Latest Red Flags for the NBA's Top Teams

Brendan Bowers@@BowersCLEContributor IIDecember 18, 2012

Latest Red Flags for the NBA's Top Teams

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    The top eight teams in terms of overall record in the NBA include three from the Eastern Conference and five from the West.

    Each of these eight teams has been playing well enough to separate itself from the rest of its NBA colleagues as of Tuesday morning.

    But just because each team is currently in the top third of the NBA in terms of winning percentage doesn't mean they are all without their warts.

    The latest red flags for each of the NBA's top teams include rising turnover rates, an inability to defend the three-point line, the tendency to play down to the level of a team's competition and everything else in between.

    These red flags represent each team's trend that must be corrected moving forward.

    These are not fatal flaws for any one team necessarily. If each red flag is not eventually addressed, however, they could become that.

8. Atlanta Hawks

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    Overall Record: 14-7

    Eastern Conference Seed: 3

    Latest Red Flag: Team rebounding

    The Atlanta Hawks have gone 5-3 over their last eight games.

    In each of their three losses, however, the Hawks were outrebounded by a combined total of 135-105.

    For the season, Atlanta ranks just 24th overall in rebounding as a team at 40.5 per game.

    This needs to improve for the Hawks to remain amongst the top teams in the NBA as we move towards the All-Star break.

    Al Horford is averaging 10 rebounds, Josh Smith 8.1 and Zaza Pachulia 6.9, but that's about it. No other Hawks player is averaging as many as four rebounds outside of those three as of Tuesday.

    Maybe this means more minutes for Pachulia, or maybe it just means a better collective effort. Regardless, the Hawks need more rebounds.

7. Golden State Warriors

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    Overall Record: 16-8

    Western Conference Seed: 5

    Latest Red Flag: Handling unprecedented success

    The Golden State Warriors have just completed their best road trip in team history.

    They are off to a tremendous start and rank amongst the top five teams in the league in terms of opponent field-goal percentage as well as rebounding

    The Warriors are also shooting a percentage from the floor themselves that ranks amongst the top 10 in the NBA.

    But how do they now handle this newfound success? On Monday, Coach Mark Jackson spoke to that issue specifically (via Contra Costa Times):

    The thing that's important for us to realize is we have to do the things we preach every day to put us in position to win. If we don't, we can be beat. We don't have the luxury to just show up and win ballgames.

    This is admittedly a good problem to have. But the truth is, the Warriors haven't accomplished any of their goals as of yet.

    They cannot afford to get complacent now either. 

6. Miami Heat

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    Overall Record: 15-6

    Eastern Conference Seed: 2 

    Latest Red Flag: Playing down to the level of their opponent

    The Miami Heat are as talented as any team in the NBA. 

    Regardless of that, they've found themselves playing down to the talent level of their opponent over the last nine games of the season.

    During that stretch, the Heat lost by 20 points to a New York Knicks team that was without Iman Shumpert, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.

    They also lost in emphatic fashion to the Washington Wizards and only beat the Cleveland Cavaliers by two points.

    The Wizards are currently 3-18 overall, while the Cavaliers are 5-20 as of Monday.  

    In the 110-108 win over the Cavs, the Heat were at home while Cleveland was playing without Kyrie Irving.

    Miami has gone only 3-3 over its last six games and needs to regain its championship-level focus.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Overall Record: 16-6

    Western Conference Seed: 4

    Latest Red Flag: Rising turnover rates

    The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Chicago Bulls last night despite turning the ball over 18 times as a team.

    Over the last eight games, the Grizzlies have totaled 131 turnovers for an average of 16.4 per night.

    The league average, for some perspective, is 14.8.

    To start the season, the Grizzlies had been much more efficient. Over its first 14 games this season, Memphis was turning it over at a rate of only 14.3 on a nightly basis.

    The Grizzlies will need to get this turnover rate heading back down in the other direction if they are going to compete with the NBA's elite over the course of the season.

4. San Antonio Spurs

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    Overall Record: 19-7

    Western Conference Seed: 3

    Latest Red Flag: Defending the point guard position

    The San Antonio Spurs are having difficulty defending the point guard position this season.  

    According to, the Spurs are allowing opposing point guards to generate 21.2 points and 8.6 assists per game on average.

    Some of this stems from San Antonio's need for another athletic big to defend the pick-and-roll. The other part of is Tony Parker just needs to be better defensively.   

    Over the last five games, Damian Lillard has finished with 29 points and seven assists against the Spurs, Jeremy Lin finished with 38 and seven, while Russell Westbrook just went for 22 and nine on Monday. 

    * statistics are through 12/9.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Overall Record: 18-6

    Western Conference Seed2

    Latest Red Flag: Defending the three-point line

    The Los Angeles Clippers have won their last 10 games in a row, as of Dec. 18. You need to be playing very well in order to accomplish that in today's NBA, and the Clippers are.

    But they are the fifth-worst team in the NBA at defending the three-point line, which is something that will need to improve.

    The league average for opponent three-point percentage is 35.6, according to Hoopdata. The Clippers are allowing the opposition to shoot almost two full percentage points better at 37.6 percent from long range. 

    Over their last five games, the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors each made 10 threes while shooting a combined 43.4 percent from three against the Clippers. 

2. New York Knicks

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    Overall Record: 18-6

    Eastern Conference Seed: 1

    Latest Red Flag: Overall team defense

    Carmelo Anthony did not play on Monday against the Houston Rockets.

    The New York Knicks that did, however, allowed Houston to shoot over 51 percent from the floor collectively en route to the 109-96 win over New York.

    On the season, the Knicks are allowing opponents to shoot the seventh-highest percentage overall from the field. They also currently rank in the bottom half of the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency.

    For all the progress the Knicks have made this season, their team defense has taken a step backwards. 

    Last year, the Knicks finished the season ranked fifth in terms of defensive efficiency. 

    They have been fantastic overall, but the Knicks defense most definitely needs to tighten up.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Overall Record: 20-4

    Western Conference Seed1

    Latest Red Flag: Lack of scoring depth off bench

    The Thunder have now won 11 straight games. That total is good for the longest streak in the Oklahoma City era and also ties the third-longest winning streak in franchise history.

    They lead the league in just about every category while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been fantastic.

    Outside of Kevin Martin, though, there hasn't been much scoring off the Oklahoma City bench.

    In the Thunder's win over the Spurs on Monday, Martin scored 20 points. After that, only two other Thunder reserves scored at all. 

    While Martin is currently third on the team in scoring at 16 points per game, Nick Collison is the only bench player averaging more than four points after that.