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The Heat, as expected, have been hard to stop so far this season.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Heat (of course), Clippers set the early offensive pace

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 5 2012 12:52PM

If you haven't been able to find enough offense with your free League Pass preview, you may just be looking in the wrong places.

As expected, league-wide efficiency is down. Teams are scoring just 100.2 points per 100 possessions through the first 93 games, down from 102.9 through the same number of games last season.

But some teams are still finding ways to score efficiently. And they're doing it in different ways.

We're still in the part of the season where one good game or bad game can swing a team's ranking quite a bit. And each of the top of five offenses already have had some off nights. But they've also put up some relatively big numbers. Thirteen other teams are scoring less than a point per possession.

Here's a look at the league's top five offenses through Wednesday, what they've been doing well, and whether they can stay strong for another 15 weeks.

Top five offenses
Team OffRtg Rank eFG% Rank OREB% Rank TO% Rank FTA Rate Rank
Miami 108.1 1 54.4% 1 21.2% 28 16.0 19 .359 3
Clippers 107.9 2 52.8% 2 22.3% 25 13.0 1 .355 5
Philadelphia 107.0 3 52.3% 4 23.7% 21 14.0 3 .280 20
Boston 104.8 4 52.7% 3 25.5% 19 17.7 29 .307 13
Portland 104.7 5 48.4% 15 29.2% 7 15.8 17 .318 10
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA
1. Miami (6-1) -- 108.1 pts/100 possessions

Last season: 109.3 (3rd)

Before Wednesday's games, the Indiana Pacers were the No. 1 defense in the league. Then they gave up 118 points to the Heat, who were playing without Dwyane Wade.

The Heat have been an offensive juggernaut, though only three of their seven games could really be characterized as great offensive performances (105 points per 100 possessions or better).

The keys to the Heat's top spot have been pace and space. They ranked 21st in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) and 12th in fast-break points per 100 possessions last season. This year, they rank second and third. They're forcing a lot more turnovers and making the most of their athleticism in the open floor.

In the half-court, the Heat are spreading the floor, but not to shoot threes. Only 15 percent of their shots have been 3-pointers. That's the second-lowest rate in the league (behind only poor-shooting Memphis) and a big decrease from last season. The Heat still take a lot of mid-range shots, but they've replaced those threes with shots from the paint.

Heat shot location
Location '10-11 Rank '11-12 Rank
Paint 41.7% 29 48.8% 9
Mid-range 34.8% 6 36.4% 2
3-pointers 23.5% 10 14.7% 29

The Heat have struggled against zone defenses, and they're sure to face plenty of zone going forward. But zone can be played only selectively in the NBA. The Mavs used the zone effectively last season, but used it on only 11 percent of their possessions. And as long as the Heat keep forcing turnovers, they'll get plenty of easy buckets and trips to the free-throw line.

Chances of sustainability: Very good. The Heat might not finish the season as the No. 1 offense, but they're the early favorite. There's little doubt they'll finish in the top three.

Next test: Thursday at Atlanta (8 p.m., TNT). It's early, but the Hawks rank fourth defensively and held both the Heat and Bulls under a point per possession earlier this week.

StatsCube: Heat and Hawks, head-to-head

2. Clippers (3-2) -- 107.9 pts/100 possessions

Last season: 101.8 (23rd)

The Clippers are the most improved offensive team in the league by a wide margin. Only four teams are scoring more efficiently than they did last season, and the Clippers' improvement is more than twice that of anybody else.

Most improved offenses
Team '10-11 Rank '11-12 Rank Diff
Clippers 101.8 23 107.9 2 +6.0
Philadelphia 104.0 17 107.0 3 +2.9
Cleveland 99.5 29 100.8 15 +1.4
Boston 104.0 18 104.8 4 +0.8
Minnesota 101.1 24 100.7 17 -0.4
Points per 100 possessions

The Clippers have played only five games, and they weren't that great offensively in two of the five. But they scored efficiently in a loss to the Bulls, who should once again be the No. 1 defensive team in the league.

Chris Paul is making his mark . Though he's known for his passing and scoring, Paul's greatest strength is taking care of the ball. New Orleans ranked in the top 10 in (lowest) turnover ratio in all six seasons he was there.

In Paul's 183 minutes, the Clippers have turned the ball over fewer than nine times per 100 possessions, an incredibly low rate.

