Big Four in NBA East do Battle

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

IT'S CHICAGO/ORLANDO & BOSTON/MIAMI
TODAY IN MARQUEE MATCHUPS ON ABC

Today seemed like the perfect time to outline the expectations for the Eastern Conference in the upcoming NBA playoffs. The four teams with the best chance to represent the conference in the NBA Finals (by a mile) are battling head-to-head today on national television.

*Chicago at Orlando at 1 p.m. ET on ABC
*Boston at Miami at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC

Chicago has already wrapped up the #1 seed in the West. They may not take their foot off the gas though because they still have a chance to earn the best record overall that would give them home court advantage in the championship round if they were to face the San Antonio Spurs. Chicago has already clinched a better record than anyone else in the West.

Boston and Miami will be in the #2 and #3 slots in the brackets. But, they're tied with each other heading into this game. Home court advantage is obviously HUGE in a playoff series, and today's game will probably determine who will enjoy that benefit if these teams make it to the second round.

Instead of previewing the two games individually, we want to look at ALL FOUR teams in terms of how they rank in the best playoff indicators. You're going to be handicapping a lot of games involving these teams between now and the middle of June. Upsets are possible. But, if form holds, the matchups you see above will be the second round in the East. Then the winners will play for the conference title…and THAT winner will keep right on playing. YOU MUST KNOW THESE TEAMS!

There are obviously some teams in the West you need to be following too. We'll talk more about that conference in our Tuesday report when the Spurs and Lakers are set to meet on TNT. Memphis at Portland is also on the Tuesday schedule, and that will be a big game in determining the final Western draw.

You regulars know we constantly emphasize that defense and rebounding wins championships. One of the ultimate defense and rebounding teams in college basketball, Connecticut, just won the Big Dance again. It's almost a certainty already that a strong defense and rebounding team will win the NBA.

We've got a gauntlet of indicator stats to look at today. We'll start with defense and rebounding…

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (points allowed per 100 possessions)
Chicago: 97.2 (1st in the NBA)
Boston: 97.7 (2nd in the NBA)
Orlando: 99.4 (3rd in the NBA)
Miami: 101.0 (5th in the NBA)

Well, look at that! Four of the five best defenses in the whole league will be on display this afternoon for your viewing pleasure. Chicago and Boston basically play the same style of defense because they were influenced by the same coach. Chicago's just a younger version of Boston in terms of how they play defense right now. Orlando has Dwight Howard, the monster in the middle. The rest of the team really isn't very good defensively. But, he's SO good that Orlando ranks 3rd in the league. Miami has done a good job of blending their talents to stop opponents. When you hear New York complaining about how long it takes to learn how to play defense together…remember that Miami was able to play good defense right away. New York has lousy defenders!

We do want to note that the Eastern Conference has more really bad teams than the West does. That's playing a role in making the East look so dominant across the full league. Strong Western defenses like the Lakers, New Orleans, and Memphis would be neck-and-neck with this group if the schedules were equalized. But, we're still talking about the elite of the sport. Defense and rebounding wins championships.

REBOUND RATE (percentage of missed shots that a team rebounds)
Chicago: 53.4% (1st in the NBA)
Orlando: 51.9% (2nd in the NBA)
Miami: 51.7% (3rd in the NBA)
Boston: 49.5% (20th in the NBA)

This is where Boston takes a monster hit, and why they're not striking your naked eye very impressively this year if you're watching their games on TV or in person. Chicago, Orlando, and Miami are the best rebounding teams in the NBA. They attack the boards with a passion. They just own the defensive end of the paint in every way imaginable. Boston is no longer able to do that because of age and a lack of depth. Trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City a few weeks ago made a bad situation even worse.

You can see why we're confident about a defense and rebounding team winning the title this year. The Eastern representative is going to fit that mold unless Boston rises up like the Undertaker after a chair shot. The top Western Contenders are now playing that way too since OKC acquired Perkins, and Denver traded Carmelo Anthony.

Of course, when most everyone is thriving at defense and rebounding, those issues cancel out…and it could be something else that ends up being the tie-breaker. Let's see what's happening in some of those “something else” categories.

OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (points scored per 100 possessions)
Miami: 109.2 (2nd in the NBA)
Orlando: 105.8 (10th in the NBA)
Chicago: 105.3 (13th in the NBA)
Boston: 104.3 (15th in the NBA)

Oh yeah, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are on the same team! This is why so many pundits were giving Miami the championship before they had played a game. This is certainly the most lethal offense in the Eastern conference. Everyone's capable of putting up a big number when they're hitting their shots. James and Wade are simply better weapons in the scoring battle. Let's admit though that the Miami offense HASN'T been overwhelming when they match up against top defenses. Time will tell whether or not Boston or Chicago can neutralize this Miami offense…kind of in the same way that the best baseball pitchers are unhittable by anybody when they have their stuff.

THREE-POINTERS PER GAME
Orlando: 9.4 (1st in the NBA)
Miami: 6.7 (11th in the NBA)
Chicago: 6.2 (15th in the NBA)
Boston: 5.0 (26th in the NBA)

We started paying more attention to this in recent seasons when Orlando made a bit of a splash with a heavy emphasis on three-pointers. They did make it to the Finals two years ago. But, they fell short last year. And, they seem to be trending in the wrong direction. It's like they went from having a complete all-around game that pulled away from opponents because of the extra treys…but now all they have is Dwight Howard and guys who hit some treys.

Three extra treys per game is still nine points though. Orlando's opponents will have to find ways to make up for those nine points. We found a stat where it's likely to happen…

TURNOVER RATE (percentage of possessions ending in turnover)
Miami: 23.5 (tied for 14th in the NBA)
Chicago: 23.5 (tied for 14th in the NBA)
Orlando: 24.8 (24th in the NBA)
Boston: 25.1 (27th in the NBA)

Orlando and Boston have been disasters in this stat this year. Boston has actually been bad for a few years though…and they managed to play in some championship games anyway. This isn't a death knell stat if you have other strong positives. It can be a bad tie-breaker if you're not head and shoulders above the field.

Let's mention now that the best teams in the West are better than what you're seeing above. One of the hidden edges the Lakers have over the league is that they protect the ball so well on offense (they're currently third in the NBA this year). If it's Miami and Chicago playing for the East, they'll look like good turnover teams because of their advantages over Orlando and Boston. Should they run into the Lakers, they immediately become bad turnover teams relatively speaking.

That should give you something to think about as you watch today's games. You regulars know we can't post official selections here in the NOTEBOOK. That information is for paying customers only. It's easy to be a paying customer. Just make a few clicks and have your credit card handy.

JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will have all-day TV action on Sunday, including both NBA games and the Red Sox-Yankees tonight.  Our full Sunday slate is available now. by clicking here.  Be sure to check out the rates for seasonal packages when you're online today. Those offer the most bang for your buck. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Defense and rebounding wins championships. JIM HURLEY WINS YOU MONEY!

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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