Feb 28, 2014, 8:51 AM EDT
We know Oklahoma City is a contender — despite their little three-game blip as they re-adjust to Russell Westbrook in the lineup, they are still 21-7 when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both play this season, they have a top-10 offense and defense when you look at points per possession. The same is true of the Spurs, and while they have had struggles against the NBA’s elite during the regular season last season’s run should remind you not to read too much into that. When the Spurs are healthy and focused they can compete with anyone.
But what about the next tier in the West? What about the Clippers? The Rockets? The Trail Blazers? Can any of those rise up and truly challenge OKC (the current bar for Best in the West).
Defining a contender can be a bit nebulous. It’s more like former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart effort to define test for obscenity — we know it when we see it. I don’t see it with Portland, I think the Clippers and Rockets are on the cusp but may not be there yet.
Here are a few numbers to help us get an idea, using NBA.com stats (including some from the Sports VU cameras).
• Portland came back to earth some in February — they had a point differential of +4.4 per 100 possessions, which is good enough for ninth in the NBA but more in the Charlotte/Washington/Toronto range than contender status. Their defense remained 11th in the NBA and their offense, now without LaMarcus Aldridge, can’t bail them out. I’ve not been sold Portland is ready to knock on the door of the contenders all season, nothing right now is changing my mind.
• The question with the Clippers remains defense — in February they allowed 105.6 points per 100 possessions, ranked 22nd in the league. Because of a stellar offense (114 per 100) they remain fourth in point differential through those 11 games, but that doesn’t mask the question of if they can get enough stops to win in the postseason.
• Opposing teams get a league-high 10.4 shots a game at the rim when DeAndre Jordan is on the court — he defends it well and they only hit 51.5 percent of them, but they get there.
• Glen Davis may actually help the Clippers defense — it’s not that he’s a great defender, he’s just better than Ryan Hollins and that is who loses minutes with Davis in the fold. Same with Danny Granger, who is no great wing defender but will be taking minutes from Jared Dudley.
• Houston on the other hand has the sixth best defense in the NBA since Feb. 1. They give up a lot of points per game because they play at the fourth fastest pace in the league but they defend their possessions well and are a very good transition defensive team.
• In February, teams finished a very high 63.2 percent at the rim against the Rockets — but they never get there. The Rockets gave up just 250 attempts at the rim in the month, only Charlotte did better (247, but they played one less game than Houston). (And yes, using raw numbers for a moth is a rough gauge, go the last 15 Rockets games and they are 20th in shots allowed at the rim and teams shoot 62.3 percent.)
• The Rockets are maybe the best first half team in the NBA — they are disciplined in forcing their style and sucking other teams into a pace the opponent is not comfortable with. It leads to big quarters, like the 42 they dropped on Sacramento this week. However in the playoffs that element of surprise goes away. Will the Rockets in the halfcourt suddenly be too much James Harden in isolation, and too much Dwight Howard in the post? Both of those can disrupt the Rockets’ offensive flow.
• The question with the Rockets in February was the toughness of the schedule — we will learn more soon. They lost to the Clippers on Wednesday but that was the second night of a back-to-back and their tired legs showed as their transition defense was not what it normally is. That said, their next eight games port the Rockets include the Heat twice, the Pacers, the Thunder, Trail Blazers and Bulls. That’s a legit test.
• My sense is the Rockets are closer — they are now getting quality minutes out of Omer Asik off the bench, he gives them depth of defense that the Clippers just do not have. That the Trail Blazers do not have. Houston also is starting to find its identity. They may need to learn a hard lesson in the playoffs this season, they may need to tweak the roster some, but they have grown toward being a contender this season in a way I haven’t fully seen with the Clippers yet.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
The 2015 Slam Dunk Contest champion might have already been decided.
Jul 27, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
At least he has an injury.
Jul 27, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
We’ve known this for a while now.
Jul 27, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Millsap gets the call as a late addition after Blake Griffin and Kevin Love dropped out in the last few days.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
KG is likely coming back for his 20th NBA season, but may be setting himself up for something more with the Nets one his playing days are finished.
Jul 27, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
LeBron makes yet another momentous decision.
Jul 27, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
L.A. will keep Nash on the roster for the upcoming season, and take the cap hit for the $9.7 million remaining on his contract all at once.
Jul 27, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Only other possibility would have been LeBron facing the Heat, but that feels more like Christmas.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
Team downplays ESPN report that a contract has been agreed upon.
Jul 27, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
Would Harden have been offended if he and Parsons made similar money?
Jul 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Kobe looks like Kobe, even all those years ago.
Jul 27, 2014, 12:30 AM EDT
Wade can play a little football.
Jul 26, 2014, 11:37 PM EDT
The negotiations was over years and the fourth year is a team option.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Beasley is an unrestricted free agent, and some team will almost certainly take a chance on him next season.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Bledsoe is absolutely right.
Jul 26, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
If Kevin Love will not opt-in to the last year of his deal, would you still give up Wiggins for him?
Jul 26, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Nobody scores on Joakim Noah, 7-year-old youth included.
Jul 26, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Being inserted into the starting lineup might have something to do with it.
Jul 26, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Kevin Durant is the perfect international power forward anyway.
Jul 26, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Looks like tons of fun.
- Report: ‘No chance’ Kevin Love stays with Timberwolves 28
- LeBron announces he’ll wear No. 23 with Cavaliers 51
- Report: Lakers say ‘no done deal’ with Byron Scott 16
- Report: Lakers, Byron Scott agree to four-year, $17 million deal to coach team 15
- Kevin Love trade talk: He doesn’t want to opt in to deal, Cavs may live with that 40
- Kevin Love leaving Team USA not helpful, certainly not devastating either 19
- Why are the Lakers hiring Byron Scott as head coach? 46
- Report: NBA considering week-long break for All-Star Game next year 10