To prefix this blog, I would like to make not of the fact that all this information was gathered on March 6th. Considering the fact that NBA games are played practically every game of the season, these numbers will change as time goes on. With that in mind, here are my predictions for the Western Conference’s Playoff teams.
Golden State (47-12) GB: 0
Golden State has been on fire all season long. The Oakland-based franchise tops the league in points per game, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage. The club also ranks first in opponent field goal percentage (.426) and third in opponent three-point percentage (.313). Combine those statistical rankings with Stephen Curry’s MVP-calibre season and there’s little doubt that the Warriors will be making some noise in the postseason.The Warriors also shutdown the red-hot Houston Rockets through its four game season series.
Memphis (43-17) GB: 4.5
The Memphis Grizzlies’ main selling point is their defense. They are first in the nation in opponent points per game with 95.7. They also are seventh in field goal percentage (.477), fifth in free-throw percentage (.775), seventh in turnovers (12.7), and ninth in opponent turnovers (14.8). Marc Gasol has emerged as a solid franchise leader. The now two-time all-star is currently seventh on the MVP ladder. While the Grizzlies may not be as adept at stifling opponent efficiency as the Warriors, they’ve got a strong defensive squad that can compete with anyone.
Portland (41-19) GB: 6.5
Some will complain that Houston should hold the third seed but those who make such claims would be wrong. Many forget that the top three spots per conference are reserved for divisional champions. Thus, the relationship between the third and fourth playoff positions is not the same that can be found between second and third or fourth and fifth. Portland has a firm grip on the Northwest Division, a whopping eight games ahead of Oklahoma City. For Houston to be in the top three, the Rockets would have to steal the Southwestern crown from the Grizzlies, which is not entirely out of the question; they are only two and a half games behind the Grizz.
Portland does not stroll into the top three without merit. Portland is arguably the second best defensive team in the West behind the Warriors. On paper, Portland is a better team than Memphis because they have a greater balance between defense and offense. Offensively, Portland is ninth in points per game, tied for fifth in three-point percentage, and first in free-throw percentage. Defensively, Portland is ninth in opponent points per game, third in opponent field goal percentage, and first in defensive rebounds per game.
One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses is their inconsistency in shooting. Those that watched the game between the Blazers and Clippers on March 4th witnessed the slump of all slumps from Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. Overall, the team made less than forty percent of their shots despite winning against a squad featuring an unstoppable duo of JJ Redick and Chris Paul.
Another hole in the armor of Rip City is injuries. Aldridge may be capable of soldiering on through his hand injury, but Matthews is out for the season with an ACL tear that he got while playing against the Mavericks. Olshey must be blessing his stars for scooping up Arron Afflalo instead of Wilson Chandler because now Portland still has a viable starter for the remainder of the year. On the flipside, placing Afflalo in the starting lineup will take away Portland’s go-to bench scorer.
LA Clippers (40-22) GB: 8.5
Here lies a controversial decision: placing the Clippers at fourth instead of the Rockets. Aside from the Warriors, the LA Clippers are the pinnacle of offensive efficiency. They are second in points per game (106.4), field goal percentage (.470), and turnovers (11.5). They also are fourth in three point percentage (.368) and tenth in defensive rebounds per game (32.9).
Much like the Portland Trail Blazers, the LA Clippers have had some struggles with injuries. Unlike the Blazers, the Clippers do not have any significant players with season-ending ailments. Blake Griffin’s injury seems to have run its course . Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes have sat out a number of games but it remains to be seen how serious their situations are.
Houston (41-20) GB: 7.0
Houston certainly has the talent to compete in the crowded Western Conference. Though in the bottom half of the league (seventeenth) in opponent points per game, the Rockets are a top ten defensive squad. They are first in opponent three-point percentage (.313) and tenth in opponent field goal percentage (.442). Offensively, the Rockets are only notable in the point per game category, where they are ranked sixth overall (103.1).
Every team in the NBA has a category in which they are subpar. The Warriors, hailed by many as the best team in the Western Conference, are twenty-second in turnovers per game (14.3). Likewise, the Grizzlies are twenty-first in three-point percentage (.335). The Rockets are like any other team in this regard. Unfortunately for the Rockets faithful, Houston has struggled heavily in a number of key areas. They are twenty-second in field goal percentage (.439), twenty-eighth in free-throw percentage, twenty-ninth in turnovers per game (16.1), and twenty-fourth in defensive rebounds per game (31.5). Their struggles with shooting and turnovers are the most damning, especially when compared with the Clippers’ position in those categories.
