him pitch against the Sox because its producing great outcomes for the Sox. Should we be worried about the Sox (5-7) and Orioles’ (4-6) sluggish starts? I know it’s extremely early, but the AL East is ridiculously competitive.

Talk about starting off on the right note, the Brewers (8-2) sweep the Sox in Boston, and then go into Philly and sweep them too. The NL Central looks like another ridiculous competitive division between the Brewers, Cards, and Pirates. Who do you think comes out of this division? Actually, while we’re here, can we just make a couple of predictions for the playoffs?

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels

AL Wild Card Matchup: Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees (How awesome would it be to see a one game play-in game between the oldest rivals in the game?)

NL East: Atlanta Braves

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: San Francisco Giants

NL Wild Card Matchup: LA Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals

Greg to Joe

I don’t think that the Sox have much to worry about, but the Orioles could be in trouble. They have been sluggish offensively beginning in the second half of last season. They are regarded as a high power offense, but post-All Star break, they ranked 14th in the OPS and 16th in runs. That is mediocre for a “top offense”.

For predictions, I posted my over/under totals bets that should have been made. When I was doing that, I made my playoff picture off of those win totals.

AL East: Tamba Bay Rays

AL Central: Cleveland Indians

AL West: Oakland Athletics

AL Wild Card:  Toronto Blue Jays @ Boston Red Sox

You knew I didn’t like the Yankees from my over/under post, but there is a noticeable difference in my playoff picture than probably everyone else in the country. I don’t have the Tigers in the postseason. They were also one of my biggest under bets for the season, and I didn’t write about it because I couldn’t explain it. Now, I can. It was because their top 5 starters actually got to start almost 160 of their games last season and that is nearly impossible. I expect some time missed from their top starters, and I don’t think their bullpen is that great either. I guess that is my boldest prediction for this season, but we will see what happens.

NL East: Washington Nationals

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card: SF Giants @ Atlanta Braves

Pretty much chalk in my predictions here. I guess the biggest surprise is no Pirates, but I think the Giants will be able to get some more wins in a much worse NL West.

Greg Danchik and Joe Meola

2014 Injury All-Stars

Welcome back to Beyond the Arc. This time we’ll be taking a look at the All-Star lineups for the most injured players this season and how these players have impacted the success of their teams. To qualify for a spot on this prestigious roster, a player has to meet a combination of the following guidelines:

  1. Player X is ruled out for the whole season/remainder of the season

  2. Player X is coming back from an injury from the previous year that falls under (1)

  3. If Player X doesn’t satisfy (1) or (2), then he must have miss a minimum of 15 games during the current season.

  4. Player X, abiding by (1), (2), or (3), must be considered a starter on his respective team or is a pivotal bench player.

  5. If (4) is undetermined, Player X has to play at least 10 minutes per game for his respective team in conjunction with (1), (2), or (3).

  6. Player X can’t be an All-Star from the current season, unless you’re Dwayne Wade.

The format for the line-ups will follow the same format as the usual All-Star lineups with a little twist:

  • Starters: G,G,F,F,F

  • Reserves: UTIL,UTIL

While there are numerous injuries and players that could appear on this list, we will only focus on the 5 starters and 2-3 honorable mentions for a reserve spot. Without further ado, your 2014 Injury All-Stars:

Note:

-Stats reflect all games played through Saturday, March 29th.

-Through Saturday, March 29th, approximately 75 games have been played per team

– (Player Name/Team/Games Missed/Dominant Injury/Reasoning)

Eastern Conference:

-Starters

G: Deron Williams / Brooklyn Nets / 17 games and counting / Ankle

—Williams has been dealing with ankle issues frequently over the past seasons. He missed over 20 games in 2011-12 and rebounded nicely last year, only missed four games in total. The struggles of the Nets this season has a lot to do with the absence of Williams; they’ve managed to go 7-9 during the games Williams has missed. Prior to January 15th of this year, Williams had already suffered three sprained ankles in this season alone.

G: Dwayne Wade / Miami Heat / 20 games and counting / Hamstring

—It’s hard to tell whether the injuries to Wade are legitimate or he is finally showing signs of slowing down. Wade’s overall offensive efficiency is slowing down and it is not because LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team. Wade’s ppg averages from the 2008-09 season and on (30.2, 26.6, 25.5, 22.1, 21.2, 19.2). In 2008-09 people forget that he lead the league in scoring. Even though he is the only player on this list that played in the actual All-Star game this year, his injuries and health are a huge factor in the Heat’s quest for a three-peat.