StatsCube: Clippers efficiency with Paul on and off the floor

Chances of sustainability: Very good. The Clippers are just starting to get to know one another, and they're already putting up big numbers. And if they can improve defensively (they rank 25th), they should be able to run the floor more.

Next test: Saturday vs. Milwaukee (10:30 p.m., NBA TV). The Bucks have been a top-five defensive team for the last two seasons and rank second through Wednesday.

3. Philadelphia (3-2) -- 107 pts/100 possessions

Last season: 104.0 (17th)

Like the Clippers, the Sixers have played just five games. And only one of the five was against a decent defense. But the Sixers continue to take care of the ball (they had the lowest turnover ratio in the league last season) and run the floor, despite not forcing that many turnovers on the other end.

This team clearly had room for improvement because its backcourt is so young and talented. But the play of forward Andre Iguodala and center Spencer Hawes has been the biggest difference thus far. Iguodala made 12 of the first 18 3-pointers he attempted, while Hawes is shooting an incredible 64 percent from mid-range.

Though Hawes and Iguodala are both a part of it, the Sixers' starting lineup hasn't been very efficient, scoring just 96 points per 100 possessions. When Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Lou Williams mix in with the starters, the Sixers have been strongest. Though his shooting is down, Philly is scoring an incredible 120 points per 100 possessions in Young's 133 minutes.

StatsCube: Sixers efficiency with Young on and off the floor

Chances of sustainability: Slim. Hawes isn't going to keep shooting 64 percent from mid-range (he shot around 40 percent each of his first four seasons), and Iguodala isn't going to keep shooting threes so well. But the Sixers should still be improved. And they still have a great chance to finish in the top five in the Eastern Conference, because they're a very good defensive team. In fact, though it has struggled offensively, the starting lineup is still a plus-21 in 71 minutes, because it has allowed just 82 points per 100 possessions.

Next test: Monday vs. Indiana. As proven by the Heat on Wednesday, the Pacers' defensive numbers were inflated by a weak early schedule. But Indiana is still a tough team that the Sixers could be battling all season long for playoff position.

4. Boston (4-3) -- 104.8 pts/100 possessions

Last season: 104.0 (18th)

The Celtics were fine in the opener in New York, but struggled in their next two games without Paul Pierce. And in their four games with Pierce, they've scored 108 points per 100 possessions.

Those four games have been against some poor teams though. And the Celtics' offense has been fueled by some incredibly hot shooting from outside the paint, which probably can't be sustained. They're shooting a league-tops 46.1 percent there (Charlotte is next at 41.8 percent), almost 6 percent better than the Celtics shot there last season.

Among players who have attempted at least 50 shots, Ray Allen leads the league in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Nobody will ever doubt Allen's ability to knock down shots, but his shooting is just off the charts right now.

StatsCube: Ray Allen's shooting breakdown

Chances of sustainability: Not very good. The Celtics will be an excellent offensive team when they have all four All-Stars on the floor, and Brandon Bass is a clear upgrade over Glen Davis. But offense off the bench is still an issue, and Allen will come back down to earth a bit.

Next test: Friday vs. Indiana. As proven by the Heat on Wednesday, the Pacers' defensive numbers were inflated by a weak early schedule. But they have size down low and a great defender (Paul George) on the perimeter.

5. Portland (4-1) -- 104.7 pts/100 possessions

Last season: 105.6 (11th)

The Blazers are the only team in the top five that isn't off to a hot-shooting start. In fact, the Blazers are shooting slightly worse than they did last season (48.6 eFG%). Jamal Crawford and Wesley Matthews are shooting poorly. But Portland is getting to the line at a high rate and leading the league in free-throw percentage.

The free-throw rate is a big increase from last season, when the Blazers attempted just 28 free throws per 100 shots (27th). Gerald Wallace (21 free throws and 50 shots) has been the spark there.

Replacing Andre Miller with Raymond Felton, Portland has increased its pace more than any team in the league. But the Blazers rank only 21st in fast-break points per 100 possessions and 23rd in shooting percentage inside the paint.

Chances of sustainability: Very good. The Blazers don't have an elite offensive player, but they have a lot of very good ones. In this condensed season, scoring depth will be critical. Crawford's shooting should improve.

Next test: Thursday vs. L.A. Lakers. With Mike Brown on the bench and two 7-footers on the frontline, the Lakers could be a top-five defensive team. They rank seventh.

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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