Basketball Focus Moves to NBA - The Eastern Conference
Basketball Focus Moves to NBA
Congratulations to the North Carolina Tar Heels, the 2017 National Champions of college basketball. Now it's time for sports fans and bettors to focus on who's going to be the 2017 NBA Champion. We'll devote our efforts this week to getting you up to speed on who the most dangerous threats are in each conference.
We start today in the East, where there are now serious doubts about whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers can repeat. It was considered almost automatic much of the season. But, recent issues regarding chemistry, coaching, and DEFENSE have cropped up to perhaps prevent the Cavs from earning the #1 seed.
We'll learn a lot about the race for the title when the Cleveland visits Boston Wednesday (note: Cavs won 114-91). For now, let's quickly review the key indicator stats on offense and defense for all the Eastern contenders. You longtime readers know that we put a lot of weight on offensive and defensive "efficiency." That's simply scoring adjusted for pace. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that all high scoring teams play bad defense. Golden State, for example, plays GREAT defense but allows a lot of points because they play at such a fast pace.
Some slow teams actually have good offenses once you account for tempo.
Let's go in the order of "most likely to matter." The rankings you see by each team name are pace-adjusted rankings.
CLEVELAND: #3 on offense, #23 on defense
The Cavs are still betting favorites to win the East. But, there's NO WAY they're going to repeat as league champs if their defense doesn't get any better than that. Yes, they've been pacing themselves for weeks now. Can they flip a switch and start playing great defense? Answer that question and your bets will make themselves. For now, the answer is "probably" based on past history with LeBron James. But, it's become a fairly soft probably with each passing day.
BOSTON: #8 on offense, #11 on defense
Boston has a real chance to enter the playoffs as the #1 seed. But, they aren't really great at anything. They're pretty good on both sides of the floor. But, too much of their scoring is reliant on Isaiah Thomas. And, too much of their win percentage is probably reliant on a smart young head coach. That edge disappears if he runs into another good coach! Let's say it this way...Boston has a better chance to win the East this year than everyone was thinking back in November. They would be a HUGE underdog to Golden State in the Finals if they do make it that far. (The Warriors are #1 on offense, and #2 on defense while also having significantly more playoff experience and a smart coach).
WASHINGTON: #9 on offense, #20 on defense
Washington has stretches where they seem unstoppable on offense. But, the defense is too weak to be considered a serious championship threat. It will be interesting to see what John Wall and cohorts can do in a tight playoff series against another Eastern contender. They need to find that defense switch too...because you just can't win tight playoff contests by hoping the other team keeps missing open looks.
TORONTO: #4 on offense, #8 on defense
The Raptors should be taken more seriously than they have been of late, particularly if Kyle Lowry is able to return at something resembling 100% health. You can see that they have the best defense of "the big four" in the East. And, that offense has remained very efficient even without Lowry. Regardless of what the standings say, the math says Toronto is more dangerous than Boston in a playoff scenario.
MILWAUKEE: #12 on offense, #19 on defense
There's a bit drop-off after the big four. Milwaukee currently sits in the #5 spot in the seedings, but may not finish there when it's all said and done. There's a lot to like about this young team. They would have to get hot to pull off a surprise in the first round though. These guys could really "arrive" next year or the year after.
ATLANTA: #28 on offense, #4 on defense
CHICAGO: #20 on offense, tied for #12 on defense
MIAMI: #16 on offense, #5 on defense
We're sticking these three together because they're so similar. All are much better on defense than on offense. The offenses are shaky enough that you have to worry about them totally disappearing under playoff pressure. Miami might be a bit misleading because so much of their success in the second half of the season has come from going at full speed while everyone else is pacing themselves. That edge vanishes once the playoffs bring back full speed from everyone. There is a chance any of them could "win ugly" in an opening round series because defense matters so much in the postseason.
INDIANA: #15 on offense, #18 on defense
CHARLOTTE: #14 on offense, tied for #12 on defense
Not everyone we've listed today will make the playoffs. If either (or both) of these two teams do, you're going to have generic mediocrity on both sides of the floor. Either would have to play at their peak while someone else slumps to get out of the first round.
We'll look at the West later this week. Granting that Golden State might have technically "won the West" already when they scored that hugely impressive road win in San Antonio in the back-to-back spot after outclassing Houston. Last year, injuries hurt the Warriors. This year, they're looking like champs before getting Kevin Durant on the floor for the playoffs!