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John Schuhmann

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The Magic starters are the best starting unit in the East, both offensively and defensively.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Best five-man units among Eastern playoff teams


Posted Apr 16 2010 11:40AM

It's playoff time. Every possession counts from here on out, so you had better know who on your team can help you put points on the board, and who can prevent your opponent from doing the same.

With the intensity of the action about to go up several levels, coaches need as much information as they can get. So there's no better time to use the data that has been gathered over the last six months. Unless you're Mike Brown or Scott Skiles, the time for experimenting with your lineups is over. If you want to shorten your rotation, you need to know which lineups work best together.

With the help of StatsCube, we put together the best five-man units each Eastern Conference playoff team has used for a minimum of 100 minutes this season. We've got the best offensive unit, the best defensive unit and the best overall unit for each team, as well as a look at how their starting lineup compares.

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Here's a look at the best lineups in the Western Conference and a look at the best overall.

Min: Total minutes played together this season
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions
Diff: Point differential per 100 possessions

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 5

The Cavs are a team for whom lineup data might not be worth much, as their frontline was shook up by a big trade at the deadline and Shaquille O'Neal's injury just eight days later. Mike Brown has yet to have O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Antawn Jamison available at the same time, and his likely starting lineup for Game 1 against the Bulls (Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, Jamison and O'Neal) played a total of 36 minutes together in the regular season. Still, lineup analysis with this team provides some fascinating results.

Best Overall Lineup, Best Offensive Lineup, Best Defensive Lineup: Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, J.J. Hickson, Shaquille O'Neal
Min: 139, Off: 113.3, Def: 102.0, Diff: +11.3

The Cavs won all 11 games that Williams missed with a shoulder sprain. The group above started nine of the 11 and somehow performed a lot better than it did with Williams at the point. Williams, Parker, James, Hickson and O'Neal was Cleveland's most-used lineup this season, but it was also one of their worst, especially on the defensive end of the floor. That unit allowed 107.9 points per 100 possessions and was a -3.9 overall in 385 minutes.

This may have just been a case of a team getting hot over a three-week period. With Jamison now on board, it's doubtful we'll see much of either group in the postseason.

The Cavs have had two dominant units in limited minutes, and they both include Williams, Parker, James and Anderson Varejao. Playing with Ilgauskas, that group is a +27.8 in 96 minutes, and playing with Jamison, it's a +28.9 in 68 minutes.

ORLANDO MAGIC

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 7

The Magic didn't make a single transaction this season and other than Jameer Nelson's 16-game absence from mid-November to mid-December, they had no serious injury issues at all. Still, their current starting lineup didn't come together until Dec. 30. The Magic improved rapidly after that point and were easily the best team in the league in the second half of the season. Overall, they led the league in point differential, outscoring their opponents by 9.3 points per 100 possessions, a full two points better than the Cavs.

Starting Lineup, Best Overall Lineup, Best Defensive Lineup: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard
Min: 773, Off: 113.3, Def: 95.0, Diff: +18.3

The Magic starters are the best starting unit in the East, both offensively and defensively.

If you're willing to look at smaller sample sizes, you'll discover that replacing Howard with Marcin Gortat gives you even better results, (Def: 85.2, Diff: +33.4), which doesn't make a lot of sense, because Howard is the prohibitive favorite to win his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award. The starters-plus-Gortat lineup played in just 21 games together, and for just 74 minutes total.

Best Offensive Lineup: Jason Williams, J.J. Redick, Mickael Pietrus, Ryan Anderson, Marcin Gortat
Min: 127, Off: 115.9, Def: 99.2, Diff: +16.8

The Magic clearly have one of the best benches in the league, and can build on a lead while the starters rest. Stan Van Gundy went 10-deep for a few games in last year's playoffs, and he may have more reason to do so this year.

ATLANTA HAWKS

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 5

The Hawks won the Best Attendance Award for the Eastern Conference, as the top eight guys in their rotation missed a grand total of just 21 games. Further, they had no lineup changes, other than those few games their starters missed. Mike Woodson made Jamal Crawford the sixth man at the start, and he stuck with what worked, which was a tight rotation.

Starting Lineup, Best Defensive Lineup: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Min: 1,172, Off: 106.4, Def: 100.7, Diff: +5.8

Even though the Hawks' starters played a ton of minutes together, their numbers don't reflect the team's overall numbers very closely. For a team that ranked 14th defensively overall, the Hawks have a strong defensive starting unit.

Best Overall Lineup, Best Offensive Lineup: Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford
Min: 356, Off: 116.9, Def: 104.5, Diff: +12.4

Crawford played more than twice as many fourth-quarter minutes than Bibby this season (864 to 397), and there's no secret why. Crawford may be a bad defender, but Bibby isn't much better. And Crawford gives the Hawks a lot more on the offensive end of the floor. Of all the Eastern Conference units that played at least 100 minutes together, this one was the best offensively.

Still, if you replace Williams with Bibby, you get a lineup that's just as potent, scoring 116.4 points per 100 possessions, but not as good on the defensive end, allowing 105.7. Bibby and Crawford together in the backcourt is not a combination Hawks fans want to see for a key defensive possession.

BOSTON CELTICS

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 5

The Celtics had a lot of small injuries this season, but their starters played more minutes together than any other starting unit we'll see in the East playoffs. Their 1,179 minutes were just seven more than the Hawks' starters played together, but no other unit was even close.

Starting Lineup: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Min: 1,179, Off: 110.9, Def: 97.8, Diff: +13.1

In many ways, this team can still get it done. Of the starting lineups we'll see in the Eastern Conference playoffs, this one is second best, behind Orlando.

