SURPRISE TEAMS SHOWING UP
IN DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
Time for another basketball article before we get buried in football during the stretch run of the NFL and the college bowl season that starts this Saturday.
A week ago today, we got you up to speed on the NBA with a look at per-game margin averages. Those can be used as virtual Power Ratings because they represent the point differential between two teams within a relatively tight schedule environment. We encourage you to monitor those throughout the season. We won't talk much pro hoops again until after the bowls are over (with a one-day exception on Christmas when pro basketball is the only game in town!). Keep checking out the websites that post per-game differentials in their standings.
We also want you to pay attention to DEFENSE.
As we've written countless times, and showed you just as often in boxscore stats...defense and rebounding win championships at both the college and pro levels. Legal sports bettors tend to fall in love with offensive-minded teams because it's more fun to root for scoring than to root against it. This KILLS them in the postseason because offensive-minded teams get pushed off the floor relatively quickly. Offense can be the tie-breaker if two strong defense and rebounding teams are at a standstill otherwise. Offense by itself just isn't going to get you very far.
With that in mind, we wanted to look at team defense today. The stat we've chosen to tell the story is 'Shooting Percentage Allowed.' The data is updated through the games of Sunday Night. If you haven't been paying any attention to the NBA, or if you've just kind of been paying half attention, today's report will open your eyes in our opinion. That's particularly true at the top of the totem pole, where a short list of championship contenders is already showing their swagger.
BEST DEFENSES (Opponents shooting percentage)
LA Lakers .435
Yes, the Miami Heat lead the league! Nobody was thinking about defense when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were cutting their wrestlemania promo's before the season started. But, this team has made it very clear they know what it takes to win a championship.
Indiana is a huge surprise at #2 if you're a longtime follower of pro hoops...but not if you've been reading boxscores lately. Indiana scored road victories over Miami and the Lakers thanks to great defense. They've really come a long way on that side of the ball. Vegas oddsmakers noticed relatively quickly...but you can still find value with the Pacers if you pick your spots. We've pointed this out to you often over the years...if a team gets hot because the shots are falling...that's probably not going to hold up. If a team gets hot by playing aggressive defense, that's an edge that's going to have some legs for a long time.
Dallas and Boston are next on the list. Both are popular picks to have pointspread success this season. A projected Miami-Boston series is really going to be good based on what we've seen from Miami since they got their heads on straight.
The Lakers are fifth in the league. Kobe Bryant and company rarely get enough credit for their strength on this side of the court. We've emphasized that to you in our postseason coverage the past few seasons. Please don't lose site of it this year. Phil Jackson coaches defense. Kobe Bryant insists that his teammates defend. That gets hidden by a fast pace sometimes. Focusing on shooting percentage helps you see the truth.
We also want to mention Chicago here. Like Indiana, they've been on a nice run lately because of consistent defense. It's great to see some teams outside the Boston-Orlando-Miami nexus getting serious about doing what it takes to win. The new head coach has a defensive background. It's shown up on the floor in recent weeks.
GOOD BUT NOT GREAT
New Orleans .439
This caliber of team will fill out the playoff brackets, but isn't likely to take out a contender over a best-of-seven series. Hey Orlando, we're talking to you! The Magic aren't used to falling back in this discussion, even if they're still more than respectable. We're disappointed in Milwaukee this year. Maybe they're waiting to peak in the second half of the season figuring they can't earn home court in the first round anyway. Or, maybe the league adjusted to last year's 'Fear the Deer' campaign.
Note that Philadelphia is making noise under Doug Collins. Add them to the Indiana-Chicago list of teams who have been covering spreads with defense lately. If you've been paying close attention to the NBA, you've been able to ride some hot teams to big profits.
LEAGUE AVERAGE OR WORSE
New Jersey .457
San Antonio .457
LA Clippers .460
Oklahoma City .464
The biggest disappointment here is San Antonio. They're 20-3 in the standings, but that's been with a very efficient offense and their usual moxy on the boards. Allowing a shooting percentage near 46% is something you can get away with during the regular season if everything else is clicking. In the playoffs, you're putting too much pressure on your shooters to win games. You longtime readers know we're big fans of the Spurs dynasty. They've done it right in every sense of the word. But...this defensive ranking is a potential red flag that could cause headaches down the road.
Oklahoma City is a bit of a shocker after last year. The team was almost championship caliber with a bunch of kids because they hustled on defense and had a few scoring weapons. That's just not happening this year, suggesting that a former assistant coach should have been getting more credit than he was! OK City was supposed to get better because younger teams improve. They've taken a few steps backward because of a disappointing defense.
REALLY BAD DEFENSES
Golden State .471
New York .472
No surprises here. That's a list of the usual suspects (Phoenix, Toronto, and New York are part of the same family tree, and Golden State's from a nearby forest). Cleveland is new this year because of a coaching change and the loss of LeBron James. He's a better defender than people realize, and his teammates would go all out on that side of the ball knowing they didn't have to do much on offense. The collapse of the Cavs this year isn't the loss of high flying chalk and higher flying dunks. It's the loss of defensive intensity.
We hope you'll pay close attention to defensive stats from this point forward. Several websites, including the league's own website offer daily updates. You will see improvement in your own handicapping IMMEDIATELY if you pay more attention to defense.
Here's a quick look at marquee games you can evaluate the next few nights with defense in mind:
TUESDAY: Orlando at Denver
WEDNESDAY: Boston at New York on ESPN, LA Lakers at Indiana, Houston at Oklahoma City, Milwaukee at San Antonio, Portland at Dallas on ESPN
THURSDAY: Atlanta at Boston on TNT, San Antonio at Denver on TNT
FRIDAY: Miami at New York on ESPN, LA Lakers at Philadelphia, Utah at New Orleans, Phoenix at Dallas on ESPN
SATURDAY: Philadelphia at Orlando, Utah at Milwaukee
SUNDAY: Indiana at Boston, Phoenix at Oklahoma City
The college hoops schedule is kind of light this week because of final exams. Football is quiet until Thursday (San Francisco at San Diego in the NFL), then will pick up Saturday when the bowl schedule starts. That means the BEST way to make money in the immediate future is in the NBA!
You can purchase JIM HURLEY'S basketball selections every night online a few hours before tipoff. Or, sign up for monthly or seasonal packages. If you have any questions, or you want to add basketball to an existing football package, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.
Back tomorrow and Thursday to update key NFL numbers and preview the coming week. The first of MANY statistical bowl previews will run on Friday to get you ready for Saturday's tripleheader. Make sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY happening in the world of sports!
This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.
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