F: Luol Deng / Chicago Bulls & Cleveland Cavaliers / 16 games and counting / Ankle

—Deng has been dealing with a nagging ankle all season, but that isn’t his biggest concern. He had to carry the Bulls scoring load when D-Rose went down and after playing his first 10 seasons in Chicago, got traded before the deadline to Cleveland. Unfortunately he has not adjusted well, in 35 games with the Cavs he’s averaging 14.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, while shooting 42% from the field. When he was with Chicago, through 23 games he averaged 19.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.7 apg, while shooting 45% from the field.

F: Brook Lopez / Brooklyn Nets / 58 games and counting / Right Foot

—Brooklyn fans must be honored to have TWO players starting for the 2014 Injury All-Stars. The reason for Brooklyn’s struggles has a lot to do with the absence of Lopez and Williams but Brooklyn has found ways to cope with the loss. Through the first 17 games, Lopez was averaging 20.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 1.8 bpg while shooting 56% from the field and 81% from free throws (both career highs). Missing this type of production can hurt a team in the long-run; especially Lopez’s presence on the defensive end.

F: Al Horford / Atlanta Hawks / 46 games and counting / Chest

—Before the injury, Horford was one of the top centers in the league. He averaged 18.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg, and shot 57% from the field. The irony of his injury is that he suffered a torn right pectoral muscle; one season removed from tearing his left pectoral muscle. When he went down the Hawks were 16-13 and in 3rd place in the East; currently they’re 31-40 and trying to fend off the Knicks for the 8th seed.

-Reserves:

UTIL: Rajon Rondo / Boston Celtics / 49 games and counting / Knee

—Rondo has finally come back after missing the first half of the season and parts of last season due to an ACL injury. In the 25 games he’s been back, he’s quietly averaged 11.3 ppg, 9.4 apg, 5.1 rpg. His shooting has gone down (38% this year compared to 48% last year) but that is expected as he readjusts himself to the usual day-to-day grind of the league. He’ll continue to miss games on occasion since the Celtics are destined for a potential top-5 pick in the upcoming draft, and also as a pre-cautionary measure to rest what could be the future of the Celtics organization.

UTIL: Tyson Chandler / New York Knicks / 27 games and counting / Leg

—It’s tough to pin point one reason for the Knicks subpar season but they’re only 1 game out of the final playoff spot. Injuries have hurt this team but when Tyson Chandler broke his leg at the beginning of November, the Knicks season went into a spiral. The Knicks started a modest 1-2 and after Chandler got hurt in the fourth game of the season, they followed up with a 6-15 record over their next 21 games. The Knicks season may make the post season, but the injury to Chandler cost them a chance at a higher seed.

Western Conference:

-Starters

G: Russell Westbrook / Oklahoma City Thunder / 32 games and counting / Knee

—Westbrook is one of the most frustrating injured players this year. He came back almost a month earlier than expected, only to miss another whole month. He’s been rested on back-to-back nights and somehow the Thunder are only 3 games out of the #1 seed in the West. When healthy he is one of the top 10 players in the league and one of the top three point guards in the league. He gets a nod on this list because the Thunder are a completely different team when Westbrook and Durant play together.

G: J.J. Redick / Los Angeles Clippers / 44 games and counting / Back

—Towards the beginning of the season, Redick averaged the most points in the 1st quarter of any player. He was the go to shooter to start the game off. On top of that, the injury he’s sustained has limited him in a season where he is averaging career highs. In 30 games, he’s averaged career highs in ppg (15.7), free throw % (.914), field goal % (.459), and steals (0.8). Luckily for the Clippers there are other pieces to the puzzle (i.e. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin) so the loss of JJ isn’t catastrophic but having a shooting guard with his shooting touch can come in handy in the playoffs. Remember this?

F: Marc Gasol / Memphis Grizzlies / 24 games and counting / Knee

—What a relief it was to see Gasol come back to the Grizzlies sooner rather than later. He may be having one of his worst offensive seasons to date, but his presence on the defensive end goes beyond the stats you see. The Grizzlies as a team allow the fewest amounts of opponent’s rebounds. On top of their rebounding abilities, they currently have the most amount of 2pt field goals made and the least amount of 3pt field goals made. This team loves playing inside and Gasol has a lot to do with that.

