Mere days remain in the 2013-14 NBA regular season. With the postseason approaching and the matchups beginning to be set in stone, the basketball community is buzzing with anticipation for the grandest time of the year.
For all of the excitement, however, there is a clear and undeniable reality that cannot be denied: some teams are being slept on. For whatever reason, there are squads in both conferences that are not receiving the respect that they deserve.
It’s time to wake up and acknowledge that the following teams will make noise in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
Golden State Warriors
Home W-L: 26-14
Road W-L: 23-17
Key Statistic: 99.7 Defensive Rating (3rd in NBA)
A few days ago, I published an article that outlined why the Golden State Warriors are primed for a run in the postseason. Unfortunately, the basketball community appears to be unconvinced of a Warriors team that has displayed inconsistencies and received the reputation of an offensive-minded ball club.
Little has it been reported that the Warriors are an elite defensive team.
Golden State is No. 8 in scoring defense, No. 4 in opponent field goal percentage and No. 2 in opponent three-point field goal percentage. For the fans of advanced statistics, the Warriors are third in the NBA in Defensive Rating, which measures the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions.
In other words, the Warriors can lock a team down when the pace slows or continue to push it while maintaining a strong defensive attack. Pair that with an elite crop of shooters and you have a dangerous team.
If that’s not enough for you, why have you so quickly forgotten what Stephen Curry can do in the playoffs?
In 2012-13, Curry averaged 23.4 points in 12 postseason games against the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs. He faced tough matchups in Ty Lawson and Tony Parker, but proved that he’s more than just the best shooter in the world; Curry is a big-game performer.
With he, Klay Thompson and the rest of Golden State’s balanced attack, the Warriors are prepared to make noise. To offer intrigue, the Warriors are in line to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
A series between rivals in the playoffs? Sounds like the recipe for, “Anything is possible.”
Portland Trail Blazers
Home W-L: 30-10
Road W-L: 23-18
Key Statistic: 46.2 RPG (1st in NBA)
Earlier this season, the Portland Trail Blazers were everyone’s favorite pick to shock the world and end up in the 2014 NBA Finals. As the 2013-14 campaign progressed, however, Portland went from the No. 1 team in the Western Conference to a squad that’s in danger of missing out on the opportunity to receive home court advantage in the first round.
Fortunately, Portland is getting hot again at the right time.
It’s no secret that Terry Stotts coaches one of the best starting lineups in the NBA with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Thomas Robinson has emerged as a quality backup since the All-Star Break, and the Blazers have learned how to play without Aldridge, their superstar, on the floor.
The X-Factor come the postseason, however, will be Mo Williams.
Prior to the All-Star Break, Williams was averaging 9.0 points on 39.5 percent shooting from the floor. Since the All-Star Break, Williams has upped his production to 10.9 points on 44.2 percent shooting and, while his 3-ball is falling with less consistency, the veteran’s all-around game has sparked a rise in bench production.
Did I mention that Portland has won eight of nine? Don’t sleep on the Blazers.
Home W-L: 25-15
Road W-L: 22-18
Key Statistic: 14.7 second chance points per game (5th in NBA)
For all that’s been made about the recovery of the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls, it’s becoming quite clear that the NBA community is sleeping on the Toronto Raptors. Not only have the Raptors withstood ferocious rallies by Brooklyn and Chicago, but the Raptors have maintained their poise.
Toronto is a very young team, but they don’t play like it.
The Raptors play with aggressiveness and defensive intensity, and that’s the exact recipe for success during the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan has emerged as an All-Star shooting guard and Kyle Lowry continues to turn heads at point guard, which makes the Raptors a dangerous team for anyone to face in a 7-game series.
Most importantly, the low-profile interior force that Toronto employs combines to rank fifth in the NBA in second chance points and perform with powerful defensive intensity. Jonas Valanciunas continues to display star-caliber flashes and Amir Johnson is quietly playing elite defense.
Per NBA.com, Johnson is limiting opponents to 47.9 percent shooting when he meets them at the rim. That’s Top 12 in the association amongst qualified players.
The Raptors may be young and they may not have your household superstar, but this is a team that’s tailor made for postseason success. There isn’t a true superstar and there are question marks, but Toronto will always compete and that’s enough to be in any game.
You’ve been warned.