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NBA Notes: A Tale of L.A.

   by Larry Ness - 11/13/2008

The current NBA season is only 17 days old (I'm writing this on 11/13) but there is already quite a story developing in a city I spend a lot of time in these days, Los Angeles. The Staples Center is 'home' to both the Lakers and Clippers but that's the only thing these two teams have in common. The Lakers never trailed at New Orleans on Wednesday night, leading the Hornets 28-17 at the end of the first quarter, 51-30 at the half and while they almost blew a 21-point fourth quarter advantage, won 93-86.


With the Celtics edging the surprising 103-102 Hawks earlier Wednesday night, the Lakers head into the weekend as the NBA's lone remaining unbeaten team, at 7-0 (6-1 ATS). It's the first time the team's opened 7-0 since the 2001-02 season, the year of the franchise's last championship. It should be noted that the Lakers' best-ever start to open a season came in the 1997-98 season, when they opened 11-0, finished 61-21 but were swept 4-0 by the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference finals.


It's far too early to 'crown' the Lakers just yet but the team's early numbers are truly impressive. LA leads the NBA in scoring (104.7 PPG) and is also an NBA-best in points allowed (86.7 PPG). That combo gives them a point-differential of plus-18.0 PPG, a figure that is truly mind-boggling. Here's just a quick historical perspective.


Comparing LA's point-differential start this year to the NBA's top regular-season teams in each of the last five seasons reveals this. Boston went 66-16 last year with a point-differential of plus-10.3 PPG. The preceding years were as follows. The 61-21 Mavs (2006-07) came in at 7.3, the 64-18 Pistons (2005-06) at 6.7, the 62-20 Suns (2004-05) at 7.1 and the 61-21 Pacers (2003-04) at 5.8.


Point-differential is a great indicator of a team's real strength and it should be noted that only last year's Celtics (among the five teams just listed) went on to win an NBA title. It's no coincidence that Boston's 10.3 PPG differential was a full three points better than any of the other four teams and 4.5 PPG better than the worst of the four teams, the 2003-04 Pacers.


Michael Jordan's best Chicago Bulls team was the one which set an NBA record for wins in a season, going 72-10 in the 1995-96 season. The Bulls led the NBA in scoring that year (105.2 PPG) and finished third-best in points allowed (92.9). Chicago's point-differential was 12.2 PPG but not the nest all-time. That belongs to another Laker team.


In 1971-72, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West led the Lakers to a then NBA record 69 wins. That team won an incredible 33 straight games at one point during that season (still an NBA record), finishing that year as the league's top-scoring team (121.0 PPG) and its sixth-best defensive team (allowed 108.7). Doing the math, one gets a point-differential of 12.3. As the Lakers progress through this season, let's keep an eye on that number.


The Staples Center will host two games over the weekend, Friday night when the Lakers meet the Pistons and Saturday afternoon, when the Clippers take on the Warriors. What the Lakers are 'giving' the fans of LA this year, the Clippers are 'taking away.' While the Lakers were moving to 7-0 on Wednesday, the Clippers were losing 103-98 in the Staples Center to the Sacramento Kings. The loss drops "LA's other team" to 1-7 SU and ATS.


The Clippers are not just losing, they are getting 'killed!' No NBA team is scoring less that the Clippers' 88.3 PPG average and coupled with the 101.6 PPG they are allowing (five teams allow more), the Clippers' point-differential is an abysmal, minus-13.4 PPG. Let's compare the Clippers' current point-differential mark to that of the worst teams of each of the last five NBA seasons, starting with last year and going backwards.


The Heat won just 15 games last year and had a point-differential of minus-8.6 PPG. The Grizzlies won 20 games in 2006-07 (minus-5.1), the Blazers won 21 games in 2005-06 (minus-9.5), the Hawks won 13 games in 2004-05 (minus-9.7) and the Magic won 21 games in 2003-04 (minus-7.0).


What do Clipper fans have to look forward to the rest of the year? Who knows for sure this early? However, I will mention that the worst season in NBA history belongs to the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73 that year, with a point-differential of minus-12.1 PPG. The Clipps' minus-13.4 PPG to open this year should have their fans worried.


Good luck, Larry

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