There are two great games on Sunday, the Miami Heat versus the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat-Knicks matchup pits two of the best teams in the East. Miami is playing some of its best basketball of the season and is currently on a 12-game winning streak. The Knicks have been up and down lately but have one of the most explosive offenses, led by Carmelo Anthony, in the league.
The Clipper-Thunder game should be the game to watch this week. It could determine who is second in the West behind the San Antonio Spurs. Both the Clippers and the Thunder are considered top contenders. Most analysts view this year as coming down to four teams, the defending champion Heat, Spurs, Clippers and Thunder.
The Clippers are playing their best basketball of the year, led by first-team All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. They have a dominating defensive big man in DeAndre Jordan, and Sixth Man of the year candidate and leading NBA bench scorer, Jamaal Crawford. They also have veteran star point guard, Chauncey Billups, back at full strength.
Oklahoma City, even after losing James Harden in an early-season trade, continues to be one of the strongest teams in the league. This is mainly due to stars Kevin Durant, who currently leading the league in scoring, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. They have their own super Sixth Man Kevin Martin, and they also just signed veteran leader Derek Fisher.
Here’s a look at both teams:
Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook
Clippers: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin
Advantage: Clippers only by a hair, mainly because Chris Paul is the best leader in the game
In the middle
Thunder: Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Clippers: DeAndre Jordan
Thunder: Led by Kevin Martin
Clippers: Led by Jamaal Crawford
Advantage: The Clippers have the strongest bench in the league; this is perhaps their biggest advantage
Thunder: with the loss of James Harden, Oklahoma City is vulnerable to double-teaming of Kevin Durant. This puts the load on Russell Westbrook. They sometimes take bad shots and are prone to turnovers.
Clippers: the Clippers have been vulnerable to a slow-down half-court game. Beyond Blake Griffin, they do not have much to go to in the post. They also have not defended the three point shot well, one of the Thunder’s strengths.
I give the Clippers the edge. The game is being played at Staples Center, where the Clippers have a big advantage, and I’d take the Clippers’ bench and defense over OKC. At this point in the season the Clippers are just playing better basketball.
MAN ON FIRE
LeBron James just concluded perhaps the greatest month of any NBA player, averaging 29.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 64.1 percent. Miami went 12-1, losing only on Feb. 1 to the Indiana Pacers. James completely dominated every aspect of the game for the Heat in that stretch.
What is even more amazing is he had the highest player efficiency rating (PER) for any NBA player ever in the month of February, finishing with a PER of 38.5.
To put this in perspective, the average NBA player has a PER of 15. Michael Jordan finished his career with a rating of 27.91.
PER, which is a rating of a players per-minute productivity, was
created by John Hollinger to summarize player’s statistical
accomplishment in a single number. It goes beyond the normal box score
to measure how productive a player actually is on a per-minute basis.
includes positive accomplishments such as field goals, free throws,
3-pointers, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones such as
missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls. Two important things to
remember about PER are that it is per-minute and is pace adjusted.
James currently has a career high of 32.6 PER for the season, with his previous best coming in 2008-09 when he had a 31.7 rating.
There are currently very few players averaging over 20 points per game and even fewer big scorers at 25 PPG’s or more. The defenses are better and overall scoring is down.
Since 1980 possessions are down about 10 a game to 92 per game. Shooting percentage is down about 3 percent since 1980. NBA team scoring average is also down around 10 points since 1982 to below 100.
The art/science of a defensive strategy has come light years since the high-scoring days of George Gervin, Bernard King, Alex English, Adrian Dantley and Dominique Wilkins.
The typical NBA coaching staff will always have a defensive coordinator, whose sole responsibility is stopping the other team. Advancements in scouting and increased integration of video into what’s now considered standard preparation has made scoring more challenging.
The advancements in analytics have also contributed. Offensive schemes are much more restricted. Teams regularly overload on the strong side of the court, protect the paint at all cost and force the opposition into launching long two’s (long two’s are the least efficient shot in basketball). They also protect against the corner three (the shortest and most effective).
Great players regularly face double and triple teams. It is amazing players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James can average in the high 20s. My best year in the NBA I averaged 29.8 PPG. It was difficult back then in the 80s, I can’t imagine what it would be like now!