F: Ryan Anderson / New Orleans Pelicans / 52 games and counting / Neck

—A victim of a season ending injury, Anderson’s absence has definitely been felt. The Pelicans are currently 32-42. Before Anderson went down they were 15-16. On top of that, Anderson, like many of the other injured All-Stars, was having a career season. Through the 22 games he played, his 19.8 ppg, .409 3pt FG%, and .952 FT% were career highs. You can’t replace those numbers, even Anthony Davis can’t spread the floor like Anderson because of his long-range abilities.

F: Nikola Pekovic / Minnesota Timberwolves / 21 games and counting / Ankle

—Another career high season that was crushed by injuries. Pekovic was a nice complement to Kevin Love, the only problem is both of them don’t know how to play defense. This is weird because when THIS is your go-to play, Kevin Love really should really never have to leave his defensive paint.

Pekovic’s career season numbers: 17.4 ppg and 8.7 rpg + 2pt FG per game (7.0).

-Reserves:

UTIL: Kawhi Leonard / San Antonio Spurs / 15 games and counting / Wrist

This is the only statistic you need to know about how much Leonard means to the Spurs right now:

He returned from his wrist injury on February 26th. As of today (April 1st) the Spurs haven’t lost since Leonard came back, including the entire month of March. They’re currently on an 18 game winning streak. Wait. No…they’re currently on an 18 game kawhinning streak.

UTIL: Eric Bledsoe / Phoenix Suns / 39 games and counting / Meniscus

—Bledsoe moves out from behind Chris Paul’s shadow when he moved from Los Angeles at the start of the season. We’ve talked about Goran Dragic’s performance this season but the Suns as a team has shocked a lot of people (myself included). I was bold enough to make the prediction during my NBA season preview that the Suns would finish dead last in the standings. To my surprise they are currently in the 9th seed looking for a crack at one of the West’s top teams. Back to Bledsoe; if he was healthy and didn’t miss almost 40 games, his 17.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 4.5 rpg would look a lot better. This sort of production is hard to make up for but the play of Gerald Green has been a nice compliment to Dragic’s spectacular season.

 

Cross-Conference Honorable Mentions:

Chris Paul: He’s missed games (19) but the play of Blake Griffin in his absence is the main reason why the Clippers are eying a top 4 seed in the West. Somehow he is still leading the league in assists per game and steals per game.

Kobe Bryant: It isn’t a true NBA season without one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA isn’t competing. After coming back from a devastating Achilles injury, Bryant got hit in his knee, forcing him to miss the entire 2014 season.

Derrick Rose: One of the most unfortunate injury stories of the past two years. Derrick Rose sat out all of last year in preparation for a big 2013-2014 campaign. He only played 10 games this season before tearing his meniscus. Between Rose and Bryant, both will be at the center of attention when next season rolls along. The NBA is better off with high caliber players.

In the end, injuries are apart of the game. You never want to see a team depleted with injuries, but sometimes a team that loses an impact player can rally around the cause and create a run.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks as the NBA playoffs approach and mock drafts come in in all different shapes and sizes.

Stay healthy and stay safe so you don’t suffer the types of injuries that these players did and as always, continue to enjoy!

-Twitter: @brosephmeola

-Email: senseimeola@gmail.com

 

Opening Day

Yesterday was like Christmas morning, for so many reasons.

The biggest reason that I was excited was there would be a nearly full slate of baseball games on over the course of the entire day. At any point in the day, I could have had MLB.tv on with a game playing. (Yes, MLB.tv is still the greatest invention for a baseball fan. The biggest issue they need to fix is their blackout policies.)

The other reason that I got extremely excited is it was the first full debut of the Greg Danchik Model, or GDM. Yes, I am selfish enough to name the model after myself.

The GDM is a model to predict the outcome of Major League Baseball games relative to the implied odds that sportsbooks give out every day.

