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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    Paul George hailed the toughness of the Los Angeles Clippers as they celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

    Making their first foray into the Conference Finals, the Clippers slumped to a 2-0 deficit against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

    With Kawhi Leonard still sidelined by a knee injury, George took centre stage as he recorded a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period.

    "This team is tough," George told ESPN. "We do whatever it takes. We trust one another. We've got each other's backs, and we just play hard.

    "If you're going to beat us, it's just got to be one of those nights if you beat us. I think we've just got great resilience.

    "Ty Lue just does a great job making adjustments, counters. We come out and we play hard.

    "We put so much into this season, we've invested so much in each other, and we're going to live with the results.

    "We'll be ready for Game 4."

    Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

    The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

    The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

    Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

    George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

    The starting team, which featured George, Jackson, Zubac, Patrick Beverley and Terance Mann, was Lue's fifth change of line-up across the previous eight games, with the coach reaping the rewards of earning his players' trust.

    "It means a lot just for those guys to trust me, to understand that whatever I'm doing is the best for the team, not for me," said Lue.

    "I just want to win. Making adjustments, sometimes it's tough, because adjustments mean some guys can't play, some guys play more, and you've got to be able to accept that."

  • Cubs make MLB history with no-hitter against Dodgers, Vladdy reclaims homer lead as Jays stay hot Cubs make MLB history with no-hitter against Dodgers, Vladdy reclaims homer lead as Jays stay hot

    Zach Davies, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel combined for a no-hitter as the Chicago Cubs blanked World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0.

    The Cubs threw the seventh no-hitter of the 2021 season – tying a modern era record for most in a campaign – while making history of their own against the Dodgers on Thursday.

    It was the Cubs' first combined no-hitter in franchise history after Kimbrel completed the job away to the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

    Cubs starter Davies went six innings without allowing a hit, striking out four batters.

    The Cubs also became the first team in MLB history to throw a no-hitter (solo or combined) against a franchise with three former MVP winners in the starting line-up – Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Albert Pujols, according to Stats Perform.

     

    Vladdy hits the front in homer race, Astros win again

    Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reclaimed the lead for the most home runs this season after helping the Toronto Blue Jays crush the Baltimore Orioles 9-0. Guerrero homered for the 24th time in 2021 – a 438-foot moonshot guiding the Blue Jays to a fifth consecutive win after Lourdes Gurriel Jr's first career grand slam.

    The Houston Astros extended their winning streak to 11 games after easing past the Detroit Tigers 12-3. During their winning streak, Houston have scored 93 runs and allowed just 24. According to Stats Perform, they are the first MLB team to score 90-plus runs while allowing less than 25 over an 11-game span since the Pirates in 1911.

    Kyle Schwarber fuelled the Washington Nationals' 7-3 victory against the Miami Marlins. Schwarber homered twice for the Nationals. It is the fourth time in his last 11 games that Schwarber had at least two home runs and four RBI. According to Stats Perform, he is the first MLB player to achieve the feat four times in an 11-game span since RBI became an official stat in 1920.

     

    Kremer crushed in Buffalo

    Dean Kremer had a game to forget against the Blue Jays. The Orioles pitcher gave up six runs, two hits and a career-high five walks in the opening inning as Baltimore suffered their 20th straight road loss.

     

    Rays in wild walk-off win

    The Tampa Bay Rays reclaimed the lead in the American League (AL) East thanks to a dramatic finish in their 1-0 walk-off victory against the Boston Red Sox. With two outs in the ninth inning, the Rays prevailed after Manuel Margot scored from third base on a wild pitch by Red Sox closer Matt Barnes.

     

    Thursday's results

    New York Yankees 8-1 Kansas City Royals
    Oakland Athletics 5-1 Texas Rangers
    Toronto Blue Jays 9-0 Baltimore Orioles
    Cincinnati Reds 5-3 Atlanta Braves
    Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 Boston Red Sox
    Houston Astros 12-3 Detroit Tigers
    Washington Nationals 7-3 Miami Marlins
    Cleveland Indians 4-1 Minnesota Twins
    Pittsburgh Pirates 8-2 St Louis Cardinals
    Chicago Cubs 4-0 Los Angeles Dodgers

     

    Yankees at Red Sox

    The blockbuster rivalry resumes as the New York Yankees (40-34) visit the Red Sox (44-31) for the series opener on Friday. Martin Perez starts for the Red Sox as the Yankees counter with Domingo German.

  • Canadiens always 'believed' after reaching first Stanley Cup Final since 1993 thanks OT win Canadiens always 'believed' after reaching first Stanley Cup Final since 1993 thanks OT win

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    The Canadiens ended their 28-year wait, punching their ticket to the NHL's showpiece thanks to Lehkonen's goal less than two minutes into OT in Game 6 of the semi-final series.

    Just like Tyler Toffoli against the Winnipeg Jets in overtime, Lehkonen scored 99 seconds into OT to oust the Golden Knights. According to Stats Perform, the Canadiens are the first team in NHL history to score two overtime goals at the exact same time in a single postseason.

    Not much was expected of the Canadiens in the NHL playoffs, having entered the postseason with the worst record but Montreal have won 11 of 13 games since sensationally overturning a 3-1 deficit against rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.

    The Canadiens – 24-time champions as they make their NHL-leading 35th Stanley Cup Final appearance – will face either defending champions the Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Islanders.

    "We wouldn't be here right now if we didn't believe," said Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who stopped 37 shots. "We've believed this whole time and obviously we're ecstatic and we have a lot of work left to do."

    Lehkonen added: "Just trying to go high and hit the net. We're trying to keep it going one game at a time and not think things too much far ahead.

    "I feel like we showed up today and it's a big win for us and we have four more to go."

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