The NBA playoffs get started on Saturday afternoon. To set the tone, TheSportsNotebook is running a Tale of the Tape of all 16 teams in the field. Or, to be more precise, we’re running a concise summation of each team’s tale of the tape, so you can read a summary of what they’re about and who they do it with, rather than wading through statistical data.
Something to note in regards to the terminology used here, is that when we refer to each team’s rankings on offense or defense, the reference is based on efficiency numbers. This adjusts raw point totals for the pace of play and provides a better reflection as to whether a team is really good on offense or defense, rather than the point totals, which are often just a reflection of whether they play fast or slow. On a similar note, rebounding rankings are based on a percentage of overall rebounds, not simply the totals.
Below is the rundown on the eight teams in the NBA Western Conference playoffs
1)San Antonio Spurs (62-20): Tim Duncan continues to defy the law of aging, with a 15 points/10 rebounds per-game average, and Tony Parker led the Spurs in scoring with 17 ppg. Kawhi Leonard, the young small forward who made such a big impact on the 2013 NBA Finals with his scoring and rebounding, is the team’s third-best player. Manu Ginobili is long in the tooth, but still the best of what is a very deep supporting cast.
San Antonio is the best three-point shooting team in the NBA—after losing the championship in Game 6 of last year’s Finals due to consecutive late threes from LeBron James and Ray Allen, maybe the Spurs are bound and determined to see that it doesn’t happen again. They’re sixth in the league offensively, but the stat about this team you want to keep uppermost in mind is this—San Antonio is the fourth-best defensive team in the league. They aren’t seen in the same light as Indiana or Chicago, but they aren’t far behind them. And they’re well ahead of Miami.
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2)Oklahoma City Thunder (58-24): Kevin Durant looks all but certain to anointed as the league MVP, averaging 32 ppg and shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range. Durant carried the team when Russell Westbrook was out. The aggressive point guard is back, and averaged 22 points/6 rebounds/7 assists, as OkC ranks in the top seven of the NBA on both ends of the floor.
What separates the Thunder is that they are the best rebounding team in the NBA and that starts with Serge Ibaka, the underrated power forward who averaged a 15/8. Another role player to keep an eye is Thabo Sefolosha, the guard who can cause immense problems on the defensive end with his athleticism. Getting rebounds and making defensive plays will key transition and that’s what Oklahoma City will need to do if they advance as far as the conference finals, where most of the best teams excel more in in the halfcourt.
3)Los Angeles Clippers (57-25): Doc Rivers has orchestrated the most efficient offensive attack in the league, with Chris Paul and his NBA-best 11 assists per game leading the way. Blake Griffin has enjoyed a monster year, posting a 24/10, while Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick give the Clips quality perimeter scorers and good three-point shooting. Although we should note that while Redick is a great three-point shooter, the team as a whole is not very good. If anyone besides Redick shoots behind the arc, Clipper fans need to rise up in protest.
The most surprising stat about this team is that they rank 19th in the league in rebounding. How is that possible when you have Griffin, and then the league’s best individual rebounder in DeAndre Jordan, at 14 rebounds per game? The Clips do play at a fast pace, so perhaps this is a case of individual rebounding numbers being inflated by a raw number of chances. But it still seems a curious anomaly.
4)Houston Rockets (54-28): There’s no trouble rebounding in Houston, where Dwight Howard’s 12 boards a game lead up a tough board unit. Omer Asik and Terrence Jones both aggressively go to the glass and the Rockets are the NBA’s second-best rebounding team, their signature team strength coming into the playoffs.
The signature individual strength is James Harden, who averaged 25 ppg in another big year, and can take a game over at its key moments. Howard gives 18 a night from the low post, and small forward Chandler Parsons is a steady and quiet third-best player, with a 17/6/4 average across the board. Of all the teams in a mostly fast-paced Western bracket, Houston plays at the quickest pace of all.
5)Portland Trail Blazers (54-28): By the standards of contending teams in the league’s tougher conference, Portland’s defense isn’t very good, ranking in the middle of the league overall. They can score though, and Lamarcus Aldridge leads the way, averaging a 23/11. Aldridge is the star, but Nicolas Batum at small forward is a complete player, chipping in his points and rebounds, and also averaging five assists. Damian Lilliard, the second-year point guard that has looked great since his arrival in the league, knocks down 21 a night, is a terrific distributor and is also the team’s best three-point shooter.
Portland has other solid contributors in Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams in the backcourt, and Robin Lopez down low. But one reason the individual averages are so good, is that the bench is not very long. The Blazers are at a disadvantage in any endurance contest.
6)Golden State Warriors (51-31): The Warriors seem to be coming undone at exactly the wrong team. The reports of a rift between head coach Mark Jackson and ownership grow more public by the day. Now center Andrew Bogut has a fractured rib and is in danger of missing the entire playoffs—or at least the first round, which the way things are going, amount to one and the same thing. Bogut’s presence in the middle was a big reason the Warriors played the third-best defense in the NBA this season and the best of any of the Western Conference playoff teams.
We know Golden State can dominate in the backcourt, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson being prolific scorers, who can beat you off the dribble and absolutely destroy you behind the arc. David Lee averages 18/9 at the power forward spot and gives an inside presence. There is no obvious weakness on this team. But the key injury and the bad mojo doesn’t inspire confidence going in.
7)Memphis Grizzlies (50-32): Memphis is coming on strong to get into the playoffs, and they’ve got their potent low post duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph functioning in tandem right now. Collectively, the two average 32 points/17 rebounds a night. Mike Conley is an able floor leader, and the Grizzlies are a solid team at both defense and going to the glass.
The area they provide the most intrigue though is going to be the pace of play. Memphis plays at the slowest of pace of anyone—not just in the playoffs, but of all 30 NBA teams. The six teams above them are all among the ten fastest in the league. If I’m an underdog—which Memphis is—I like that. It provides a way for me to present contrast and hopefully force a favorite to have to do something they’re uncomfortable with.
8)Dallas Mavericks (49-33): The combination of Monta Ellis pouring it in from the backcourt and Dirk Nowitzki looking young again, and averaging 22 a night, made the Mavs the second-best offensive team in the NBA and that’s the reason they are in the playoffs. This team does not defend well and they don’t rebound well. They need better defense on the perimeter from Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, and a role player like Samuel Dalembert down low, has to have some big rebounding games. Otherwise, we just shake the hand of Mark Cuban, compliment him for dragging this team into the playoffs in the rugged West and then wait for them to say a quick goodbye.