The four main ideas behind the model are…

  1. The order of the lineup matters! If a player can contribute more runs to a teams total runs, you want them higher in the order. Therefore, runs scored for each team is totally lineup dependent.
  2. Defensive statistics are unreliable. If Vegas is using them, it could be a disadvantage to them. I am going to stick to the basics of hitting and pitching, which are much easier to quantify and predict (not that either is actually easy).
  3. The best way to predict how good a bullpen is going to be is by using the average bullpen statistics from last year. Relievers, other than Mariano Rivera, are the most fickle of all athletes. They come from everywhere including from behind the plate, like Kenley Jansen. It is really too hard to predict game to game how to relievers will be used or perform. That’s why I am sticking to the average.
  4. Using projected stats from projection systems that have proven to be accurate will be better than using past statistics. I do not know if this is true, but it is what I believe, so it is what I am doing.

I am not going to break it down much further, but I will give some results from Opening Day.

Felix Hernandez delivering a pitch in the first inning of the Mariners Opening Day game in 2014 (Photo Cred: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

Felix Hernandez delivering a pitch in the first inning of the Mariners Opening Day game in 2014 (Photo Cred: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

This rudimentary model only went 5-3, but I couldn’t have been more ecstatic to see Danny Farquhar finish off the Angels after the Mariners extended their lead in the 9th around 1:30 am EST. The game that started with Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez at 10 pm EST had finally come to a close. That signaled an above .500 Opening Day, and I, now, feel justified for spending a lot of my spare time over spring break getting this done before Opening Day.

And here’s to hoping for more, or mostly, above .500 days for the reminder of the MLB season.

Greg Danchik

Baseball Over/Under Totals

The baseball over/under win totals were posted late February. I had been looking at them for almost every day they were out. I also began to research the types of statistics contribute the most to runs scored by a team. I came across RPA at The Baseball Think Factory.

If you don’t want to click the link, the idea is that every possible outcome a batter can have contributes X runs. Baseball Think Factory determined what those values were, and I used those values and the ZIPS projections developed by Dan Szymborski to create the amount of runs each player would create this season. I added the players on each team to get the runs scored for each team. To get runs given up by each team, I added ZIPS projected earned runs of the players on each team. I divided this number by .92 because that is a rough approximation of the relationship to earned runs and runs.

After calculating the runs scored and runs given up by each team, I used Bill James Pythagorean Theory to calculate the win percentages. Multiplying the win percentage by 162 games gave me the wins for each team.

This system has a lot of assumptions. The biggest one is that every baseball team has the same defensive skill. This system does not include the amount of wins that defense creates/loses. It also assumes that ZIPS is the best projection system. The system also assumes no trades throughout the season. These assumptions, among others, are the reasons these projections could be off. I am only suggesting my top 4 bets as these are the only bets that had a greater than 10 run difference from the Vegas totals.

Without further explanation, here are my best bets for the season-long over/under totals

Houston Astros Over 63 Wins

George Springer introduced as the Houston Astros' 2011 First Round Draft pick (Photo Cred: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America)

George Springer introduced as the Houston Astros’ 2011 First Round Draft pick (Photo Cred: Bob Levey/Getty Images North America)

The Houston Astros are an interesting team for this season. Last summer, I wrote about how they will win a World Series in a couple years. It turns out, the initial stock of young guys that they have been storing up in the minors are ready to perform in The Show.

George Springer is the biggest name. I think that he will end up with a starting job out of spring training, and here is what I think he can do this year. They also traded for Dexter Fowler, which is an upgrade for them. If Jason Castro puts together a 2014 like his 2013 and Chris Carter cuts down on the strikeouts, the Astros have a nice core that can easily clear 63 wins. And don’t forget, Mark Appel, number 1 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, will probably come up after the Super Two deadline.

I am actually excited to watch the Astros this year, unlike last year’s squad of horrendous talent.

New York Mets Over 73.5 & Chicago Cubs Over 69

Zack Wheeler pitching against the Nationals during the 2013 Spring Training (Photo Cred: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Zack Wheeler pitching against the Nationals during the 2013 Spring Training (Photo Cred: Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

The Mets and Cubs are in a similar situation as the Astros. They are both rebuilding teams, but they are further along than the Astros.

The Mets are primed with young talent. They have built their farm system through some good trades. They have picked up Zack Wheeler (Carlos Beltran Trade), Travis d’Arnaud, and Noah Syndergaard (R.A. Dickey Trade). They also have drafted and signed international free agents well too with Matt Harvey and Rafael Montero. I expect everyone i have listed, except Harvey, to be playing for the Mets by the end of the year. With the Curtis Granderson signing to help with the offense, they should be able to clear 73 wins with ease and make a run at a .500 record.

