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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 8:05 PM

As we get back up to speed with our NBA coverage here in the NOTEBOOK, we want to spend a day getting caught up with the defensive performances of playoff contenders. Back on Wednesday we ran through our pet “Wins Minus Home Games Played” stat. Be sure you check the archives if you missed that report. Today, we focus on the single most important factor for playing championship basketball. DEFENSE!

The stat will be using today is “defensive efficiency,” which is points allowed adjusted for tempo. Slow teams don’t get defensive “credit” for holding onto the ball this way. Fast teams don’t get penalized because they play so many more possessions. Can you stop people when they have the ball? Defensive efficiency gets us there.

Unfortunately this year, there’s still some pollution in the stat because the West is so much better than the East. The East has several really bad teams, and it’s just not that hard to shut them down if you know what you’re doing. Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston grade out as the three best defenses in the league. They might not if they had to play in the West, and the Western powers got to come over to play in the East. So, we’re going to evaluate the conferences separately. That will give you more clear insights into how the playoff chase may play out, and then how the playoff themselves will look a few weeks down the road.

Let’s start in the East. Note that all numbers are through the games of Wednesday Night because of publication deadlines.


EASTERN CONFERENCE DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (points allowed per 100 possessions)

Philadelphia 94.5

Chicago 96.3

Boston 96.3 (tie)

Miami 97.2

New York 97.4

Atlanta 98.5

Indiana 99.3

Orlando 100.0

Milwaukee 102.9

Those are the nine teams fighting for the eight playoff spots. Even though Atlanta doesn’t impress on that list, they’re actually 7th in the league, while Orlando is 10th! That tells you how polluted things get if you don’t adjust for schedule differentials. Atlanta would NOT be seen as having an elite defense if they played in the West. They’d be okay. Orlando’s defense has actually been a big disappointment to us by conference standards. They have a “defense and rebounding” reputation because of Dwight Howard. They just don’t shine at all within the easier standards of their weak conference. 

Keys we want to point out from this list:

*Chicago and Miami are championship material because they play great defense AND have superstar threats on offense (when healthy). They do play top quality defense, and would grade out well in the West if they had to switch conferences.

*Philadelphia has a knack this year for crushing the worst teams with great defense and a smart offense, but then disappearing when they face most playoff contenders. Their defense is NOT as good as that #1 ranking would suggest. You’ve seen how badly they’ve played vs. the West. They’d probably rank as “pretty good” rather than “fantastic” if they switched conferences. And, we don’t really consider them superior to Chicago and Miami on the defensive side of the ball regardless of what those numbers say. They’re just better at going hard for 48 minutes in blowouts vs. poor offenses.

*New York was better than people realized defensively all year thanks to the acquisition of Tyson Chandler. They’ve kicked things up another notch since Mike Woodson took over the head coaching position. We’re not ready yet to say that they will defend at the same level as Chicago and Miami in the playoffs. We are certainly leaning that direction though. What New York has done under Woodson is truly impressive. And, Chandler didn’t get enough credit last year for what he did against Miami in the finals for Dallas.

*Down at the bottom, it’s hard to see Milwaukee surging into the playoffs at the expense of Boston or New York if their defense is so far behind everyone else. That’s too much pressure on the shooters to produce every night. Any “Fear the Deer” sequels currently seem like a longshot to us.

Moving to the West…


WESTERN CONFERENCE DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (points allowed per 100 possessions)

Dallas 98.3

Memphis 98.9

LA Lakers 99.3

Oklahoma City 100.2

San Antonio 101.3

Houston 101.5

Minnesota 102.0

LA Clippers 103.0

Phoenix 103.3

Utah 103.4

Denver 103.9

We’ve included the eight playoff spots and anyone who’s within 2.5 games of the playoffs as of press time. That’s created a lengthy list. Not everyone you see is going to make it. And, the teams at the bottom of the list are going to have the most trouble finishing strong because defense is the first thing to go when you run out of gas. The second thing to go is jump shooting…which you can’t afford to mess up if your defense isn’t playing well!

Notes here:

*Dallas has the best defense in the West, which is something NOBODY is talking about. Even with the loss of Chandler, this team does a great job of X’s and O’s, identifying team and player tendencies from the opposition that they can exploit. This will give them a chance to pull off some surprises in the Western playoffs. But, this team has lost so much in terms of chemistry and energy from last year that we don’t like their chances to repeat. We do love this defense though. Too bad sportswriters who cover the NBA are so oblivious!

*Mike Brown is a defensive-minded coach (arguably a defensive coordinator who may not be best suited as a head coach). The Lakers are certainly playing well on that side of the ball under Brown, as they did under Phil Jackson. The addition of Ramon Sessions upgraded the offense while not hurting the defense. That gives the Lakers a shot to survive the West come playoff time. Though, this still seems to be a group where championship chemistry is lacking. Phil Jackson made the most of an odd mix of personalities. Few coaches are Phil Jackson.

*Memphis should definitely have your attention because they’ve been playing great defense all year, and they’re just now starting to get healthy. They were a darkhorse last year who just missed pulling off a “shock the nation” spring. Little has changed this year, except the young stars are a year smarter and more mature. This is a classic “defense and rebounding” team, which means we’ll be looking for value spots to bet the team when healthy.

*Oklahoma City and San Antonio are the favorites in the West right now because they have top five conference defenses AND multiple scoring threats on offense. Neither has the luxury of getting overconfident (as both learned last year when playing Memphis!). But, you can’t disagree with their status as favorites given the quality of defense and the stars who will be shooting.

As you handicap Friday Night’s busy 10-game card, and the marquee TV games that are on the bill in the coming days (like Chicago-Oklahoma City Sunday on ABC), be sure you keep the FULL picture in mind. Far too many handicappers forget about defense when making their picks. They focus on the scoring potential of the stars. Maybe they factor in fatigue or revenge. They spend too much time thinking about who “chokes” and not enough on who defends!

That’s one reason JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK does so well in the NBA. We know what works. We know what wins. We know how to stay ahead of the market in a sport where riding herd on developments each and every day consistently pays dividends.

If you’d like to start winning with us, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. You can try things out on a day-by-day basis right here at the website. Selections go up a few hours before first tip for credit card purchase. This is a great time to try things out with the busy NBA schedule AND the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament going this weekend.

Our exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach sets apart from the competition. That’s why the man in the middle of the information hurricane…JIM HURLEY…is a handicapping legend. Vegas never did figure out how to play defense against him!

Are you ready to win? LET’S GO GET THE MONEY!

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