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Inside the Stats: Rebounds

   by Al McMordie - 04/25/2007

Pat Riley took over as head coach of the Miami Heat last season, and then ended up drinking champagne and hoisting the NBA trophy. The Heat won behind veteran Shaquille O'Neil and a young star in Dwyane Wade. We will see how far they go again as the NBA playoffs progress.

When Riley was coach of the LA Lakers, he used to tell his players in the postseason, "No rebounds, no rings." His philosophy was simple: If you don't crash the boards and the opponent outrebounds you, you are not likely to go anywhere except home for an early vacation. Championship teams know how to do the grunt work under the glass that is so essential to winning.

Certainly there is still plenty of truth to this old adage, as we all witnessed outstanding rebounding teams Miami, Dallas, San Antonio and Detroit battling in the NBA Finals the last two seasons.

However, a team needs a combination of things to win a title: Defense, depth, role players, one or two stars, and, finally, a coach who can both keep the players focused, and make adjustments at key moments. I recall a playoff game a few years ago where New Jersey was battling the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Nets took the lead with five minutes remaining and Shaq had just gone to the bench to get a quick breather. Just about everyone watching the game was thinking the same thing: Push the ball up the court and try go down low. It was the perfect time to attack the basket with Shaq on the bench. Incredibly, New Jersey coach Byron Scott called a full timeout at that point. A few minutes later, after a few TV commercials, the players returned to the court -- including Shaq! A golden opportunity was wasted, and it wasn't a surprise to see the Lakers go on a quick run from that point, reclaim the lead and win the game. Yes, coaching decisions can make a difference.

Anyway, let's get back to the old rebounding adage. Here is a list of the top 10 teams in the NBA as far as rebounding differential: 1) Utah +5.12; 2) Knicks +4.22; 3) Dallas +3.91; 4) Cleveland +3.45; 5) Orlando +2.84; 6) Bulls +2.73; 7) Rockets +2.62; 8) New Orleans +2.48; 9) Spurs +1.78; and 10) LA Clippers +1.51.

Several things are interesting about these numbers. You're probably shocked to find the NY Knicks on that list, but they ranked fourth a season ago. Overall, most of the teams in the NBA that ranked high in rebounding made the playoffs. Rebounding is still essential. And remember, too, that last season the top three teams in rebounding differential were Miami, Utah and Dallas. In other words, two of the top three teams ending up meeting in the Finals for the title.

What's also interesting about the list is that almost all the best rebounding teams are still in the West. And the West has won 6 of the last 9 NBA titles. It's interesting that the Pistons aren't on the list, with the Cavaliers, Magic and Bulls better in the East. It will be telling to watch the rebound battle between the favored Pistons and their East opponents in the later rounds.

Of course, rebounding alone and one or two stats aren't a good representation of simplifying what it takes to be an elite team or a champion. A balance of star power, defense, role players, and even coaching is better than one statistical category, but don't overlook the importance of controlling the boards as the new NBA season gets underway. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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