Dallas (40-23) GB: 9.0
It was easy for me to get swept up in the hype of the Mavericks new and improved offense. With the addition of Chandler Parsons, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, and Rajon Rondo to a lineup that already featured Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, the Mavericks finally seemed poised to make another run for the finals. Dallas is experiencing what I would call the Lebron Effect, where a team has to find chemistry after a number of serious dealings. The Mavs do have offensive gusto considering the fact that they are fourth in the NBA in points per game (104.7) and fifth in field goal percentage (.461).
Dallas’ primary issue revolves around defense. When they’re not lackluster, they’re just overtly bad. Their rebounding is terrible; they average 42.3 rebounds a game to level out at twenty-second in the NBA. Their opponent points per game (100.4) and three point percentage (.364) are also major defensive blind spots. The Mavericks may make the playoffs, but they will not go far.
Oklahoma City (34-28) GB: 14.5
Many would expect the Thunder to be higher up on my list due to their explosive play the last several games. By all accounts, they should be. The problem is that Dallas is five games up on Oklahoma City. Taking both of their last ten games into perspective, Dallas has won half and Oklahoma City has won seventy percent. Right now, Dallas has eighteen games left to Oklahoma City’s twenty. Even if Oklahoma City stayed as hot as they are right now and Dallas kept losing half of their matches, Dallas would still come out on top with 49-33 to Oklahoma City’s 48-34.
One of Oklahoma City’s biggest strengths riding into the playoffs is their rebounding. They are first in defensive rebounds per game (35.3), second in offensive rebounds per game (12.3), and first in total rebounds per game (47.6). Their offensive game is not shabby either, with them ranking tenth in points per game (100.2). Their defense is arguably a more integral component of the team’s identity with their opponent field goal percentage ranking at second place (.428) and their opponent three point percentage taking eighth place (.338). All of that goes without even considering the phenomenal performance Russell Westbrook has had without Kevin Durant. Thunder fans can only hope that Westbrook can maintain his magic when last year’s MVP returns to the lineup.
San Antonio (37-23) GB: 10.5
My, how the mighty have fallen. Last year, San Antonio was first in the NBA standings, not to mention victors in their highly entertaining matchup with the Miami Heat. The momentum from the storied franchise’s 2014 Finals win brought about delusional claims that the Spurs would be able to make another go for the Larry O’Brien trophy. CheatSheet gave the Spurs four-to-one odds of winning the 2015 finals prior to the beginning of this year’s season.
To qualify for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, a team has to be good and the Spurs can still fall under that label. They’re eighth in opponent points per game (96.9), fifth in three point percentage (.361), ninth in free-throw percentage (.772), and sixth in defensive rebounds per game (33.8). The problem here is that they do not have a speciality and they’re not versatile enough to be a truly balanced team. The Spurs are an aging team and while they have the experience of multiple championships on their side, they’ll likely only make the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
“2013-2014 Division Standings.” NBA. NBA Media Ventures, n.d. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
“2014-2015 Divison Regular Season Standings.” NBA. NBA Media Ventures, n.d. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
“2014-2015 Golden State Warriors Schedule.” Real GM. RealGM LLC, n.d. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
Butt, Jason. “Clippers’ Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford Doubtful For Sunday.” CBS Sports. CBS Interactive, 6 Mar 2015. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
Cary, Tim. “6 Favorites to Win the 2015 NBA Title.” Cheat Sheet. The Cheat Sheet, 21 Oct 2014. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
Holdahl, Casey. “LaMarcus Aldridge Will Forego Surgery, Play Tonight Versus Wizards.” Forward Center. NBA Media Ventures, 24 Jan 2015. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
“Wesley Matthews Out For Season With Achilles Injury.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 6 Mar 2015. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
“NBA Team-By-Team Comparison Per Game Statistics- 2014-2015.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, n.d. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
“NBA Team Rebounds Per Game Statistics- 2014-2015.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, n.d. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
Smith, Sekou. “Recent Fury Helps Westbrook’s Case, But Is It Enough?” NBA. NBA Media Ventures, 6 Mar 2015. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
“Trail Blazers at Clippers.” NBA. NBA Media Ventures, 4 Mar 2015. Web. 6 Mar 2015.
Turner, Broderick. “Blake Griffin Could Be Back Sunday.” LA Times. n.p., 4 Mar 2015. Web. 6 Mar 2015.