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Inside NBA Offensive and Defensive Numbers

   by Al McMordie - 03/18/2006

As we approach the stretch run of the NBA season, let's take a look at some overall season stats. What is a more important team statistic: a good offense or good defense? Well, let's take a look at the highest scoring teams in the NBA: They are, in order, the Suns, Sonics, Wizards, Heat, Nuggets, Raptors and 76ers. What stands out is that there is a mixture of good teams, bad teams, playoff teams, those on the bubble and those out of it. The Suns and Heat are in the playoffs, while the Sonics and Raptors are also "in": In the draft lottery, that is. They have no shot at the postseason.

Despite this mixture, you can't look at that group and say offense is what makes them a strong or a bad team, with the exception of the Suns. Phoenix has built its team around a unique up-tempo style and is one of the top teams in the league. Yet, the next highest scoring team, Seattle, has been a disaster all season and is currently working on its second coach. If you like to play totals, note the Sonics are 23-9 'over' the total at home. They are the perfect 'over' team, with a strong offense and an embarrassingly bad defense, allowing 49% shooting by opponents, worst in the NBA.

Now let's examine the teams that have allowed the fewest points in the league: The Spurs, Grizzlies, Pistons, Pacers, Rockets and Mavericks. From that small group you have a collection of the NBA's elite with the Pistons, Spurs and Mavs, and three other teams that are likely to make the playoffs, with the exception of the Rockets, who just lost star Tracy McGrady for a few more weeks. That's probably their death knell.

The point is, the better defensive teams are the dominant ones in the NBA and ones that are likely to be in the NBA Finals or, at the least, the semi-finals. It's no coincidence that last year's NBA Finals participants are in that group, San Antonio and Detroit. Again, for totals players, the Spurs have been money-makers all season at home at 22-9 under the total! They are also 2-1 SU/ATS as an underdog. Strong defense gives dogs an excellent chance to win and cover.

Here's a list of the teams that have allowed the most points in the NBA: The Sonics, Raptors, Knicks, Hawks and 76ers. What stands out about that group? They stink! Four of the five have no shot at the postseason and the 76ers aren't going anywhere with that porous defense.

Perhaps the best indicator of defense is how opponents shoot against them. Here are the five worst teams in the NBA allowing over 46% shooting by opponents: The Sonics, Raptors, Hawks, Bobcats, and Blazers. That's a lot of easy lay-ups! What stands out about that group? They're awful AND will be battling for the top spot in the draft lottery!
Some ATS numbers to keep in mind: The Knicks are 37-26 'over' the total, the Raptors are 34-29 'over', Atlanta is 20-11 'over' the total at home, Seattle is 11-21 ATS on the road, and the Blazers are 1-4 ATS as a favorite! Defense is key in the NBA playoffs and down the stretch. It can also show up in great disparities in spread marks. Bad defense can often mean poor spread marks and more games 'over' the total than 'under' at all times of the season. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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