NBA Update: Has the Western Conference Morphed into the Old ABA?
Actually, that would be fun wouldn't it? To turn the clock back and get another glimpse of Doctor J in his prime, Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown, David "Skywalker" Thompson, "The Iceman" George Gervin, Movin' Marvin Barnes, Mo Malone, the Pacers' well-muscled George McGinnis.
Even the bit players, a Wendall Ladner or Super John Williamson were a trip and a half, and as a whole the ABA guys rocked our world with an up-and-down, air walking, slam dunking, highlight reel style of play that ended up changing the game of professional basketball forever.
Of course they didn't play a lot of defense. Anybody who could shoot the three ball was generally doing so uncontested and the lanes to the hoop were more often than not as wide open as any view of the Grand Canyon.
Getting back to the present day, we all have our teams—I'm for the Knicks—and it certainly hasn't been lost upon me that the New Yorkers have excelled against West Coast units, even the elite, while they've been unable to break through versus the top of the NBA Eastern Conference, Miami, Boston, Orlando, teams that all play hard on the defensive side of the ball.
In fact, the Knicks themselves playing for a coach, Mike D'Antoni, who never really met a shot he disliked altogether and no great proponent of a defense first mindset, have actually won a number of games by cracking down on the defensive end, especially when it's mattered most in closer contests decided in the fourth quarter (Bulls, Hornets, Thunder in the month of December).
In this past Sunday's game at Madison Square Garden against San Antonio, who came in with the NBA's best record, 29-4, if not the outright perception of being the league's best team, the Knicks played up-tempo with the Spurs all afternoon and there was never really a point in the game where you felt any defensive urgency on the part of the Texas five.
Of course the Knicks won, their first big win this against a real top five or six team, running away in fact by a final of 128-115. The Knicks are capable of doing that, putting up big numbers, not so much at will (they become all too enamored with the three ball themselves when they could be going hard to the rack and living on the free throw line), but with a pretty high degree of regularity.
That they were able to do it so easily that the Spurs—who lost the next night, this time by a bucket only to the Celts, 105-103 in the Fleet Center—had to be surprising to their own bolo tie-wearing faithful who have certainly come to expect more in 2010/2011.
Take a look at the numbers and aside from the Knicks, who lead the league in scoring at nearly 108 points per night, eight of the next nine top scoring units come from the West. (Miami, 101.6 per, is actually tied with Golden State at eight/nine).
On the defensive side?
Statistically it's a mix. You've just got plain awful teams in the league this year East or West and they're going to be mired at the bottom of the defensive pile. The Knicks, Nuggets and Thunder are the only three of the worst 15 defenders to have a winning record.
The league's two best defensive teams, both in a statistical and real-time sense, are the Celts and the Heat. At this point they're the two best teams in any sense, especially Miami, who can really overwhelm the opposition on both sides of the ball and is averaging wins by double digits.
We know the Lakers will play some capable D, at least Kobe and Artest. They're 11th in the league, giving up 97.2. The New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers are all allowing less but does anyone really go into a game thinking they can't overcome the tenacious D played by any amongst that trio.
No, they don't, and the reality is the defense being played in the West is so lax that a reasonably talented young player like Michael Beasley who simply couldn't get out of his own way last year in the East, or Miami, is averaging nearly 22 a game for the Western Conference Timberwolves.
Like the Clippers' Blake Griffin—he's doing it inside, throwing down thunder dunks while also maneuvering for softer lane manipulations against marshmallow D's that have few superior post defenders.
Overall, there's no shortage of gunslinger talent in the West. Durant abd Monta Ellis can slash and burn, Kobe of course, Carmelo, Dirk, Eric Gordon, Deron Williams and Kevin Martin.
They're all dynamite, a thrill-a-minute like the denizens of the old ABA, but in the end, in the midst of all the high scoring and stylish play, it'll probably be the team that can get the most stops that emerges from the NBA's Western Conference in the mid to late spring of 2011.
That five has been the Lakers, who are playing better of late, and maybe you can look at the Utah Jazz to emerge once more this year, not at all ironically coached by one hard nosed defender in his playing days, Jerry Sloan.
At his point though there's not a team in the West that appears capable of playing with Boston or Miami.
Especially Miami, a team that can run and stun like the best from the old ABA, but also a team that can shut you down, has a very impressive young post defender in Joel Anthony, a physical team that won't be rolled over by any bunch of campfire fodder from the West.
Not that they're having any big problems with the rest of the Eastern Conference either, but you have a feel that any team in the East knows that they're going nowhere down the post season road without playing a tough, taut, physical brand of D.
To the most part you don't really get the same sense out West. More so they'll just keep running, scoring, doing it all in style, a lot like the exciting days of the American Basketball Association.
That having been said, every indication is the league's power has shifted East. Where they can also run and stun, but the value of a valiant to impregnable defense is also exceedingly well known.
And that's it for today,
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