Zach LaVine has an Olympic gold medal. What he doesn’t have is NBA playoff experience.
At last, that part is about to change.
No active NBA player has been in more regular-season games without making his playoff debut than LaVine, who has appeared in 478 games with the Chicago Bulls. He’s expected to play in his first playoff game Sunday night when the Bulls visit Milwaukee.
Once LaVine makes his playoff debut, the title nobody wants — active player with most games and no playoff appearances — will fall to Buddy Hield. He’s been in 468 games with Sacramento, New Orleans and Indiana.
If Hield appears in at least 32 games next season, he will become the eighth player with at least 500 regular-season appearances but zero playoff contests. He’ll join Tom Van Arsdale (929), Otto Moore (682), Nate Williams (642), Omri Casspi (588), Sebastian Telfair (564), Popeye Jones (535) and Eddy Curry (527) in that club.
Curry has a ring from his time with the Miami Heat in the 2011-12 season, but didn’t play in a game during that postseason run.
EIGHT IS (USUALLY) ENOUGH
Phoenix won eight games more than any other team this season. That usually means a championship.
Not always, though.
The last four teams to have at least eight more wins than any other team in the regular season have gone on to win a title. Those clubs are the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000, the Chicago Bulls in 1992 and 1996, and the Boston Celtics in 1984.
The 1971 Milwaukee Bucks, 1967 Philadelphia 76ers, and both the 1960 and 1965 Celtics also ended seasons with such huge regular-season margins with championships. But the Celtics in both 1958 and 1973 did not, nor did the Washington Capitols in 1947 — the inaugural season of the BAA, which was the precursor to the NBA. The Capitols (49-11) won 10 more regular-season games than anyone else in 1946-47, but the Philadelphia Warriors (35-25) won that first season’s championship.
The NBA has set this season’s playoff pool at $17,317,334. All 16 playoff teams are guaranteed $258,449 just for making the field; most teams will make more, and the deeper teams go in the playoffs, they’ll make much more.
Phoenix is already assured at least $1,194,952. The Suns would claim $5,077,456 if they win the NBA title.
Miami has secured $695,527 already. The Heat would get $4,578,031 if they win the championship.
Any team that makes the NBA Finals is guaranteed $3,106,286; any team other than the Suns or Heat that wins the championship would receive at least $4,140,953.
Phoenix had the NBA’s best home record and the NBA’s best road record this season — 32-9 in both instances.
Only four of the last nine teams to pull off that feat, including ties in the standings, went on to win the NBA title. Those clubs were Golden State in 2015 and 2017, the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000 and the Chicago Bulls in 1996.
The most recent teams to be best at home, best on the road and still not win a title: Houston in 2018, Dallas in 2007, Seattle in 1994, Portland in 1991 and the Lakers in 1990.
Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers is on the cusp of becoming the fifth coach in NBA history to win 100 postseason games. The 76ers need just two wins in their first-round series against Toronto to get Rivers to the milestone.
The other coaches with 100 wins: Phil Jackson (229), Pat Riley (171), Gregg Popovich (170) and Larry Brown (100).
Miami’s Erik Spoelstra can also get to 100 playoff wins this year — but the Heat would have to get to the NBA Finals, then win three games in the title round to get him there. Spoelstra enters these playoffs with 85 postseason victories.
Among players, Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant is three points shy of matching Jerry West (4,457) for eighth on the all-time playoff list. Durant needs 307 points to tie No. 7 Karl Malone (4,761) on that list, meaning the Nets would likely have to get to at least the second round for that to occur this year.
Utah was favored in more games than any other team this season, picked by oddsmakers 73 times in the 82-game regular season. The Jazz were followed by Phoenix (70), Milwaukee (66), Golden State (62), Boston (61) and Miami (59) on the most-favored list.
The team that covered a spread with the most regularity this season: Memphis, which rewarded its backers 64.6% of the time. Utah was tied for next-to-last in that department, covering at a 40.2% rate.
Oklahoma City was favored the fewest times in the league, just on three occasions. Portland was the worst at covering, doing so 37.8% of the time.
BACK TO BACK
If Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo wins his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award — now named for Bill Russell — he would join select company.
Only six players have won that award in consecutive years. Chicago’s Michael Jordan won it back-to-back-to-back on two separate occasions, 1991 through 1993 and then 1996 through 1998. Shaquille O’Neal won three in a row for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000 through 2002. Hakeem Olajuwon won for Houston in 1994 and 1995, Kobe Bryant did for the Lakers in 2009 and 2010, LeBron James did for Miami in 2012 and 2013, and Kevin Durant did it for Golden State in 2017 and 2018.
Jerry West was the award’s first winner in 1969. It has been named for Russell since 2009.
As one might guess, it’s difficult to make up a significant disparity in 3-pointers made.
Teams that were outscored by 15 or more points from 3-point range this season won only 20.8% of the time — going 94-348 in those contests.
Golden State’s Andre Iguodala has said he is retiring when this season ends. He wanted to go back to the Warriors for a farewell, and the Warriors welcomed him back for many reasons — what he brings at this time of year among them.
No player in this year’s playoffs has played, counting actual appearances only, in more postseason wins than Iguodala. He has appeared in 103 playoff wins, five more than Philadelphia’s Danny Green, eight more than Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, 16 more than Miami’s Udonis Haslem and 17 more than Warriors teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Tom Washington is working the NBA playoffs for the 24th time and Scott Foster was selected as part of the postseason referee corps for the 22nd time. They’re the senior members of a 36-person group that will work games in Round 1.
There are three playoff newcomers: Eric Dalen, Mitchell Ervin and Justin Van Duyne.
Foster has worked 201 playoff games, while Washington has worked 172. Other veterans in this year’s playoffs include Tony Brothers and James Capers (163 games apiece), Marc Davis (161), Ed Malloy (121), Bill Kennedy (120), Zach Zarba (117) and John Goble (100).
The rest of the first-round officials are: Brent Barnaky, Curtis Blair, Nick Buchert, Kevin Cutler, JB DeRosa, Kane Fitzgerald, Tyler Ford, Brian Forte, Pat Fraher, Jacyn Goble, David Guthrie, Courtney Kirkland, Karl Lane, Eric Lewis, Mark Lindsay, Tre Maddox, Rodney Mott, Gediminas Petraitis, Michael Smith, Ben Taylor, Josh Tiven, Scott Twardoski, James Williams and Sean Wright.
The NBA also selected eight alternates — including Lauren Holtkamp, the only woman to make this season’s list. If picked for a game, Holtkamp would join Violet Palmer as the only female referees to work a postseason contest.