Best Overall Lineup, Best Defensive Lineup: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Min: 121, Off: 100.5, Def: 87.0, Diff: +13.6

Good luck scoring against this unit. This was Boston's starting lineup for five of the 11 games that Pierce missed this season, including a Feb. 3 win over the Heat. But it has played in just 16 games together overall.

Best Offensive Lineup: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Min: 121, Off: 111.0, Def: 98.0, Diff: +12.9

Replacing Pierce with Daniels, this lineup was just a hair better offensively than the Celtics' starting lineup and it's a relatively small sample size. It's possible that Daniels won't be in Doc Rivers' rotation for much of the postseason.

MIAMI HEAT

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 7

The Heat didn't have many injuries this season, but they had three different starting point guards at one point or another. And Erik Spoelstra didn't settle on Carlos Arroyo as the starter until early March. So while the current starting lineup is also Miami's most-used lineup, it played just 287 minutes together over just 24 games in the regular season. A look at the lineup data reveals that Spoelstra gets different results from a variety of combinations.

Starting Lineup: Carlos Arroyo, Dwyane Wade, Quentin Richardson, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O'Neal
Min: 287, Off: 109.8, Def: 100.7, Diff: +9.1

This is a strong group on both ends of the floor, but not Miami's best on either.

Best Overall Lineup: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Quentin Richardson, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony
Min: 106, Off: 108.1, Def: 88.0, Diff: +20.2

The Heat clearly get better defensively when they replace Beasley and O'Neal with Haslem and Anthony. And surprisingly, they don't lose much on the offensive end.

Best Offensive Lineup: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Quentin Richardson, Udonis Haslem, Jermaine O'Neal
Min: 115, Off: 115.1, Def: 111.2, Diff: +3.9

Arroyo is steady, but Chalmers gives the Heat a bigger threat from the perimeter. Haslem isn't as versatile as Beasley, but his mid-range jumper is more reliable.

Best Defensive Lineup: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Dorrell Wright, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony
Min: 107, Off: 105.4, Def: 85.6, Diff: +19.8

This is the same as the best overall lineup, with Wright at small forward instead of Richardson. Clearly though, this lineup will struggle to score at times.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 5

As with Cleveland, lineup data isn't of much use with the Bucks, because of Andrew Bogut's late-season injury. Of the five Milwaukee lineups that have logged at least 100 minutes together, only one doesn't include Bogut, and that's the starting lineup that Scott Skiles went with in the final six games of the season. But even though the Bucks went 4-2 after Bogut's injury, this group of five has not performed well in the 12 total games it has played together.

Starting Lineup: Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, Kurt Thomas
Min: 105, Off: 107.3, Def: 113.7, Diff: -6.3

Replace Thomas with Bogut, and you have a lineup that allowed just 89.9 points per 100 possessions in 282 minutes together. The next most used non-Bogut lineup (Luke Ridnour, Jerry Stackhouse, Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova and Thomas), which has played 93 minutes together, is a -8.0, even worse than the starters. Clearly, the Bucks miss their best player.

No other non-Bogut lineup has logged more than 55 minutes together for the Bucks this season.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 3

The Bobcats traded for Stephen Jackson in mid-November and then pulled off a couple of deals at the deadline. Due to injuries, they also got no more than 29 starts from their three centers. They actually have had four lineups log at least 100 minutes together, but one of those included Flip Murray, who was dealt to Chicago.

That group was actually Charlotte's best defensively and best overall. And it was a small lineup, with Raymond Felton and Murray in the backcourt, Jackson and Gerald Wallace at forward, and Boris Diaw playing center.

Charlotte finished the season as the No. 1 defensive team in the league, allowing just 100.2 points per 100 possessions. But their two most used lineups, including the starters for most of the final two months, weren't nearly that good defensively.

Starting Lineup: Raymond Felton, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Theo Ratliff
Min: 350, Off: 104.0, Def: 104.2, Diff: -0.3

Ratliff blocks shots, but he's not the Bobcats' best defensive center.

Best Overall Lineup, Best Defensive Lineup: Raymond Felton, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, Tyson Chandler
Min: 341, Off: 102.1, Def: 100.3, Diff: +1.8

This lineup wasn't all that great, but it's slim pickings when it comes to groups that Larry Brown has used extensively. When you get to smaller sample sizes, there are other good defensive groups, including one that has played 90 minutes together since the deadline and only allowed 95.8 points per 100 possessions: Felton, Jackson, Wallace, Tyrus Thomas and Diaw.

Best Offensive Lineup: Raymond Felton, Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw and Nazr Mohammed
Min: 454, Off: 104.0, Def: 105.5, Diff: -1.4

When you swap Chandler for Mohammed, you get some more production out of the offense, but you suffer defensively.

CHICAGO BULLS

Lineups with 100-plus minutes: 2

The Bulls actually had five different lineups play at least 100 minutes together, but three of them include John Salmons, who was dealt to Milwaukee at the deadline. One of the remaining two has proven to be a lot better than the other.

Starting Lineup: Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah
Min: 452, Off: 102.3, Def: 100.6, Diff: +1.8

The Bulls were a .500 team and a -1.8 per 100 possessions overall, so they could do worse than a lineup that is a net positive.

Best Overall Lineup, Best Offensive Lineup: Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Brad Miller
Min: 291, Off: 108.6, Def: 101.0, Diff: +7.5

However, when you replace Noah with Miller, the Bulls get much better on the offensive end of the floor without losing a lot defensively. Noah will get some votes for the Most Improved Player award, the Bulls lost 10 straight games in March without him, and he has better individual numbers than Miller in almost every category. But as a threat to score away from the basket, Miller seems to fit better with the other four starters.

The Bulls played 89 minutes with the same three perimeter players and Noah and Miller together in the frontcourt. That unit was terrible defensively (107.5), however.

All stats are through the end of the regular season and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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