Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
A statistical look at the NBA standings
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By Sam Smith | 12.8.2014 | 8:51 a.m. CT
Perhaps it really was an NBA Finals preview Saturday in the United Center when the Golden State Warriors finally pulled away from the Bulls in the fourth quarter for a 112-102 victory. It seemed impressive for the Warriors, who moved to 17-2 on the season, five and a half games better than the Bulls. The Bulls, however, remain with the good fortune of residing in the Eastern Conference, where the competition is not quite as daunting.
This weekend basically marked the conclusion of the first quarter of the regular season with just about everyone hitting the 20-game mark. Weekly power ratings are a popular feature. But this early in the season it’s difficult to make an accurate comparison because of the inequities of the schedule. Interconference play isn’t equal. Nor is the ratio of home to road games. One way coaches and executives measure their teams this early in the season is to measure road wins, which are more difficult, against home losses. It’s not perfect because it doesn’t consider the quality of the opponents. But it’s an excellent bellwether for looking ahead toward the end of the season.
For example, last season the formula of road wins minus home losses lined up exactly with the final standings in the conferences.
Last season, Indiana was first in the Eastern Conference at plus 15 followed by Miami at plus 13 with Toronto and the Bulls tied at plus 7. That also was the top four in the East by record. In the Western Conference, the Spurs were first at plus 21 followed by the Thunder at plus 18, the Clippers at plus 16 and the Rockets and Trailblazers tied at plus 13. That also lined up with the final standings.
So here’s a look by conference at the road win/home loss ratio at the first quarter pole of the season long race.
- Bulls, Plus 5: The Bulls have had some surprising problems at home, but the road record is exemplary with a tough trip to start the season. Plus, it’s been some tough home losses, especially the Dallas and Cleveland overtime losses. It’s a developing Bulls team that will be better late this time given early season injuries and new players adjusting to one another. Overall, it’s a good start.
- Toronto Raptors, Plus 3. Has the look of a team that could break through. Sustained a tough loss with the injury to All-Star DeMar DeRozan, which gives Terrence Ross a chance to finally take responsibility. One of the league’s highest scoring teams with Kyle Lowry having yet another breakthrough season.
- Washington Wizards, Plus 2: They’re an improved team that beat the Bulls in the playoffs last season and look like one of the four and maybe five that can win the conference. John Wall is having his best season and moving into elite status as a point guard, though there are questions about the good level of reserve production and if it can sustain along with Paul Pierce.
- Atlanta Hawks, Plus 2: One of the surprise teams, though it often seems that way for a team underappreciated, though at home as well. Paul Millsap is having another impressive season and even among the leaders in steals. Intriguing backcourt pair with Jeff Teague and Dennis Shroder and another good Kyle Korver season.
- Orlando Magic, Plus 2: The true surprise team given they have an overall losing record. But they’ve played by far the most road games in the league and just finished up strong with five games out west, winning three and blowing a late lead in Golden State even with center Nikola Vucevic out. They’re looking like they could be a surprise playoff team this season.
- Cleveland Cavaliers, Plus 1: They’ve been OK after a slow start, though disjointed with LeBron James curiously looking disengaged at times. They should be better late as well with two of their top three players new and the defense a work in progress. Being small up front remains a limitation for now.
- Milwaukee Bucks, Plus 1: Another Eastern surprise as Jason Kidd has had an impact as coach with a young team that is much improved defensively and better organized. Kidd’s use of the depth and the reserves has proven crucial.
- Brooklyn Nets, Minus 1: A team that’s been all over the place trying to adjust to the demanding ways of tough new coach Lionel Hollins. Not a very athletic group that has talent with Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, but seems to balk at times to yet another new leader.
- Miami Heat, Minus 1: Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have played well, which is the concern if they’re still hanging around mediocrity. This suggests making the playoffs will be a battle as they recently lost Luol Deng to injury as he’s still been trying to fit in.
- Indiana Pacers, Minus 2: They’ve been decimated like no one else in the Eastern Conference, but have started to get guys like David West, Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson back and in staying competitive also have been a pleasant surprise. And in the East thus still a playoff possibility with their tough defense.
- Boston Celtics, Minus 5: With Rajon Rondo back they’ve been a different team. They are among the top scoring teams, though scattered defensively. They’re a building team sort of in the middle with good players but not enough who might be dominant quite yet.
