NBA Playoffs: Biggest Weakness of Each Team
NBA Playoffs: Biggest Weakness of Each Team
The NBA Playoffs begin in just nine days on April 20, and 15 teams have already clinched their place in the postseason. All that remains to be settled is whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz will take the eight-seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers currently hold a one-game lead over Utah, but Utah holds the tie-breaker if the two teams end up with the same record.
Both teams have three games remaining in the regular season; however, they are at vastly different levels of play. All three of Los Angeles’ remaining games are against teams that have clinched berths in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Jazz have one game against an opponent in the playoffs and the other two are against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That definitely makes the Jazz’s schedule exponentially easier.
Despite this, it feels like the Lakers are still going to make the playoffs over the Jazz. They have been playing much better since the All-Star break, going 17-8 over that time. They also have been getting Pau Gasol more effectively involved, and Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant. They have obvious flaws throughout their team, but it’s just hard to imagine them not making the postseason at this point.
Really, though, every team in the playoffs this season has their flaws, even the juggernauting defending champion Miami Heat. All 16 teams (the 15 teams that have clinched plus L.A.) in the postseason have weaknesses that their opponents can take advantage of if the matchup is right. What part of every team’s game can be exploited? Let’s take a look.
Los Angeles Lakers - Defense
The Lakers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA in terms of points per game this season. The reason they are fighting for their playoff-lives comes on the other end of the floor on defense. L.A.’s guards like Steve Nash and Steve Blake are both poor defenders, Kobe’s skills on that end are slipping, and they have a coach in Mike D’Antoni who isn’t what you would defensive-minded. That’s why they are in the bottom-third of the league in points allowed per game at 101.1 and allow opponents to shoot 45.4 percent from the field. They can score with the best of the league, but they certainly can’t stop the best of the league.
Milwaukee Bucks - Inefficient Offense
The Milwaukee Bucks are an instance of a team that has a lot of talented players, but a roster that just doesn’t gel well. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are both obviously talented players, but they both are high-volume, low-percentage shooters. J.J. Redick, since coming to the Bucks, has also been relatively inefficient with his shooting, much to the team’s surprise. That’s why they rank 25th in the NBA in team field goal percentage at 43.6 percent. Shooting with such a low success rate definitely makes a team vulnerable in the postseason.
Houston Rockets - Defense
Anyone who says that the Houston Rockets can’t score is lying. They lead the league in pace and in points per game, averaging 106.2 points per game. It feels like they can put up 120 points on any given night, proven by when they put up 140 earlier this season. However, their defense is definitely an issue. Because they play at such a high pace, they allow their opponents to have a lot of possessions, as well. The Rockets don’t have many elite defenders on their team, which makes them susceptible to allowing a lot of points. That’s why they have the 28th ranked scoring defense this season, allowing 102.6 points per game. Any time a team is giving up that many points, it’s not a good thing.
Boston Celtics - Rebounding
Coming into the 2012-2013 season, the Boston Celtics were expected to be a poor rebounding team. Now, with injuries to Jared Sullinger and Rajon Rondo, arguably one of the best rebounding guards in the league, the Celtics are even worse at rebounding. On the season they average just 39.4 rebounds per game, the second-lowest average in the NBA. For a team that struggles to find offense at times, rebounding is something they really should need to do effectively. In high-scoring and grinding playoff games, their rebounding issues could be problematic.
Golden State Warriors - Defense
The Golden State Warriors are a much improved defensive team in 2012-2013 in comparison to their 2011-2012 team. Though that’s the honest truth, it’s not saying much. The Warriors were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year and, even though they’ve gotten better, it continues to be an issue. They allow just 99.9 points per game and hold opponents to 43.7 percent, but that doesn’t change how inconsistent their defense is. One night, the Warriors will shut their opponents down. The next night, the Warriors will get absolutely lit up. When they’re going to be in a seven-game series, that’s not a good way to be playing defense.
Atlanta Hawks - Inconistency
It’s hard to know what to make of this Atlanta Hawks this season. They will look like a potential contender when everything is clicking, but then will look like a lottery team when things aren’t going their way. In actuality, that’s the biggest weakness when it comes to the Hawks — their inconsistency. On a nightly basis, no one knows who is going to step up, who is going to play well, and, really, what is going to happen. That’s who they are this year and it’s who they’ve been in years past when they’ve made a slew of first round exits. That’s definitely not a promising notion for Atlanta.
Memphis Grizzlies - No Consistent Scoring Threat
The Memphis Grizzlies are absolutely one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They win by grinding games out and wearing down their opponents by making it difficult for them to score. It’s been effective for them for this season, which is why they’re in the five-seed right now. However, one of the things that has shown to be a problem for them this season and could rear its head in the postseason is the fact that they no longer have a prime time scorer on their team. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are effective offensively, but they aren’t what you would call big-time. Unless one of them can prove otherwise, their lack of a reliable offensive threat is an issue for them.
