Nylon Calculus

Nylon Calculus: Looking for separation between the Lakers and Bucks

The Lakers and Bucks are both steamrolling their opponents. But ahead of their big Wednesday-night matchup, the Bucks have one key number in their favor.

The Bucks and Lakers have been, by far, the most dominant teams in the NBA this season, sporting identical 24-4 records. That’s roughly a 70-win pace across an 82-game season, putting both teams in potentially historic territory.

Their Thursday night matchup will be a mostly symbolic struggle for control of the league, since both teams are clearly measuring success this season on a championship scale. Still, it will be an opportunity to see what, if anything really separates these two juggernauts.

While their records are identical, on paper the Bucks appear to have a healthy edge. Milwaukee is outscoring opponents by an average of 12.4 points per 100 possessions, less than a point behind where the Golden State Warriors were after the first 28 games of their record-setting 2015-16 season. The Lakers, on the other hand, are only outscoring opponents by an average of 8.7 points per 100 possessions, almost identical to the mark of the 18-8 Dallas Mavericks. The Bucks have the point differential of a team we’d expect to have won about 23 of 28 games. The Lakers point differential looks like that of a team that would win 21 of 28.

Another way to view this difference in scoring margin is to look at the percentage of possessions each team has held leads (or deficits) of different sizes.

According to PBPStats.com, the Bucks have held a lead in about 74.59 percent of their possessions this season, about 10 percentage points more than the Lakers. They’ve held a double-digit lead on 38.31 percent of their possessions, compared to 24.01 percent for the Lakers and have had a lead of 20 points on roughly twice as many possessions as Los Angeles.

They are the only two teams in the league in the top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency and the difference in the strengths of schedule is negligible. It may seem nit-picky to focus in on the Bucks running up the score on opponents while the Lakers are winning (relatively) closer games, but point differential has proven to be a much better predictor of future success than just a team’s record and, right now, it’s really the only things separating these two obvious title favorites.

Next: The importance of the pre-game warm-up for NBA athletes

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