For the Cubs, their season is going to depend on Jeff Samardzija future because he is the best pitcher on the Cubs’ staff, and their biggest question is how many runs are they going to give up. They are definitely going to score runs with Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Nate Schierholtz, but the pitching will be in serious question if/when Samardzija gets traded.

You want to know how I know it is in trouble? The ORIOLES got rid of the 2 of the 5 starters in the Cubs’ staff. However, ZIPS projects a breakout for Jake Arrieta and no drop-off from Travis Wood. I trust those projections, and my win total of 80 wins.

New York Yankees Under 86.5

Brian McCann at his press conference after signing with the Yankees (Photo Cred: AP)

Brian McCann at his press conference after signing with the Yankees (Photo Cred: AP)

The Yankees are another year older, and I do not think they upgraded enough in the off-season to get them more wins than last year’s 85. They got big upgrades with Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury. However, that just bolsters the offense, and their pitching was the biggest problem last year.

I believe that the Yankees did not do nearly enough to help the pitching. CC Sabathia hasn’t hit 90 mph yet this spring, and I do not see him improving on last year’s numbers. Also, they can’t count on Masahiro Tanaka to be Yu Darvish. They have 3 starters that are 2 or 3 starters in a good rotation, but no ace. Tack on a terrible back-end of the starting rotation and no Mariano Rivera, the Yankees are gonna give up a ton of runs.

Take these to Vegas, and dominate

Greg Danchik

March Madness in the NBA

Look who’s back at it.

Welcome back to Beyond the Arc. After two months dedicated to completely digesting the action across the NBA, it’s time to recap where we are. It’s been awhile so lets get right into it. Here is a look at the current playoff picture.

Since our NBA Dojo Christmas Special, a lot has happened. Russell Westbrook, who last played in the Thunder’s Christmas Day Game against the Knicks, returned and has averaged 20.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 7.4 apg in the eight games he’s been back; including a triple double in only 20 minutes. If you can’t wrap your mind around that, he tallied a triple double in less than a half. The Thunder look like the biggest threat coming out of the Western Conference with the play of Kevin Durant, currently one of two players who are averaging a PER above 30.0. (The other player’s name may sound familiar. It starts with L and ends with eBron). The East is still a two-man race between the Heat and the Pacers but the other six spots are up for grabs. The Knicks, after all they’ve been through, are only three and a half games out of the eighth spot. How interesting would it be it the Heat played the Melo and the Knicks in the first round if New York finishes the season strong? Ultimately it will come down to Indiana and Miami. Whoever gets the #1 seed between those two is my pick for the Eastern Conference Finals.

I have to point out the impressive streak the Philadelphia Sixers are on right now. They are currently on a 16 game losing streak. I repeat, a 16 GAME LOSING STREAK. There is still two months of basketball left and we now have our first participant in the ‘Riggin for Not-Picking Wiggins’ Draft. I firmly believe that Andrew Wiggins will not go first overall. Joel Embiid may be the most talented player in this class. The freshman center out of Kansas has played terrifically this season and is destined for a top-five selection. Under the assumption he ducks out of school after his first year, but as I’m writing this I stumbled upon this tweet that may have me second-guessing myself.

That being said, the Sixers have put the “Tanking” thought in the other teams’ minds. I’m looking at you, Boston, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Utah. Your time to lose multiple games in the hopes of landing a top-five draft pick is coming!! Look for the first of three NBA Mock Drafts at the beginning of next week with a little more insight on the teams looking towards the lottery.

For now, lets break down the top-15 teams looking towards the playoffs as of March 6th. Here is a look at the first 2014 Sports Dojo NBA Power Rankings:

  1. Miami Heat – They may not own the #1 seed in the East but LeBron put on a show during the month of February. Five players averaged more than 30 points during the month of February and he was one of them. (30.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.7 apg)

  2. Indiana Pacers – Coming out of the break they were 6-1 before dropping four straight games heading into Monday. The Pacers clinched a playoff berth but the #1 seed is still up for grabs so don’t stop now, Indy. The Pacers also got rid of Danny Granger’s expiring contract before the trade deadline, acquiring Evan Turner from Philly. And for some reason that is unclear to me they picked up Andrew Bynum. No comment.

