x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

LeBron James and Miami Heat best but West teams on whole are tougher

Reputation and record would indicate the Miami Heat are the team to beat for the championship, but as the NBA play-offs open today the deeper Western Conference seems likely to hold most of the pre-finals drama.

Kevin Durant, centre, and his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates went 21-9 against Eastern Conference teams for the 2012/13 season.
Kevin Durant, centre, and his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates went 21-9 against Eastern Conference teams for the 2012/13 season.

Reputation and record would indicate that the Miami Heat are the team to beat for the championship, but as the NBA play-offs open on Saturday, the deeper Western Conference seems likely to hold most of the pre-finals drama.

The West has been so much stronger than the East that the second-seeded New York Knicks would be the No 6 team in the West.

The Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, whose team set a franchise record with a 56-26 record yet are only the No 5 West team, insists the hard road out of the West will serve as better preparation for the ultimate survivor.

"There's no nights off in the West," said Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers, who play host to the Grizzles in Game 1 of their series today. "We got 56 wins, and it's been a dogfight most nights. That's got to help us in the play-offs."

Not only did five Western teams win at least 56 games this season, the conference also did very well against the East.

San Antonio were a West-best 25-5 against the East, followed by Memphis (22-8) and the Oklahoma Thunder and Clippers (21-9).

Denver, seeded third, struggled the most against the East and still went 19-11.

The best of the West also did very well against other good teams. Six posted winning records against other winning teams, compared to only three in the East. Oklahoma City, the defending Western champs, went 30-17 and Denver were 31-17. Both were better than the Heat (28-13) in that category.

Most of the top-scoring teams were in the West; Denver scored an NBA-best 106.1 points per game followed by Houston (106), Oklahoma City (105.7) and the Spurs (103). Miami, with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, are the only team from the East in the top 10 and finished fifth, averaging 102.9 points per game.

"We all know this is the run-and-gun West side of town, and we also know there's a lot of great talent over here," the Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said, referring to the Western Conference.

The East is known for its defensive efforts, but it was the Grizzlies who allowed a league-fewest 89.3 points per game. Memphis is the first team to hold opponents below 90 points per game throughout a season since 2005/06 when both the Grizzlies and Spurs managed that feat.

Miami posted the NBA's best record, 66-16, along with a 27-game winning streak, and the Knicks streaked to 13 wins of their own.

Because the competition in the West was so close, not many players got to rest down the stretch. Denver did not clinch the No 3 seed until Wednesday night, when the Clippers tied up the fourth and final seed along with home-court advantage. Memphis eliminated Utah on the last night of the regular season, while the Lakers beat Houston to clinch the No 7 seed and a match-up with the San Antonio Spurs who, like the Lakers, are ageing and a bit battered. The Rockets fell to eighth with the loss.

Zach Randolph, the Memphis forward, said the hope now is that having pushing hard until the last day of the regular season translates into a good rhythm for the playoffs. "I think it benefits us right now," he said.

How much the Western Conference champion benefits will be determined in June.

 

NBA Play-offs FIRST ROUND

Eastern Conference

Miami v Milwaukee
Sunday, at Miami
Tuesday, at Miami
April 25, at Milwaukee
April 28, at Milwaukee
April 30, at Miami-x
May 2, at Milwaukee-x
May 4, at Miami-x

New York at Boston
Saturday, at New York
Tuesday, at New York
April 26, at Boston
April 28, at Boston
May 1, at New York-x
May 3, at Boston-x
May 5, at New York-x

Indiana v Atlanta
Sunday, at Indiana
Wednesday, at Indiana
April 27, at Atlanta
April 29, at Atlanta
May 1, at Indiana-x
May 3, at Atlanta-x
May 5, at Indiana-x

Brooklyn v Chicago
Saturday, at Brooklyn
Monday, at Brooklyn
April 25, at Chicago
April 27, at Chicago
April 29, at Brooklyn-x
May 2, at Chicago-x
May 4, at Brooklyn-x

Western Conference

Oklahoma City v Houston
Sunday, at Oklahoma City
Wednesday, at Oklahoma City
April 27, at Houston
April 29, at Houston
May 1, at Oklahoma City-x
May 3, at Houston-x
May 5, at Oklahoma City-x

San Antonio v LA Lakers
Sunday, at San Antonio
Wednesday, at San Antonio
April 26, at Los Angeles
April 28, at Los Angeles
April 30, at San Antonio-x
May 2, at Los Angeles-x
May 4, at San Antonio-x

Denver v Golden State
Saturday, at Denver
Tuesday, at Denver
April 26, at Golden State
April 28, at Golden State
April 30, at Denver-x
May 2, at Golden State-x
May 4, at Denver-x

LA Clippers v Memphis
Saturday, at Los Angeles
Monday, at Los Angeles
April 25, at Memphis
April 27, at Memphis
April 30, at Los Angeles-x
May 3, at Memphis-x
May 5, at Los Angeles-x

x – If necessary


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