Belichick on playoffs: We can't be oblivious to the possibilities

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Belichick on playoffs: We can't be oblivious to the possibilities

Patriots coach Bill Belichick's response when asked to look ahead is usually predictable: We're just trying to get ready for the next opponent.
Not so, in Week 17.
"I think there's a certain amount of planning and looking ahead that, as a head coach, you need to do, or organizationally, you need to do," Belichick said on his Monday conference call. "We could be traveling in the playoffs, we have to look at where we could stay, things like that. We can't be totally oblivious to the possibilities that exist out there."
You've probably heard most of them.
If the Patriots beat Miami and Houston loses to Indianapolis, New England gets a bye. If the Patriots beat Miami and Denver loses to Kansas City, New England gets a bye.
The Patriots would clinch home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs if they beat Miami and both Denver and Houston lose next weekend.
The Broncos would clinch home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs if they beat Kansas City and the Texans lose.

"Because you don't know on something like that -- we don't even know when we're going to be playing next, or who we're going to be playing next -- there's quite a few possibilities. So it's really hard to be specific on something like that when there's so many possibilities. Whatever you're working on, there's probably a 75-percent chance you're wrong. I think when it's 90-10, maybe you can get a jump on it.
"There's certain things that you kind of have to prepare for. I think the higher probability it is that you know what you're going to do, then the more you can commit a resource to it. If we were to play next week, then we'd be playing one of two teams, so we'll certainly start working on both those teams this week so that when we find out, if that's the way it goes, who we play Sunday night, we already have the information and we can jump on either Indianapolis or Cincinnati -- if that's the scenario."
Belichick noted how different it is from the regular season. For 17 weeks, teams know who their next opponent is and how long they have to prepare.
With so much still in the air heading into the regular season finale, Belichick and his coaching staff focus only on the most immediate playoff scenario. This year, that means wild-card weekend. It also means a possible Saturday game and a short week of prep. But no matter what, the Patriots will be ready to go Sunday night or Monday morning.
Does this mean New England is straying from its 'We're only worried about this week' mantra? No.
There are members of Belichick's scouting and coaching staffs who are responsible for advance work. While the players were getting ready for Jacksonville, those people were looking to Miami. That's how, as soon as that Dolphins game ends, Patriots coaches will be able to dive right into the first playoff opponent.
Much of this toil goes on behind the scenes.
"From the players standpoint, they're kind of week-to-week," Belichick explained. "If they play next week in the wild-card weekend, the team that we don't play the players will never even really know that we worked on them because we would have never presented the material to them, gone over it or anything like that.
"The challenge for the coaches, and the scouting staff, and the organization, is to stay ahead of the curve so that when we have the players in here we give them the most immediate and pertinent information for our next opponent. We do that every single week; we always focus on what we're doing.
"It's really hard to work on two or three teams. You might do that in training camp where you work on a day and then on the 13th you open the season. Even then it's kind of tough because you're trying to juggle two or three balls in the air and that's hard for any player, rookie, veteran, or coach for that matter."
Speaking of rookies, the Patriots have 13, including the practice squad. Seven of the nine on New England's 53-man roster get snaps in almost every contest. Belichick said one thing to consider is how many games the rookies have played to this point. It might seem like 20 tilts, four preseason and almost 16 regular season, are a good thing as far as experience goes.
But the coach sees it differently.
"In college football you play 12 games and a lot of those teams there's a couple of them that might be against a lower-level school or a team that's an out of conference team that's maybe not that hard to get ready for. So this is kind of like two college seasons. They get the physical wear-and-tear, but it's more than that. I think it's the mental wear on them where every week there's a new game plan, adjustments, match ups, techniques it's all a little bit different because of the way your team does them.
"That's kind of the challenging part mentally, to prepare all week, take the test on Sunday, and then come back in on Monday and start the full preparation process all over again. Physically, it's a drain, and I think mentally, it adds up, too. We try to keep them bouncing back from it each week and get into a routine so that it isn't a real high effort one week then it drops way down the next because they can't sustain it at that high professional level, that 98, 95-percent level of consistency."
Just one more variable to consider.

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

BOSTON – There’s certainly some disappointment among Celtics Nation that Isaiah Thomas just missed out on being an All-Star starter in the East.

But one thing we can certainly see with the new voting system … it works way better than the old way of choosing starters.

This was the first year that the NBA decided to allow current NBA players as well as a select panel of media choose who the starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences would be.

The fan vote would count for 50 percent while media and players would each represent 25 percent of the final tally.

From there, the players would receive a fan ranking, a media ranking and a player ranking.

Because of the aforementioned breakdown – fans count for 50 percent while media and players represent 25 percent of the vote – the fan ranking would be counted twice while the media and player rankings would be counted once.

Let’s look at Isaiah Thomas’ situation which ultimately came down to him and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan for the final starting spot in the backcourt.

Thomas was fourth in the fan voting, second in the player voting and first among guards in the media voting. So when you add the fan voting (4 *2) + player voting (2 *1) + media voting (1*1), you get a total of 11 which is then divided by 4 to arrive at a score of 2.75.

Now let’s look at DeRozan.

He was third in the fan voting, third in the player ranking and second in the media voting among guards. So his score when you add the fan voting (3*2) + player voting (3*1) + media voting (2*1), you get a total of 11 which when divided by 4 brings you to a score of 2.75 – same as Thomas.

The tiebreaker was the fan vote which meant DeRozan and not Thomas, would get the starting nod in next month’s All-Star game.

As much as it may suck that Thomas lost out because of this system, he would not have had a shot at being a starter under the old system in which the fans were the ones to pick starters.

In fact, it would have been Chicago’s Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup under the old system.

No disrespect to D-Wade, but he has not had an All-Star worthy season. And had the old system been in place, he would be an all-star and thus take up a roster spot of another player who frankly, is more deserving.

And if you take a glance out West, they too would have had a starter who has not had an All-Star caliber season.

Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia finished second in the voting among Western Conference forwards, fueled in large part to his home country, Georgia, voting early and often for him. Because of the media and player voting, Pachulia wound up sixth among Western Conference big men which is still too high when you consider some of the players behind him – Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – who are all having better seasons.

While no one would say this new system is perfect, considering how this year’s voting would have panned out under the old rules, this change by the league is a good one that should stick around.

NOTE: I was among the media panelists selected by the NBA to vote for this year’s All-Star starters. My selections in the East were Cleveland’s LeBron James, Kevin Love and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt. My Western Conference selections were Kevin Durant of Golden State, Anthony Davis of New Orleans and Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio in the frontcourt, with Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the backcourt.