  3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant has more than proved himself as a worthy MVP candidate this season. With Russell Westbrook working his way back into form, the Thunder are looking more and more dangerous. The addition of Caron Butler from the Bucks will ensure some safety at the 2 and 3 spots while Thabo Sefolosha deals with an injury.

  4. Los Angeles ClippersBlake Griffin is the unsung hero of this squad. Check out the tale of the past two seasons for Griffin:

  • 2012-2013: 80 games played, 18.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 22.4 PER

  • 2013-2014: through 62 games, 24.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 23.7 PER

He’s stepped up this season during Chris Paul’s absence (he’s missed 19 games so far this season) and he is the main reason that the Clippers currently sit in the 4th position in the West.

  1. San Antonio Spurs – They just shut down LeBron James on Thursday Night. Splitting the season series with the defending champs 1-1. Kawhi Leonard finally came back from a hand injury and has given the Spurs one of their healthiest and deepest lineups of the year. I’m looking forward to a possible Spurs-Thunder Western Conference Finals match-up.

  2. Houston RocketsDwight Howard has been impressive in his past 10 games. Posting a 18.9 ppg-12.1 rpg line while shooting 65% from the field. The Rockets are also one of the hottest teams in 2014. They have gone 23-6 since January 1st.

  3. Portland Trailblazers – Without question this team is dangerous. I’m interested in their rotation come playoff time. Three of Portland’s starters are ranked in the top 20 of total minutes played this season. Foul trouble will play a factor as well as their ability to hit the 3-point shot (currently ranked 2nd as a team in 3-point makes).

  4. Chicago Bulls – They’ve turned their season around and they recently acquired Jimmer Fredette to insure some backcourt depth and long-range shooting. The Bulls are a very dangerous 4 seed that can give trouble to Indiana and Miami because they live on defense, slow tempo, and low scoring games, which is something that the NBA playoffs are known for. They also just pulled off an impressive win in an OT game against the Heat in Chicago. Don’t forget about this team.

  5. Golden State Warriors – Since the break they’re 9-2 and looking to attain one of the top four spots in the Western Conference. The more time the Warriors spend at home in the playoffs, the farther they will go.

  6. Dallas Mavericks – I have to admit I was surprised the Mavericks have held on to the 7th and 8th seed for so long. I thought this team would fade away, but after a strong February (went 9-3), they’ve positioned themselves into a tough first round matchup with one of the big Western Conference teams.

  7. Memphis Grizzles – They’ve battled injuries to both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley yet they’re still in the thick of the playoff race. Their offensive game plan worries me considering they rank in the bottom 5 in terms of points scored per game.

  8. Phoenix Suns – It’s time to play the Sports Dojo’s Stat Challenge. Can you guess whose stat line this belongs to?

  • 2012-2013: 77 games played, 14.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.4 apg, .443 FG%, .319 3P%,

  • 2013-2014: through 58 games, 20.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.2 apg, .509 FG%, .421 3P%

(Take a second and think)

If you guessed Eric Bledsoe……I’m sorry but you are incorrect. The right answer is Goran Dragic; my pick for the NBAs Most Improved Player Award this season. Before anyone says the reason his stats are up is because he’s playing more minutes, he averaged 33.5 minutes last season and is averaging 34.7 minutes this season. Regardless, he’s been a terrific player to watch.

  1. Toronto RaptorsDeMar DeRozan averaged 26.4 ppg in February and the Raptors are sitting in the 3rd seed thanks to a very lackluster division. We’ll see what happens in the first round of the playoffs.

  2. Brooklyn Nets – Currently sitting in the 6th seed, they’re going to fight for the rest of the season so that they don’t fall into the 7th or 8th seed matchups against either Indiana or Miami.

  3. Minnesota Timberwolves – LeBron’s February was impressive but not as impressive as Kevin Love. Check out this line: 34.0 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, .487 FG%, .848 FT%, .415 3P%. I can’t wait to see where he goes when his contract expires at the end of next season (2014-2015).

Check back in later this week for the first Sports Dojo NBA Mock Draft and as always, continue to enjoy.

Twitter: @brosephmeola

E-Mail: senseimeola@gmail.com