Most Dangerous Teams Heading into the 2013 NBA Playoffs
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
While 16 teams advance to the NBA playoffs, the list of truly dangerous teams is quite a bit shorter.
Every team technically has a chance to advance through each of the four rounds and emerge as a champion, but suggesting some of them can do so deserves nothing more than derisive laughter.
Playoff basketball is different than regular-season basketball, and that plays right into the hands of a select number of squads in the Association.
I'm not just going to feature the league's best teams—that would be pointless. You all know that the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are the favorites in the West, for example, and both are certainly dangerous.
But looking at the teams that don't sit in one of the top two slots in each conference is more interesting, so that's what I'll be doing here. Well, with one exception, but you'll find that out soon enough.
If you see one of these five teams on the docket, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Note: All stats via ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
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The Houston Rockets may have fallen to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs after dropping Game 82 to the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime. Don't make the mistake of counting them out against the Oklahoma City Thunder, though.
The last time these two teams clashed, James Harden got revenge against his former team, dropping 46 points on only 19 shots as he exploited every hole in the defense that his beard could fit through. It was enough for the Rockets to pull out a victory and avoid a season sweep.
Remember, Harden knows his old buddies' tricks, and can take advantage of them better than most. He's also surrounded by young teammates, which can be both a positive and a negative.
While Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and everyone else on Daryl Morey's roster don't have much playoff experience, they also don't know what to be afraid of.
This team can pile on the points as well, having averaged 106 points per game in the regular season, the second-highest mark in the league. They also rank second in the league in three-pointers made per game (10.6).
Houston is playing with house money, making the team as dangerous as it is unpredictable. There's a big difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.
You can bet that Houston falls into the former category.
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When postseason play begins, the style of action inevitably changes.
Defense matters more, as players are locked in and ready to go on each and every possession. Points are at an absolute premium, especially when grinding it out in half-court sets. Rotations also shrink because the stars want to stay on the floor at all times.
All of these shifts work in the favor of the Indiana Pacers.
The old adage says that defense wins championships, and it'll have to if the Pacers hope to hoist the coveted Larry O'Brien Trophy at the end of the postseason.
By the numbers, Frank Vogel has coached the league's most stifling defense during the 2012-13 campaign. Indiana allowed only 96.6 points per 100 possessions narrowly beating out the Memphis Grizzlies for the top spot on the leaderboard.
The Pacers also love to slow it down, get physical and make opponents work for anything and everything. Only five teams played slower than Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert and company, as they averaged 92.8 possessions per 48 minutes.
Combining a stellar defense with a tortoise-like pace is a recipe for success, and that's why you're finding the Pacers featured in this article.
Take a look at this chart which shows the defensive ratings and paces \ for the league's six slowest teams (according to ESPN.com):
|Team||Pace (Possessions per 48 minutes)||Defensive rating (points per 100 possessions)|
|New Orleans Hornets||90.9||107.6|
|New York Knicks||92.0||103.5|
The Hornets stand out because they're the only non-playoff team of the bunch, but now you can see exactly why Indiana is so dangerous going into the postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers
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Not many NBA fans have realized this, but the Los Angeles Clippers are actually a standout defensive squad. They rank ninth in defensive efficiency, checking in at 101 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Of course, L.A. also has a stellar offense, one that ranks fourth in offensive efficiency by scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions.
The Clippers have been rolling lately, winning each of their final seven games heading into the postseason, but that's not entirely relevant. The wins are nice, but it's more about how the players themselves are performing.
Of everything that's happened lately under Vinny Del Negro's intense scrutiny, Blake Griffin's re-involvement in the offense has been the most positive sign. If the dynamic power forward can keep it going, the Clippers are a much more dangerous team than most would believe.
Over his past five contests, Griffin has averaged 18.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.2 steals and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting 54.4 percent from the field. The Clippers are giving him far more touches than they were just a few weeks ago, and the big man has responded positively.
Having a playmaker in the post is a terrific complement to Chris Paul on the perimeter, and it's a duo that could give quite a few teams trouble come playoff time.
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Memphis is a team that loves grinding it out on both ends of the court, taking advantage of the shot clock whenever possible and making opponents work for each and every shot. Of all the 16 playoff teams, no one likes to slow it down more than Lionel Hollins' squad.
Additionally, the Pacers are the only team allowing fewer points per possession than the Grizz, and I'd expect that to change in the postseason when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are given an even heavier workload.
Memphis also displays tremendous care for the basketball on the offensive end, but this team loves nothing more than swiping it away on the other end of the court. Conley's play down the stretch helped improve upon this aspect of the game even more.
The Grizzlies turned the ball over just 13.3 times per 100 possessions, which gave them the eighth-best turnover percentage in the Association. Only the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks bested them in that category and advanced to the postseason.
On the other end, Memphis forced opponents into turnovers 15.2 times per 100 possessions, which leaves the squad trailing only the Los Angeles Clippers in that metric.
You can't afford to squander possessions against Memphis, but that's exactly what the Grizzlies are looking to make you do.
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I've tried to steer clear of teams that are universally viewed as favorites to make their respective conference finals, but I just can't leave the Miami Heat out of a slideshow about dangerous teams heading into the NBA playoffs.
If it weren't for my self-imposed restrictions, you'd also be seeing the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder here, but none of those squads stand out quite like the Heat.
After all, Erik Spoelstra is coaching up two of the world's top six basketball players, including the unquestioned MVP, and the results have been incredibly positive. Miami won 27 games in a row at one point and sits atop the NBA standings with a 66-16 record, putting it six games clear of the rest of the field at the end of the regular season.
The gap between the Heat and the Knicks, who finished in the Eastern Conference's No. 2 spot, is nearly as wide as the margin between New York and the Boston Celtics, who are all the way back in the No. 7 seed.
Miami enters the playoffs winning nine of its last 10 games, and that was a stretch during which LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all sat out for various games. This is a quality team with incredible star power at the top and a system to make everything work.
Spoelstra has made great strides as a coach, and the offensive system he's developed for the Miami Heat is incredible. It's a patient offense, one that constantly probes the defense for any exposed weakness. Pick-and-rolls occur often, but they're often distractions for other sets.
Coaching is even more important in the postseason, and the Heat now have one of top clipboard-holders in the league. Spoelstra has taken massive strategic strides over the last two years.
Add that to everything else going on in South Beach, and you can see why Miami is so dangerous going into the playoffs.