Make sure to check out the original Stat Central article, where I break down just how much better the West has been than the East, and why Dallas’ and Golden State’s performance against the West should be concerning for both teams. Here are some of the other team specific notes I wanted to mention:
Cruisin’ With Heat
Do you want proof the Miami Heat are on cruise control? Miami has been very good versus the East — putting up a 7.3 net rating while holding teams to just more than one point per possession — but has taken its game to a whole new level against the West. Miami has quite clearly been the best team in the NBA against the West, holding teams to just 95.6 points per 100 possession and winning games by more than twice as much as the next best team — as mentioned earlier, Miami is winning games by 13 points per 100 possessions while the next best net rating is 5.6 (Thunder). It appears that Miami is taking things easy against their lesser conference-mates, but clamping down and stepping their game up when playing the more challenging West opponents. They still have not played some of the more dominant West teams — only Memphis and the Clippers can be considered top tier West opponents that Miami has played — but they have been significantly better against the Western Conference.
Do The Pacers Belong?
And while Miami has proven their top tier standing while playing the West, Indiana may actually be showing their record speaks a little to highly of them. The crux of Indiana’s success and dominance so far this season has been their historic level of defense that many think can carry them to a title despite a passively average offense. The problem is, their great defensive numbers largely exist because of their ability to shut down the poor offenses of the Eastern Conference. They are holding East teams to an insane 89.8 (sub 90!) defensive rating and have an outstanding 93.1 defensive rating overall. But they are allowing teams out West to score 100.3 points per 100 possessions against them. That is not a high number by any means, but when you consider the fact that Indiana struggles to score much more than that on any given night, you realize exactly why their net rating against the West is only 3.5 — compared to the 12.2 advantage they have over the East. Now Indiana has played San Antonio, Portland, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and the Clippers — a.k.a. some of the best offenses the NBA has to offer — and that is definitely something to keep in mind. But you could argue San Antonio has actually been the best defense in basketball this year — they are holding the West to an insane 94.1 defensive rating, while “cruising” somewhat against the East (still 96.7) — and in general Indiana is not handling the West as well as Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are. Which brings us to…
San Antonio and Oklahoma have quite clearly been the two best teams in basketball (not in Florida) despite what the records have shown early in the season. Along with Miami, they have been the only two teams capable of playing truly outstanding defense against the West — holding teams to 95.6 (Spurs) and 98.6 (Thunder) points per 100 possessions — and both offenses have at least been good enough to win rather convincingly on most nights. San Antonio’s offense could be better, as they are only scoring 101.1 points per 100 possessions against the West. But they way they are scoring it against the East, along with the precedence they have set as an offensive juggernaut over the last few seasons would leave you to believe their is still room for growth on that end and we should not be surprised if they join Miami at the top of the pyramid by season’s end.
Oklahoma City does not appear to have as much room for potential improvement, but even then, where they stand will keep it towards the top of the West for most of the year. As mentioned earlier their defense against the West has been really good and they have been pretty good offensively as well — earning a 105.6 offensive rating. They are one of the five teams that are massacring the East — earning a 12.9 net rating by scoring 108.7 points per 100 possessions while holding opponents to 95.8 — and it is not a far stretch to assume both OKC and San Antonio would be performing even better than Indiana, record-wise, if they were playing in the weaker Eastern Conference.