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 24, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
His new nickname could be PG-13.
Jul 24, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Houston obviously didn’t match, allowing Parsons to sign with Mavericks
Jul 24, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Lin wore No. 17 with Knicks
Jul 24, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
Just first season will be guaranteed
Jul 24, 2014, 1:04 PM EDT
Frank Caliendo makes it happen
Jul 24, 2014, 12:19 PM EDT
Do you think Jim Buss is going to give up his job, step aside for Rivers and put someone in over long-time trusted Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak? Really?
Jul 24, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT
Wizards deny Seraphin permission to participate
Jul 24, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Green, drafted No. 46 in 2013, spent a year overseas
Jul 24, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Huestis would have accepted arrangement only with Thunder or Spurs, but will the NBA or players union allow it?
Jul 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Sacramento’s search for a starting-caliber point guard let the one already there leave for Suns
Jul 24, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
San Antonio guard says he won’t represent Argentina if he still feels pain
Jul 24, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
The good news, he did not eat all the ice cream he wanted during his recovery from a tonsillectomy.
James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.”
Jul 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Rockets players certainly are giving Parsons plenty of bulletin board material.
Jul 24, 2014, 1:00 AM EDT
Shannon Brown joins Metta World Peace and Lamar Odom
Jul 24, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Allen has already said an MRI comes first
Jul 23, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT
We know how this movie is going to end, Donald Sterling will lose the Clippers, we just don’t know how we will get there yet.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Aminu, who replaces Rashard Lewis, will have player option
Jul 23, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Houston’s other second rounder, Alessandro Gentile, to remain in Europe
Jul 23, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
If you really want something and you can afford it, why not? But Ballmer overpaid big for the Clips.
Jul 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
Does this mean Boston will trade Rajon Rondo?
- Lakers deny rumor they are waiting around for Doc Rivers to be coach 29
- James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.” 77
- Mavericks signing Al-Farouq Aminu to two-year, minimum salary contract 12
- Report: Ballmer’s $2 billion Clippers offer nearly double what Bank of America valued team at 17
- Report: Jameer Nelson near $2.7 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 17
- Report: Mavericks void Rashard Lewis’ contract after it’s discovered he needs knee surgery 13
- Report: Sixers, Nuggets or Celtics could become third team in Kevin Love trade to Cavaliers 48
- Five biggest surprises from Summer League 14