Around the League
The Golden State Warriors lost a heartbreaker against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road to close out the month of the month of November. Russell Westbrook rescued the home team with a ridiculous 3-pointer in overtime that sent the arena into a frenzy.
The Dubs have struggled with their late-game execution so far this season and consequently, they must absolutely work on this facet and improve it. The postseason is no longer the goal for this team. That has instead been replaced with dreams of making it to the Western Conference finals or perhaps even the NBA Finals.
For that to happen however, they must find a way to close out games. Nonetheless, there is a small silver lining hiding in that defeat: Golden State plays OKC really though. It has taken last-second shots in both head-to-head matchups so far to determine the victor.
If we can get these two in a second-round matchup in May, watch out.
The rest of the league is compelling in its own right and therefore, a quick look at what’s happening in the Association can’t hurt.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are winning games and might not be as bad as initially predicted. Then again, they are not that far out of the 12th spot, which is where ESPN.com’s NBA Fall Forecast projected they would land at season’s end.
The Purple and Gold have a marginal defense and subpar offense, which is somewhat odd considering that the team is winning (keep in mind, they also have a negative scoring differential). However, it’s all smoke and mirrors. They are living and dying with the three-ball. They happen to be doing quite well at the moment despite the absences of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, but that hardly seems sustainable.
Their returns will certainly improve the team’s odds, but at the moment one has trouble believing they will remain within the hunt of the eighth spot.
Super bad guy Bane famously regurgitated Ra’s Al Ghul’s words in Dark Knight Rises: “Theatricality and deception are powerful agents to the uninitiated”. It would appear that those who thought the deceptive Houston Rockets were simply going to fold early in the season were perhaps a bit quick on trigger.
They were accused of being overrated, but it would appear as though the claim was a tad excessive.
James Harden has missed four games this season but finally returned over the weekend and helped Houston defeat the Brooklyn Nets. Although he was not at his best against the Nets, the southpaw is still averaging 23 points, 5.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game on 44.2 percent shooting from the field in 13 games this season.
The Rockets barely missed him. Dwight Howard and company have won eight of the past 10 games and also, their victories have been by convincing margins. It’s also worth noting that they own the best scoring differential in the loaded Western Conference.
And yet, Rockets fans have reasons to be even greedier going forward. Keep an eye on this team.
Much has been made about the Indiana Pacers’ soft early-season schedule, but they can only play the teams that are put in front of them. And when they have done that, they have taken care of business better than any other team in NBA.
Frank Vogel’s group owns the best record in the league and in addition, they have the best scoring differential in the NBA at plus-11.4. They have the stingiest defense in the Association and with that, they are simply killing teams.
There might be a sentiment that their barely average offense might prevent them from possibly winning the title and that may be true. Then again, the Pacers have the second-best clutch (defined as the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin within five points) offense in the league per NBA.com. Combine that with their impressive defense and late in games, they are quite difficult to deal with.
For those wondering why it is that an Indiana team that struggles throughout the course of the game to score is better in crunch time, the answer is quite simple: team ball.
Indeed, the Pacers rely on ball movement, cuts, screens and post-ups for scores late in games where most teams are accustomed to defending isolations. Mind you, it must be said that the successes in the clutch come with a fairly huge caveat: they have all come against poor defensive teams save for the Chicago Bulls.
Here is the murderers’ row of teams they have scored all of their clutch baskets against save for the aforementioned Bulls: New Orleans Pelicans, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers. We will have to reserve judgment on the Pacers at least for a little while but thankfully answers will be forthcoming shortly.
Indiana begins the month of December with bouts against at the Los Angeles Clippers, at the Portland Trail Blazers, at the Utah Jazz (yawn), at the San Antonio Spurs, at the Oklahoma City Thunder and versus the Miami Heat.
Speaking of the Heat…
The Miami Heat might be the most underrated yet on the radar teams ever. LeBron James and company have one of the best records in the league and at the moment, they are riding a nine-game winning streak.
They are doing this thanks in large part to their impeccable ball movement, spacing and long-distance shooting. But almost forgotten is Dwyane Wade. During the offseason, Wade and Kevin Durant got into a bit of a public tiff because KD felt as though James Harden should have been rated above Wade in the Sports Illustrated top-100 NBA player rankings.
And yet, Wade is a huge part of Miami’s success. He has carried the offense for stretches and in addition, he has gotten in passing lanes and disrupted the plays of the opposition. He and Harden have both played 13 games entering today and quietly, the Heat star leads Harden in PER by the slightest of margins.
Wade is averaging 18.6 points, 5.5 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 52.7 percent shooting from the field. Given that he is playing less minutes on average than Harden, let’s adjust the numbers and project them over 36 minutes:
Harden: 21.6 PPG, 5.2 APG,4.2 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 3.8 TPG, 44.2% FG
Wade: 19.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 5.1 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 3.8 TPG, 52.7% FG
The assists, rebounding and field goal percentage give Wade the slightest of statistical advantages. It will be interesting to see if this holds up throughout the year. Wade gets the nod at least for now not only because of the production but also because he has been the superior defensive player in the early going.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs own the best record in the Western Conference in case no one was paying attention. And by the way, Tim Duncan is having the worst shooting year of his career so far and yet, the Black and Silver are still at the top of the standings in the west.
The Eastern Conference
The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are a combined 28-4. The rest of the conference is simply atrocious. The Atlanta Hawks are currently one game above .500 and the rest of the teams in the east have all lost more than they have won except for the Chicago Bulls.
- Indiana Pacers (14-1)
- Miami Heat (13-3)
- Atlanta Hawks (9-8)
- Toronto Raptors (6-9)
- Chicago Bulls (7-7)
- Charlotte Bobcats (8-9)
- Washington Wizards (7-9)
- Boston Celtics (7-11)
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