Skip to content

The Extra Pass: Is the second tier in West ready to challenge Thunder, Spurs?

Feb 28, 2014, 8:51 AM EDT

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors Getty Images

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha says police incident damaged his reputation

    May 29, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Thabo Sefolosha AP

    Sefolosha suffered a leg fracture during a police incident that kept him from participating in the playoffs.

  2. Suns shake up their coaching staff

    May 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Getty Images

    Jeff Hornacek remains in charge, but there has been some shuffling among his assistants.

  3. PBT Extra: Houston Rockets face interesting off-season

    May 29, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT

    Dallas Mavericks v Houston Rockets - Game One Getty Images

    There are questions about the future of Josh Smith, Patrick Beverley and others with the team.

  4. LeBron James on how to slow Stephen Curry: “The same way you slow me down … You can’t.”

    May 29, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT

    OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 12:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors goes in for a layup over LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat at ORACLE Arena on February 12, 2014 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The two most popular players in the NBA this season (with Kevin Durant out) go head-to-head on the NBA’s biggest stage.

  5. PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Cleveland may want to cover Curry in the left corner

    May 29, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT

    Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game Five Getty Images

    Cleveland’s defense has looked better in the playoffs than it has all season, but starting next Thursday it will get the biggest test it has had all season.

  6. It’s official: Scott Skiles hired as head coach of Orlando Magic

    May 29, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT

    150523_skiles Getty Images

    Skiles is a former Magic player from 1989 through 1994.

  7. Cookin’ with the Currys, guest-starring Riley Curry (video)

    May 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Stephen Curry Stephen Curry

    Ayesha Curry cooks, Stephen Curry tastes, and Riley Curry points out raspberry-sauce spills

  8. PBT Podcast: Talking Thibodeau/Bulls divorce; future for Rockets, Hawks

    May 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two Getty Images

    Would hiring Thibodeau really a wise call by the Pelicans?

  9. Warriors’ Klay Thompson officially diagnosed with concussion

    May 29, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT

    Klay Thompson Klay Thompson

    The NBA needs to review this process going forward.

  10. Klay Thompson should not have been cleared to return to Game 5 after concussion evaluation

    May 29, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT

    Klay Thompson Klay Thompson

    Warriors guard passed, but not enough time had passed to determine his health

  11. Rumor: Thunder promised to draft Cameron Payne No. 14

    May 29, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT

    Cameron Payne, Reece Chamberlain AP

    Believable, but is that why it’s believed?

  12. Report: Cavaliers could activate Anderson Varejao in NBA Finals if necessary

    May 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game One Getty Images

    Varejao was slated to miss the entire season with an Achilles tear

  13. Dwight Howard suspended one game after foul switcheroo

    May 29, 2015, 11:17 AM EDT

    Dwight Howard, Klay Thompson Dwight Howard, Klay Thompson

    NBA gives Rockets center a flagrant foul, rescinds technical fouls for him and Andrew Bogut

  14. Report: Magic could hire Scott Skiles as soon as today

    May 29, 2015, 10:54 AM EDT

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  Head coach Scott Skiles of the Milwaukee Bucks looks on against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Scott Skiles Getty Images

    Contract negotiations reportedly ongoing

  15. National Spelling Bee co-champion wore LeBron jersey under dress shirt

    May 29, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT

    Gokul Venkatachalam predicts Cavaliers in 6

Did Chicago do the right thing in firing Thibodeau?

Despite ending, Hawks had season to remember
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. S. Curry (8054)
  2. K. Love (5746)
  3. K. Irving (5537)
  4. L. James (4326)
  5. K. Korver (4225)
  1. K. Bryant (3585)
  2. A. Varejao (3521)
  3. K. Durant (3494)
  4. D. Howard (3481)
  5. M. Speights (3238)