Chicago Bulls - Inefficient Offense
Because of their elite defense, the Chicago Bulls have been able to be successful this season, despite not having star Derrick Rose play a single game this season. That’s a pretty impressive feat. However, Rose, when healthy, is the catalyst for almost everything that they do on offense. His absence has left them with a big hole on that end of the floor which has made their offense play rather poorly this year. For the season they rank last in scoring offense at 92.8 points per game and rank just 26th in team field goal percentage at 43.6 percent. That poor of offense will definitely catch up to them in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Clippers - Inconsistent Effort
From top to bottom, the Los Angeles Clippers may have one of the most talented rosters in the entire league. They have arguably the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul, one of the best big men in the league in Blake Griffin, and a ton of talented role players on their roster. However, one of the things that has slowed them down, especially lately, has been their effort. When they come out playing like they want to dominate, they indeed do dominate. However, there are also times where they seem relatively apathetic about playing basketball. In the do-or-die situations in the playoff, that’s not a great mindset to have at all.
Brooklyn Nets - No Contribution From Role Players
The Brooklyn Nets have enjoyed a successful season in their first season since they moved from New Jersey. They’ve been getting amazing contributions from Brook Lopez all season, and Deron Williams has been playing like an All-Star over the past couple of months. After that, though, they haven’t had anyone that has really stepped up for them offensively. Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace have been huge disappointments on offense this season, and it’s one of the things that really hurts the Nets. In the playoffs, when teams pick up the defensive intensity and can make schematic adjustments, relying so heavily on two guys will become a big problem.
Denver Nuggets - Outside Shooting
The Denver Nuggets have made a living this season off attacking the paint and getting out in transition. They are miles ahead of every other team in the league in terms of points in the paint. However, one of the areas that they are lacking in is 3-point shooting. To make matters worse, their best 3-point shooter, Danilo Gallinari, is now out for the rest of the season. There’s no doubt that the Nuggets offense will still be effective at getting into the post, but the ability to hit the three is a skill that can change a game and a series. Without Gallinari, the Nuggets are severely limited in terms of outside shooting, which could severely limit their potential in the postseason.
Indiana Pacers - Inconsistent, Inefficient Offense
Much like the Bulls and the Grizzlies, the Indiana Pacers are a team that wins the majority of their games because of how sound they are on the defensive end. Also much like those two teams, the Pacers often have struggles in terms of scoring the ball. They are in the bottom-third of the NBA in scoring offense, averaging just 94.7 points per game, and they shoot just 43.5 percent from the field as a team, the fourth-worst percentage in the league and the worst of any team in the playoffs. Their defense is going to be able to take them relatively far in the postseason, but if their defense isn’t as effective as it normally is, the Pacers will surely run into some trouble.
San Antonio Spurs - Age
It seems like a bit of a cop-out to mention the age of the San Antonio Spurs as their biggest weakness, but it’s the truth. The age of guys like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has shown all season, especially lately with Parker and Ginobili being injured. Though head coach Gregg Popovich is a master of managing minutes, it’s hard to imagine these guys that carry the Spurs being as effective as they need to be after an 82-game season and after grueling playoff series. Their age definitely has a chance to bite them in the rear before the postseason ends, if the Ginobili and Parker injuries haven’t already done that.
New York Knicks - Reliance on 3-Point Shot
The old basketball adage goes that “you live by the three and you die by the three”, and the New York Knicks have proven that to be true this season. They got off to a torrid start to their season by converting on threes at an extremely high rate, but when their 3-point efficiency lowered, they began to look average. Now that they’ve started to get hot from three again, they’ve gotten back to their winning ways. They take the second most threes per game in the NBA, jacking up 28.8 threes per game. Though they do other things well offensively, it’s the three-ball that really fuels their offense. If they cool off again in the postseason, they aren’t going to win many playoff series.
Oklahoma City Thunder - Lack of Secondary Scorers
The Oklahoma City Thunder are an offensive machine that obviously thrives off their two stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the best offensive players in the game. However, this team no longer has James Harden. This has been widely noted and they have shown that they can succeed without him. In the playoffs, though, opposing defenses can scheme to slow down Durant and Westbrook, which is what made Harden so valuable. He was able to come off of the bench and give them another offensive threat. Kevin Martin is a great shooter, but he’s by no means the same caliber of offensive player as Harden. The Thunder will be successful in the postseason, but not having Harden this year will definitely be an issue at some point in the playoffs.
Miami Heat - Rebounding
When you look at the Miami Heat, it feels kind of silly to point out weaknesses. They are the defending NBA Champions and they have improved their roster from last year. Without a doubt, they are the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. However, if there was one thing to point out as a flaw in the Heat, it’s their rebounding. They rank last in the league in rebounding, which is a product of the smaller lineup that they like to roll out onto the floor. With that small lineup, they are somewhat vulnerable to bigger teams that have post players that are elite rebounders. Those types of teams get a lot of opportunities for second chance points. That’s their biggest problem, but it hasn’t really affected them too much this season and it probably won’t be that big of an issue in the postseason, either.