At the beginning of the year, there were ten teams with legitimate hopes of making (and winning) the Finals; Miami, Indiana, Chicago, Brooklyn, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Houston, and Golden State. Less than a month into the season, injuries, chronic and catastrophic, have reduced that number by two (Brooklyn, Chicago), with a third team (Memphis) facing significant difficulties. Of the remaining teams, only San Antonio, Miami, and Indiana have consistently played at a championship level so far. The Spurs and Pacers have succeeded with dominant defenses and enough scoring. The Heat are riding a historic offense and a defense that tries when it matters.
I'm also sanguine about Oklahoma City's long term prospects, as they have managed to start the year 9-3 despite a rusty Russell Westbrook. The development of Steven Adams and Jeremy Lamb will be very important, not least so that the team does not have to rely on Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher. The Clippers and Rockets can both score, but have serious defensive issues, and the Warriors have looked very impressive at times, but are dealing with injuries and an ineffective bench.
The Portland Trailblazers are killing it from three - on both ends of the floor. Portland is hitting .422 from deep, third in the league behind only Golden State and Miami, on almost 24 attempts per game. The Blazers are also limiting teams to .304 from beyond the arc, first in the league, on a little over 16 attempts per game. The difference in attempts is an excellent sign for Portland, indicating that the Blazers will retain a three point shooting edge over the rest of the season. It is highly unlikely, however, that Portland will continue to outshoot opponents by nearly 120 points. Last year, the largest positive differential was 56 points, posted by the Golden State Warriors. The year before, the Boston Celtics posted the largest differential, at 59 points. Regression to merely "normal best in the league" would cost the Blazers 3-4 points per game off their current pace.
Maintaining three point supremacy is especially important, as the Blazers have been outshot - .479 to .466 - from two and have drawn fewer free throws than their opponents. Some of this is by design, as the Blazer gameplan is focused on limiting opponent threes, and maximizing their own chances, but no gameplan guarantees this level of success, particularly Wesley Matthews achieving a TS% of .714. The Blazers should still make the playoffs, especially with their head start, but I would be very surprised to see them in the West's top three at the end of the year. None of which is intended as a slight to the Blazers roster or management.
Portland's opposite number is Philadelphia. The 76ers are actually outshooting opponents on two point shots - .490 to .485 - but have been destroyed from beyond the arc. The team is shooting only .323 from deep, while opponents connect at a .393 clip. It is not surprising that Philadelphia is struggling from behind the arc; the team's best shooters are James Anderson and Spencer Hawes, who is shooting an unsustainable .491 from three. Given the team's talent, it is difficult to construct a scenario in which the team's shooters connect on more than a third of their threes.
Brett Brown should be more worried about the defensive end of the ball, where the Sixers have surrendered nearly 29 threes a game, most in the league by far. Even though Philadelphia will lose many games this season no matter what, defending the three point line is one area in which the team can make tangible progress. It appears reality has set in for Philadelphia. After a 3-0 start, the team has lost nine of twelve and has been outscored by nearly six points a game on the year.
Bullet points? Bullet points.
- The Miami Heat have a ridiculous .580 eFG% this year. The NBA record? .552, held by the 2013 Miami Heat. The rest of the top 5 consists of the Showtime Lakers and the SSOL Suns.
- Your 4-5 matchup in the Eastern Conference would currently feature the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors travelling to Charlotte.
- The entire Western Conference except for the Kings and Jazz is at .500 or above.
- Jordan Hill is quietly having an excellent season for the Lakers. He's dealt with some tough injury luck over the past couple seasons, but is currently averaging 17 and 14 on 59% shooting per 36 minutes.
- On the other hand, going into Sunday's games, the top five in individual offensive rating were Wesley Matthews, Tiago Splitter, Martell Webster, Terrence Jones, and Chris Paul. I'll wait a few more weeks before talking about most individual player seasons.
- The Hornets are going back to purple and teal. Party like it's 1998!
- Yesterday was the 25th Anniversary of the very first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.