- Charlotte Hornets, Minus 6: An early season disappointment, though not as bad as their record with several close losses. Still don’t shoot well enough and not much margin for error, which thus hurts with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out. But still should make a playoff run in the East.
- New York Knicks, Minus 8: New coach, new system, injuries, lots and lots of close losses, bad losses. Not exactly Phil Jackson’s dream scenario. It wasn’t supposed to be a good season even with Carmelo Anthony back, but it should have been better than this.
- Detroit Pistons, Minus 9: It’s been a brutal start as new chief Stan Van Gundy tries to figure out what he has and what to keep. There’s way more talent than the way they’ve started.
- Philadelphia 76ers, Minus 9: Give the players credit for playing through the lack of management support and coming close several times as well. Michael Carter-Williams is looking like his Rookie of the Year self once again with Tony Wroten out.
- Golden State Warriors, Plus 9: They’ve got the league’s best record with a 12-game winning streak. Their backcourt is the envy of everyone, but it’s way more with a deep team with all the elements to be a champion. Steve Kerr has been excellent the way he uses Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson like Phil Jackson used Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to always have someone hot playing with the supporting cast.
- San Antonio Spurs, Plus 7: At least everyone is done trying to write them off. As much or as little as their main players play, they have become the model of the way the game should be played, unselfishly with flair and determination.
- Memphis Grizzlies, Plus 6: They’ve got as good a top three now with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley to be a threat in the tough West. They’ve quietly added more shooting and reserve strength enough to be considered serious contenders.
- Houston Rockets, Plus 5: One of the good early stories, less for expectation than how well they’ve been able to play not only without Dwight Howard but with several players out. It’s placing James Harden high up in the MVP conversation.
- Dallas Mavericks, Plus 5. Monta Ellis has averaged at least 19 points the last six seasons. He’s never been an All-Star and though it’s tough in the Western Cnference it’s probably time as he’s been dynamic for a deep Mavericks team that leads the league in scoring with the addition of Chandler squared.
- Los Angeles Clippers, Plus 4. They’ve overcome a difficult start when they barely looked like a playoff team as their shooters now have gotten going. They’re still problematic defending the wing positions, which could remain their issue for the playoffs.
- Portland Trail Blazers. Plus 4. They solidified themselves the last two off seasons with big guys, which lessens their reliance on perimeter play. They’re underrated defensively and also have the elements to be there all the way with one of the best starting fives.
- Phoenix Suns, Plus 2. Overlooked again with their guard-oriented team, but they really push the ball and make themselves difficult to defend. Maybe too much small ball to succeed inevitably, but also fun to watch and another good job by Jeff Hornacek.
- New Orleans Pelicans, Plus 2. A bit of a disappointment given the fabulous play of Anthony Davis, though it’s a lot to ask to make the jump in the West from last season’s 34 wins. Might take another season, but could still be a playoff team with what should be the West’s best defensive front with Davis and Omer Asik.
- Sacramento Kings, Zero. Being at zero suggests a .500 season, which would be a jump for them from past seasons, though the recent loss of DeMarcus Cousins with a virus could send them plummeting. They are making strides as a much tougher team to play when they have the ball moving.
- Denver Nuggets, Zero. A team that’s been streaking in all directions this season with runs of losses and then wins, which reflects a long roster with an uncertain pecking order. They were an early dark horse of many that has not matched some expectations.
- Oklahoma City Thunder, Minus 2. The exception as it’s difficult to see them not cracking the top eight and markedly bringing up their total. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are back, and with them they may have the league’s most talent. That makes it 10 teams in the West that have the stuff to be in the playoffs.
- Minnesota Timberwolves, Minus 5. They have been beaten down by key injuries after a reasonably optimistic start. The loss of Ricky Rubio forced a rookie to run the team, which has been a setback. They’ve got to somehow ignite laid back rookie Andrew Wiggins.
- Los Angeles Lakers, Minus 6. The curiosity for them is with a lost season most home fans hope they now fail as they only get their draft pick if it’s in the top 5 of the draft. Otherwise it goes to the Suns from the Steve Nash trade. But Kobe Bryant surely keeps trying to push them higher with a terrific comeback season from injury.
- Utah Jazz, Minus 6. Probably still need a true point guard with a lot of interesting young talent that hasn’t quite figured out how best to play and thus to have someone to put them in the best position to produce.