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Inside the Stats

   by Al McMordie - 03/31/2006

Pat Riley took over as head coach of the Miami Heat earlier this season. It seems like he wants to have one last chance at coaching a team to the NBA title, and you might as well take a shot with a young star like Dwyane Wade and veteran Shaquille O'Neal on the roster. We will see how far they go later this month as the NBA playoffs get going.

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 in the playoffs. 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 like San Antonio and Detroit battle in the NBA Finals title a year ago.

However, a team needs a combination of things to win a title: defense, depth, role players, one or two stars, a coach that can both keep the players focused, and who knows how to make adjustments at the 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) Miami +4.38, 2) Utah +4.21, 3) Dallas +3.65, 4) New York +3.04, 5) Cleveland +2.49, 6) L.A. Clippers, 7) +2.38, 8) L.A. Lakers +2, 8) Orlando +1.91, 9) Milwaukee +1.81, and 10) Houston +0.90.

All right so are these the top teams that are likely to contend in the NBA's Final Four? Of course not. Sure, Miami and Dallas are two of the elite teams, while the Clippers and Cavaliers are a couple of good teams that could win a few playoff series. However, where are the Pistons and Spurs on that list? San Antonio is 13th in rebounding differential while Detroit is 19th. And even Phoenix is second worst in the NBA, yet they have to be taken as a serious threat in the West. Certainly far more seriously than several of those teams in that Top 10 rebounding differential list!
And how about those other dynamite rebounding teams on that list? The Knicks, Magic and Rockets aren't going anywhere near the playoffs, let alone the NBA Final Four. The point is, 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. That being said, it is worth noting that San Antonio is a better rebounding team than Detroit and, should those two teams meet in the Finals, it will be a key statistic that determines the Championship. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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