Thursday, March 14, 2013

LeBron James's Minutes Played During Heat Streak

A theme I've discussed in writing about basketball winning streaks is that, the more the streaking team can blow out opponents, the more it can rest its star players. With the Miami Heat's winning streak now at 20 games after last night's victory in Philadelphia, I decided to examine LeBron James's minutes played in each game during the streak.

As seen in the following graph, I divided the games into those the Heat won by single-digit and double-digit margins. (I included the Heat's double-overtime 141-129 win over Sacramento as a single-digit game, as the game would have been close down the stretch.) Another factor that may affect James's (and other NBA stars') minutes played is opportunity for rest between games. Accordingly, I divided games into three categories: first game of two on back-to-back days; second game of a back-to-back; and at least one off-day before and after the game. Here are James's average minutes played as a function of win-margin and game-scheduling.

A couple of trends are apparent in the graph. First, if we look at the yellow (off-days before and after) and black (second game of back-to-back) lines, James gets three and one-half extra minutes of rest when the Heat is winning handily. (The difference is even greater for the white line, representing first games of back-to-back situations, but there is only one observation for single-digit games of this type.) Also, regardless of victory margin, James plays about two minutes fewer in second games of back-to-back scenarios than in games surrounded by off-days. 

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