Why NBA's Western Conference Will Be Won by Defense Despite Early Scoring Binge

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Why NBA's Western Conference Will Be Won by Defense Despite Early Scoring Binge
(Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dante Cunningham defends David Lee in a Western Conference matchup.

The first few weeks of the NBA season have seen some high-scoring games, especially from the Western Conference.

Here are some scores from Western Conference teams in the first few weeks of the season.

Winner Loser Score
Los Angeles Clippers Houston Rockets 137-118
Dallas Mavericks Atlanta Hawks 118-109
Golden State Warriors Los Angeles Lakers 125-94
Los Angeles Clippers Golden State Warriors 126-115
Portland Trailblazers San Antonio Spurs 115-105
Dallas Mavericks Los Angeles Lakers 123-104

 

Are you seeing a pattern here?

That's a lot of 100-plus point games in there for both winning and losing teams. 

Last season's Western Conference champions, the San Antonio Spurs, held opponents to 96.1 points per game.  The runner-up, the Memphis Grizzlies, led the league in defense, allowing just 89.3 points per game.

That same season, the Sacramento Kings gave up 105.1 points per game to their opponents, good for dead last in the league.  Guess where they finished—thirteenth out of 15 teams in the West.

The season before that (2011-12), the Oklahoma City Thunder won the Western Conference, allowing 96.9 points per game.  The Spurs, who lost to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, gave up 96.5 points per game that season.

That season, the Kings allowed an average of 104.4 points per game, finishing 14th out of 15 teams.

Sorry, Kings fans.

But are you seeing a pattern here?

The old phrase "defense wins championships" may be every college coach's mantra, but it works in the NBA, too, especially in a Western Conference chock-full of scorers.

The Western Conference champions this year will have to defend Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Chris Paul and the rest of Lob City and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  Not to mention Kobe Bryant when he returns and Tony Parker and the rest of the Spurs.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers knows the importance of defense in a conference of All-Stars like the West.  After the Clips' 103-116 season-opening loss to the Lakers, Doc had this to say, as reported by Kurt Helin of NBC Sports:

Blake, we have to get him better defensively, but everybody.  But I thought DJ was sensational… I would love to say (the breakdowns) was the bigs, but it wasn’t a lot of times. Our guards pulled in at the wrong time, going for steals, gambling, breaking coverage. It’s just like in football, if you break coverage you better hope the quarterback doesn’t see it, and tonight I thought they passed the ball great and saw everything.

Shooters like Curry and Thompson will make you pay for broken coverage.

Although Doc wants to amp up the defense, so far in this very young NBA season, the Clippers have pretty much just been outscoring teams.  LAC is giving up 106.4 points per game, which ranks 27th in the league.  However, the Clips are leading the league in scoring, averaging just under 110 points per game.

Andrew Bogut of the Golden State Warriors defends Blake Griffin of the Western Conference rival Los Angeles Clippers

But what happens when they face the Western Conference rival Spurs, who are third in the NBA for points allowed, averaging 91.5 points?

At the end of the day, defense will win out.  Maybe not every single time, maybe not in the very beginning of the season when everyone is fresh from the offseason, but eventually, defense will win out.

For example, back on Nov. 2, the high-scoring Warriors were held to just 98 points against the Kings, who, on average, allow 100.2 points per game.  Golden State won this game, however, by holding the Kings to just 87 points.

That game came off of Golden State's loss to the Clippers, a game in which they gave up 126 points, an obvious wake-up call that they couldn't just outscore everybody.

After the Warriors' win against the Kings, Thompson commented on the defense, as reported by the Associated Press, via USA Today: "Our defense is what won us the game.  And it helped with a lot of opportunities on offense. Any time you get a stop, it's easier to score on the other end."

The players and the coaches are recognizing their need for defensive improvement, and so are the fans.

Basketball hasn't "gotten soft."  The extended three-point line spreads the court, making it harder to guard every single threat on the floor, especially when trying to guard shooters like Steph Curry.

This is the case for most teams in the West.

Those teams that can defend all the offensive threats in the West will have success this season.  

Check out the reigning Western Conference champions' defense in the playoffs last season.

How else do you think the aging Spurs almost beat the much more athletic Miami Heat in the NBA Finals?  Good, smart defense.

Just about everyone in the West can score (think Warriors, Thunder, Clippers, Spurs, Rockets.)  But the team that can defend is the team that will win the conference and head to the NBA Finals in June.

Fresh legs will get fatigued, the pace will slow and eventually the scoring will decrease, but the team that can guard all the scorers in the West will come out on top come playoff time.  Of course, the team that wins will also have to be able to keep up with the scoring, but they must be able to do it on both sides of the floor.

What team is most likely to be in the Western Conference Finals?

Submit Vote vote to see results

My early prediction is that the Warriors improve their defense this season and make it to the Western Conference Finals to face (if healthy) a defensive-minded Spurs team.

In the beginning of the 82-game NBA season, it's easy to outscore people, but when it gets down to the wire, the 2013-14 Western Conference champions will have to stop the scorers in the West.

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