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WHEN IS A LEAD SAFE?

Comebacks are a part of basketball because our game is so up-tempo compared to football and baseball.  The only question that coaches have been asking for years is when any lead is considered to be safe.

According to Bill James in an article for Slate.com (the same Bill James behind sabermetrics in baseball), there is a point at which you can calculate when a lead is safe.  Here is the formula he uses to determine at what point a lead is safe:

  • Subtract three from the difference in points between the two teams.

  • For the team that has the ball, add half of a point.  The team that does not have the ball is docked half of a point.

  • Square what you have thus far.

  • If the number of seconds is greater than or equal to the calculated number, the lead is not safe.

  • Leads of zero to three points are not safe.

As a point of reference, here is the formula as an algebraic expression:

Y1=(x-2.5)2
Y2=(x-3.5)2

If Y1>s or Y2>s, lead is safe.

Y1=End result of calculation when team leading does have the ball
Y2=End result of calculation when team leading does not have the ball
x
=Margin
s=seconds remaining in game

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