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John Schuhmann

LeBron James and Dwight Howard
LeBron James (left) has changed teams, but the rivalry with Dwight Howard and the Magic remains.
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In wild, wild East, teams battle to put up the best defense


Posted Oct 7 2010 9:28AM

To be truly great in the NBA, a team has to be strong both offensively and defensively. But the numbers have proven that greater success comes to those teams that defend well.

Last season, both the Celtics and Lakers were better defensively than they were offensively. And The Finals were very much a defensive series.

Five best defenses since 1991-92
Season Team Def. Rat. Lg. Avg. Diff.
2007-08 Boston 96.2 104.7 -8.6
2003-04 San Antonio 91.6 100.0 -8.5
1992-93 New York 97.1 105.3 -8.2
1993-94 New York 95.8 103.6 -7.8
2003-04 Detroit 92.5 100.0 -7.5
As compared to the league average that season
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions
Lg. Avg. = League average
No. 1 D in the league
Season Team Def. Rat. Lg. Avg. Diff.
2009-10 Charlotte 100.2 104.9 -4.7
2008-09 Orlando 98.9 105.4 -6.5
2007-08 Boston 96.2 104.7 -8.6
2006-07 Chicago 97.0 103.7 -6.7
2005-06 San Antonio 96.9 103.4 -6.5
2004-05 San Antonio 95.8 103.1 -7.3
2003-04 San Antonio 91.6 100.0 -8.5
2002-03 New Jersey 95.5 100.7 -5.2
2001-02 San Antonio 96.5 101.6 -5.1
2000-01 San Antonio 94.9 100.2 -5.4
Last 10 seasons
Def. Rat. = Points allowed per 100 possessions
Lg. Avg. = League average

In this year's GM Survey, Boston is thought of as the best defensive team in the NBA. And as long as the Celtics are healthy and not pacing themselves for the playoffs, that's probably true. But that hasn't been the case the last two seasons when the Orlando Magic and the Charlotte Bobcats have held the "best defense in the league" title.

Those three teams will all be in the mix for the crown this season. And they will be joined by four more teams in what should be a fascinating race for No. 1.

Here are the candidates, in the order they finished last season.

Charlotte Bobcats

100.22 points allowed per 100 possessions (1st)

Looking up: The Bobcats were the best defensive team in the league last season, ranking third in forcing turnovers and first in free throws allowed. Larry Brown, a coach who holds his players accountable, and Gerald Wallace, the do-it-all defender, are back in the mix.

Looking down: They lost Raymond Felton, a solid defender at point guard who picked up 1.54 steals per game. D.J. Augustin, who will now be playing more minutes, is a decent defender too, but he is undersized. Also gone is Tyson Chandler, who played only 51 games last season but protected the paint with his length and athleticism.

Orlando Magic

100.23 points allowed per 100 possessions (2nd)

Looking up: The Magic finished just a hair behind the Bobcats last season and were the best defensive team in the league a year earlier. They were the best in the league at both defending shots and grabbing defensive boards. As long as they have Dwight Howard in the middle and Stan Van Gundy on the bench, they will be right there in the conversation again.

Looking down: Matt Barnes was Orlando's best perimeter defender last season. He now plays for the Lakers.

Milwaukee Bucks

100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions (3rd)

Looking up: Scott Skiles is one of the best defensive coaches in the league, and Andrew Bogut is one of the best defensive centers. The Bucks also have two strong perimeter defenders in Luc Mbah a Moute and John Salmons. They were a much better defensive team after acquiring Salmons at the trade deadline (98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they were before (102.1).

Looking down: New acquisition Corey Maggette was one of the worst defenders on one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season. Also, if Bogut doesn't have full mobility in his arm or plays limited minutes, the Bucks' defense will be compromised.

Miami Heat

100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions (4th)

Looking up: If Erik Spoelstra can get last season's gang of expiring contracts to play the fourth-best defense in the league, he should do just fine with LeBron James and Chris Bosh replacing Quentin Richardson and Michael Beasley. With James and Dwyane Wade on the wings, it would be shocking if the Heat don't lead the league in forcing turnovers.

Looking down: If the Heat have a weakness, it might be interior defense. Joel Anthony defends the rim well, but so did Jermaine O'Neal, who's now with the Celtics. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire, Anthony's two backups, are as immobile as centers get.

Boston Celtics

101.1 points allowed per 100 possessions (5th)

Looking up: When Kevin Garnett was healthy, this was the best defensive team in the league, and Garnett is healthy again. Rajon Rondo can be a terror on opposing ballhandlers. This is a team that has always taken pride in its defense.

Looking down: Tom Thibodeau, their defensive coach, is now running things in Chicago. Kendrick Perkins, maybe the best low-post defender in the league, is out until at least February. Tony Allen, their perimeter stopper last season, is now in Memphis. Jermaine O'Neal and Avery Bradley are good defenders at their positions, but they're not at the level of the guys they're replacing.

L.A. Lakers

101.1 points allowed per 100 possessions (6th)

Looking up: The Lakers are the only Western Conference team on the list. They weren't very consistent defensively last season, but in their two toughest playoff series, they were better defensively than both the Thunder and Celtics. Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant are the best pair of perimeter defenders in the league, and the addition of Matt Barnes gives them a scary defensive trio. Their size on the frontline is also a big factor.

Looking down: The Lakers have always been a better defensive team with Andrew Bynum on the floor, so his health is obviously a concern. You also have to wonder about how much they will be able to keep their foot on the gas after playing 313 games over the last three seasons.

Chicago Bulls

102.6 points allowed per 100 possessions (10th)

Looking up: After a down year in the first full season without Scott Skiles, the Bulls got back to being a solid defensive team last season. And now they've hired Tom Thibodeau, the architect of the Celtics' vaunted defense. The Bulls have strong defenders on the perimeter (Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer) and in the paint (Joakim Noah). And playing without Carlos Boozer for a month can only help their defense.

Looking down: Kirk Hinrich, their best on-ball defender, was traded to Washington. Boozer, even when healthy, is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Kevin Garnett when it comes to interior defense.

Numbers Game Prediction

1. Miami -- Spoelstra will keep them focused on that end of the floor and they will overwhelm teams on the perimeter.

2. Orlando -- That big guy in the middle makes it easy for everybody else.

3. Boston -- A more mobile Kevin Garnett means a lot.

4. Chicago -- Thibodeau will get them back to where they were in the Skiles era.

5. Milwaukee -- It's hard to imagine a team with Skiles, Bogut and Mbah a Moute not in the top five.

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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