NBA Teams Built for Playoff Success
Winning in January and winning in the postseason are two vastly different things.
As the snow melts away and things start to heat up, it takes a different style and makeup to win.
Teams can slide through the regular season, putting up a handful of impressive wins. That will be enough to get a bunch of teams into the final 16, but from there, things get tight. There are no easy wins in the postseason, and only teams that are built a specific way will have further success.
Teams that win in the playoffs play defense. Not selective defense, but tough, physical defense from the introductions through the final horn. Still, even that isn't enough.
Successful playoff teams also need an individual player who is capable of dominating offensively. Other factors find their way into the formula as well. Teams that are experienced, confident and well-coached will, more often than not, find themselves deep in the postseason.
A select few teams are able to pull from all these factors.
Defensive Efficiency Ranking: No. 1 (95.7)
As the cliche goes, defense wins championships. The Indiana Pacers are currently the most fearsome defensive team in the league.
Beyond topping the defensive efficiency list, they are giving up an NBA-best 89.3 points per game. Teams are hitting only 41 percent of their shots when going up against Indiana.
While Roy Hibbert has been a gaping hole offensively, he remains a physical presence in the paint. He and David West allow the Pacers to match up with any frontcourt in the league.
Toss in the breakout season Paul George is having, and that front line is not only formidable, it's downright intimidating.
The X-factor for the Pacers being successful in the postseason is Danny Granger. He has not played this season, but is inching toward a return.
Indiana's defense will only get it so far, and it will need a dominant offensive player to carry it in individual games. Granger has the skill set and confidence to do just that. He just has to get healthy.
A tough series against Miami last season is under his belt, giving him his first real, lengthy postseason experience. The entire team gained experience in 2012, including Frank Vogel, who is only in his third season as a head coach.
If Granger can return to his previous level of offensive play, the Pacers defense can elevate them to fantastic heights.
Defensive Efficiency Ranking: No. 12 (101.4)
Most defensive stats will have the Miami Heat only slightly above the middle of the NBA pack.
However, they are holding teams to just 43 percent shooting, and they have the one player who can successfully guard anyone in the league in LeBron James.
Miami will continue to be given problems by teams with talented frontcourts. Chris Bosh is more likely to feast upon some lower competition than guys like Joakim Noah or Roy Hibbert.
Where they lack defensively and on the glass, they make up for in talent and experience.
This is a team that has built its own experience and confidence by playing in each of the last two NBA Finals, winning a season ago.
The Heat have not only garnered important playoff experience, but James learned how and when to take over a game. His performance in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals remains a gold standard of excellence.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are built for playoff success. Therefore, so are the Miami Heat.
Defensive Efficiency Ranking: No. 4 (98.0)
Much like the Indiana Pacers, it is hard to imagine how the Chicago Bulls are having such a successful season. They are 23-16 (5th in the East) despite scoring only 93.8 points per game and missing former MVP Derrick Rose.
The obvious answer is defensive pressure. The Bulls allow 91.7 points per game, and they hold teams to 43 percent shooting.
Center Joakim Noah will receive serious consideration for Defensive Player of the Year for how he has kept the Bulls more than competitive during this opening stretch. His ability to create havoc in the paint and take away an entire area from a team is exceedingly valuable in the playoffs.
The experience gained from battling through 40-50 games without Rose should be valuable moving forward. Guys like Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli have had to take more big shots, and they have delivered.
Still, they are missing that dominant offensive force until Rose returns.
The whole franchise has gained a lot of experience over the past couple years, head coach Tom Thibodeau included. They know what a conference final is like, and they know what a first-round exit is too.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Defensive Efficiency Ranking: No. 6 (100.0)
The Oklahoma City Thunder are big, and they are scary.
Their defensive scheme starts with the frontcourt duo of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Ibaka is a ball-hawking big capable of blocking everything in sight, while Perkins is an immovable, grounded force.
Together they have set the tone for the No. 6 team in defensive efficiency and No. 2 team in opponent field-goal percentage, at 42.8 percent.
The rest of the team feeds off these two bigs defensively to create a surprisingly stout team. The Thunder can run up the score with the best of teams, which makes their defensive prowess all the more frightening.
After the 2011-12 season, they now have legitimate postseason experience. Running all the way to the NBA Finals was a massive learning experience for stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Even head coach Scott Brooks needed to learn what it takes to get over that next hump.
Durant provides the Thunder with that necessary dominant offensive player that can single-handedly keep his team alive with his scoring.
The Thunder already had all the talent in the world. Now they know how and when to use it in the postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers
Defensive Efficiency Ranking: No. 3 (97.8)
With their stout defense and leadership at point guard, the Los Angeles Clippers are serious contenders.
When we think of the Clippers in a league-wide sense, it is 101.6 points per game and a plethora of highlight dunks. In the playoffs, that isn't going to help them, though. So they find themselves on this list courtesy of their top-notch defense.
The 2011-12 season saw the Clippers ranked 18th in defensive efficiency; now they are third. They are allowing only 92.7 points per game.
Their defense, like everything they are doing right now, is a team effort. The Clippers are a deep team, and everyone can contribute. There is no reprieve when facing Los Angeles, as defensive players like Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe come off the bench to continue the pressure throughout games. Offensively, Jamal Crawford has been a force all season.
The lack of experience is the only thing questionable about the Clippers' chances right now. Key guys like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have only been through one postseason, not to mention the 8-15 playoff record of head coach Vinny Del Negro.
This is less of a concern considering who is running this team. It is far easier to have confidence in the Clippers knowing Chris Paul is in control. While they may not have a player who can singularly dominate a game offensively, having Paul at the helm is just as good.
San Antonio Spurs
Defensive Efficiency Ranking: No. 5 (98.2)
The San Antonio Spurs are a team and a franchise that vehemently refuses to fade away.
Their defense has now improved into one of the best units in the NBA, allowing them to continue winning with the third-highest point differential in the league. Supposedly this is an aging team, but they average 104.4 points per game and hold opponents to 96.1 per game.
Their big advantage over everyone they will face in the postseason is experience. They have playoff experience like no one else in playoff picture, and they should use that to their advantage in 2013. They are a team filled with veteran talents, and San Antonio has the best coach in basketball in Gregg Popovich.
Popovich gives the Spurs an automatic advantage over any team they will face. For whatever that winds up being worth, the Spurs are going to compete and will not be an easy out for any team.
In terms of a dominant offensive player capable of throwing his team on his back for a game, the Spurs offer Tony Parker. He has scored 24 or more points 11 times this season, and San Antonio is 10-1 in those games. Parker can selectively go off, and when he does, it is because he recognizes the need for it.
The Spurs are now combining a well-rounded and efficient offense with a defensive identity that will allow them to continue their string of postseason success into 2013.