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John Schuhmann

Numbers Game

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Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Even the league's best teams have their Achilles' heels

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 25 2009 12:31PM

The Cavs, Lakers, Celtics and Magic are a combined 219-63, a winning percentage of 78.7 percent. They're all on pace for at least 61 wins.

These are elite teams to say the least. But none is perfect. They all have weaknesses. And by breaking down their numbers, we can get a better idea of what goes wrong when they lose.

In general, when these teams lose, things go wrong on both ends of the floor. If it's not a good offensive night, that's going to affect the other end as well, because it's harder to get back to set up your defense. It works the other way, too. It's hard to get easy looks at the basket when you're opponent is scoring on his end and able to set up defensively.

So, for each of these teams, there's a pretty big dropoff in both offensive and defensive efficiency between wins and losses.

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-13)
Offensive rating Defensive rating
Season 113.6 103.5
Wins 116.1 101.4
Losses 102.5 113.1
Difference 13.6 -11.7

The Cavs' 13 losses are a mixed bag. Twice, they've played excellent defensively and lost. And twice, they've been within a point of their overall offensive efficiency and lost.

In the Cavs' first loss to the Celtics, it was their offense that struggled. You can chalk that up to it being the first game of the season. In their second loss in Boston, it was Cleveland's defense that was the problem. The same goes for their two losses to the Lakers, where it was more the defense that failed than the offense, allowing L.A. to shoot 51 percent.

Looking at the Cavs' five losses to Boston, L.A. and Orlando, we can get an idea of where their defense has had problems. They've defended the perimeter well enough in those five games, allowing their opponents to shoot just 31 percent from 3-point range, but they haven't protected the paint.

Overall, the Cavs allow 42.1 points in the paint per 100 possessions. In their 13 losses, they've allowed 47.7 points in the paint per 100 possessions. And in the five losses against the other elite teams, they've allowed 57.6 points in the paint per 100 possessions. That includes 62 paint points by the Lakers on Feb. 8 and 58 from the Celtics on March 6.

Los Angeles Lakers (56-14)
Offensive rating Defensive rating
Season 115.2 106.8
Wins 117.0 104.7
Losses 108.0 115.2
Difference 8.9 -10.5

The Lakers are a more consistent offensive team. When you've got the weapons they have, you're not going to have too many off nights. Only twice have they really laid an egg offensively: in Miami on Dec. 19 and in Denver on Feb. 27. But defensively, the Lakers have had some struggles, most recently in Portland on March 9.

Fouls tend to be an issue for L.A. In the Lakers' 56 wins, their opponents have attempted just 23.4 free throws per 100 possessions. And in their 14 losses, their opponents have attempted 32.1. Further, the Lakers are 12-12 when they commit 23 fouls or more and they're 44-2 when they commit 22 fouls or less.

Boston Celtics (54-18)
Offensive rating Defensive rating
Season 112.3 103.2
Wins 115.7 100.6
Losses 101.9 110.8
Difference 13.8 -10.1

The Celtics' numbers are similar to those of the Cavs, but are affected by Kevin Garnett's recent 13-game absence. During that stretch, Boston lost six games, and the Celtics' defense was downright awful in three of those.

In their 12 losses with KG in the lineup, it has been mostly the Celtics' offense that has failed them. In six of those losses, including their Christmas Day loss in L.A. and their only loss to the Cavs, they've had an offensive rating of less than 100 points per 100 possessions.

And the offensive issues are everywhere. In the Celtics' losses, they turn the ball over more, they don't get to the line or in the paint as much, and they don't move the ball enough.

Orlando Magic (52-18)
Offensive rating Defensive rating
Season 111.8 103.8
Wins 114.5 100.3
Losses 103.8 114.2
Difference 10.7 -13.9

Unlike the Cavs and Celtics, the Magic show a greater dropoff on defense. Overall, Orlando is an excellent defensive team, third in the league in efficiency. But the Magic are not as consistent defensively as Cleveland or Boston.

In general, when they lose, the Magic aren't forcing turnovers as much and their opponents are getting to the line more often. Also, rebounding becomes an issue against teams with big frontlines. The Pistons have averaged 12.3 offensive boards in their three wins over Orlando, the Suns had 11 on Dec. 12, and the Celtics had 14 on Jan. 22. So look for a lot of Tony Battie Wednesday night against Boston to give the Magic two true bigs on the floor at times.

Also, there's the idea that the Magic live and die by the three. Yes, they shoot more threes than any other team, but they also rely on their defense and their ability to get to the line if the jumpers aren't falling. The Magic are 35-6 (.853) when they shoot 36 percent or better from downtown and 17-12 (.586) when they shoot worse. A bad shooting night may be difficult to overcome, but not impossible.

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