by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Our transition from football coverage to basketball coverage continues today with a look at a key stat in the NBA. We'll be back to football tomorrow with our NFL Playoff previews. We just finished off three days of college basketball coverage (check the archives if you missed those reports). So much to talk about, so little time!

Today we're going to get you updated on where NBA teams stand on DEFENSE to this point in the season. The media focuses on star players. When they do look at offense, they look at the big scorers, or teams who launch a lot of three pointers and run around like chickens with their heads cut off. For some reason, media types LOVE wild and crazy basketball. As we've said since this website started many years ago...DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS!

That's true in all sports. It's always been true in pro basketball. Bill Russell taught everyone that back in the 1960's (yet the media still loved Wilt Chamberlain, and the variety of ways he was a big 'scorer'). The Spurs dynasty was keyed on defense. Boston became a champion two years ago with Herculean defensive efforts. Kobe finally a ring without Shaq last year because the Lakers were much better on defense than everyone realized.

If you want to know what's REALLY happening in the NBA, you need to know where everyone stands on defense.

Here are the defensive field goal percentage numbers from this week. We've separated everyone into groups for easy digestion...


Cleveland 43%
LA Lakers 44%
Oklahoma City 44%
Orlando 44%
Chicago 44%
Boston 44%
Let's deal with the championship contenders first. You have the Lakers from the West...and most experts still believe that Los Angeles is going to win that conference once the postseason arrives. The current won-lost record isn't particularly gaudy. This is an old enough team to know that they have to pace themselves. Cleveland, Orlando, and Boston from the East are all represented. Those are the usual favorites...with LeBron James hoping to break through this year after watching Boston and Orlando represent the conference the past two seasons. He was young when he faced the Spurs.

Defense wins championships. Champions play defense. Great examples already that the four favorites to go the distance are ranked this highly in the most important stat.

Now, Oklahoma City and Chicago? What's happening there?

Oklahoma City is very well coached, and is playing great team defense even though start Kevin Durant isn't known as much of a stopper. The rest of the team is stopping people! Durant will learn defense given time...and this group has a chance to really mature into something special. You have to respect a team of youngsters who are defending this well in what's commonly recognized as a 'veteran' league.

Chicago is coached by Vinny Del Negro. He's still green. But, he's of the Paul Popovich lineage that enjoyed a dynasty in San Antonio (back when his stars were younger and less injury prone). Del Negro learned the value of defense as a Spur (just like Avery Johnson did before he coached a Dallas team that worked hard on that end). The Bulls still have issues. Those issues are with a stagnant offense and inconsistent shooting. The hustle has been there on the defensive end.

Charlotte 45%
Dallas 45%
San Antonio 45%
Miami 45%
LA Clippers 45%
Indiana 45%
Utah 45%

Here we have teams who are hoping to improve that 45% mark down to 44% so they can be considered more seriously as championship threats.

The San Antonio dynasty is still represented, even though they've been dealing with injuries. Dallas is having a nice year since they started playing defense again. Charlotte is coached by Larry Brown, who's basically the Johnny Appleseed of defense in this league because he's coached so many places and influenced so many other coaches. Miami and Utah are always threats because of the coaches in their braintrust (Sloan on the floor in Utah, Riley in the front office in Miami).

Indiana's trying to build a winner from the ground up. You can see their emphasizing the right side of the ball to this point. The Clippers are a bit of a surprise. They're hanging around the .500 mark despite the absence of their #1 draft pick Blake Griffin. He's not out for the season as you probably heard the other day.


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Portland 46%
Washington 46%
Milwaukee 46%
Phoenix 46%
Denver 46%
Toronto 46%

Portland is a surprise, because that's a team that should rank higher than this defensively based on their reputation. Part of their hype comes from a slow tempo rather than real defense. Hey, if you're tied with Washington, Phoenix, and Toronto in a defensive stat, you're not doing a very good job!

We're also surprised Denver is down this low. The Nuggets fancied themselves a championship threat. Injuries have been an issue, like they always seem to be with this franchise. We're also always on the lookout for George Karl to lose his players. That's happened everywhere he's coached. There's an initial surge followed by everyone getting fed up! We didn't think the downturn would happen this year. That poor defensive ranking for a projected championship contender is a bad omen.

Frankly, we're a bit surprised Phoenix and Toronto rank this high given the games we've been watching. We think you'll be surprised by how many teams are yet to come.

Atlanta 47%
Sacramento 47%
Houston 47%
Minnesota 47%
New Orleans 47%
New York 47%
Detroit 47%

Atlanta has had some great results this year. We love their hustle. We love their spirit. We love the way they spank the lesser teams instead of just trying to cash their paychecks with a relaxing win. What we DON'T like is a 47% mark on defense!

The Hawks are not a threat to derail Cleveland, Boston, or Orlando in the playoffs until they guard the basket with more authority. They may be a great #4 seed. They may be WAY ahead of the bottom half of the Eastern brackets come playoff time. They're not a team to be taken seriously in games that MATTER until they play better defense.

Sacramento and Houston are getting media respect this year in a 'better than we'd thought they'd be' kind of way. Will they be able to keep draining enough shots to outscore what their defense is allowing? The stat guys on the NETWORK handicapping staff like the emphasis Houston places on research. That does offer up some 'value' spots now and again on the regular season board. The Rockets won't be for real until they climb the ladder some defensively.

Philadelphia 48%
New Jersey 48%
Memphis 48%
Golden State 49%

Memphis has some great scorers. Will they every guard anybody?! It's amazing they've pulled off the record they have this year given their horrible defensive ranking. No surprises otherwise. New Jersey's been a disaster. Golden State is a team in name only this year, taking up space on the floor a few nights a week. Philadelphia has occasional flashes of glory (they upset Boston on the road not too long ago). They've mostly been a disappointment too considering how weak the East is. Philly has the talent to coast to a playoff spot. They're coasting alright.

That's all 30 teams. You can now apply what you've just learned to a very busy weekend schedule in pro hoops. Here are the TV highlights from tonight through Monday's MLK holiday...

*Phoenix at Atlanta on ESPN
*Orlando at Portland on ESPN
(Note some schedules show Toronto at New York as the early game. ESPN switched to a game with significantly more interest!)

*Phoenix at Charlotte on the NBA Network

*Utah at Denver on ESPN

*9 day games in honor of Martin Luther King's birthday, historically televised for free on cable on the League Pass channels (so they can advertise their 'half season' rates!)
*Phoenix at Memphis on TNT
*Dallas at Boston on TNT
*Orlando at LA Lakers on TNT

You can see why we're getting you focused on the NBA today. We won't have time to mention baskets through the weekend because of all the football. We'll post our stat previews Saturday morning, and our game summaries from Week Two of the NFL playoffs Sunday and Monday mornings. Tuesday we'll go back to the NBA to crunch numbers from the MLK Day highlights. We'll pick back up with college hoops again Wednesday.

Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!

And, be sure you call JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK so you can WIN every day as well. The number is 1-800-323-4453. We've got great rates on our CASHLINE and BLUE RIBBON basketball services. Reduced rates are now available for the rest of football through the Super Bowl too. Don't forget that all plays can be purchased here at the website with your credit card as well.

Whether you're talking basketball or football, BIG JUICY WINNERS ARE JUST A FEW CLICKS AWAY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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