Beyond the Arc – 2nd Edition

Welcome back. Let’s start with a two short clips showing the lighter side of the NBA:

Trey Burke gets pranked for one of his first games of his career after coming back from injury to start the season

LeBron mugs a fan after hitting a half-court shot to win $75,000

It’s always nice to see subtle reminders about how the NBA is about more than just basketball. For a couple seconds LeBron James wasn’t the center of attention. He made it special for everyone by his genuine reaction as a human being, not a basketball player. Now back to basketball. The NBA is in full swing and teams are starting to grind through all things good, bad, and ugly as the season unfolds. Let’s get right into it as we break down the recent trends… starting with the worst of the worst.

THE UGLY

The Injuries

You never wish to see this but I’m afraid the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls are hurting just a little right now. Injuries to Marc Gasol (knee) and Derrick Rose (other knee) have caused the their respective teams to slow down a bit. Memphis is 1-2 since Gasol’s departure and the Bulls are equally as affected, losers of 3 of the last 4. The most impactful injury was Rose’s because it forces him out for the rest of the season (Gasol is out for 4-6 weeks). Without question, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng have to step up the rest of the way. Fortunately because of the current state of the Eastern Conference, the Bulls can slide into the playoffs in a lower seed but regardless of their seed, don’t ever count this team out. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, were dealt a huge blow as well. They can’t afford to lose many games in the super competitive Western Conference. Seeing as they’re the 12th seed right now they have some work to due in front of them but there is no sound for alarm as long as they can get Gasol back before February.

(Note from GregAnthony Davis out 4-6 weeks… Huge loss for the Pelicans and your fantasy teams)

The Eastern Conference

I don’t know what to make of the Eastern Conference anymore. You tell me which one of these three facts is more disturbing…

There are currently only TWO teams with winning records out of a possible fifteen. I’ll let you guess which two those are…

The Toronto Raptors are 6-10 and leading the Atlantic Division by half a game to the Boston “We don’t feel like getting a top 5 pick in a loaded draft” Celtics. In other words, there could be a team with a losing record enter the playoffs as a 3 or 4 seed.

The New York Knicks ($88,249,065) and the New Jersey Nets ($102,211,009) – the two teams with the largest team salaries in the league this year – are either tied for the worst record or claim the second worst record in the Eastern Conference (along with the Milwaukee Bucks). Is it ironic that these two teams also have to pay the two highest luxury tax penalties for exceeding the salary cap? The Knicks pay $16,501,065 and the Nets pay #30,463,009…yikes.

THE BAD

The surprising amount of teams who can’t take that next step

I’m looking at three teams in particular here…

Cleveland Cavaliers

You have Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Jarrett Jack, and Andrew Bynum. I’m waiting for them to at least out together a nice string of games but when you notice that they give up 100.8 points per game, its understandable they struggle. You can’t expect Irving to bail them out with 30 to 40 points every night. It’s the little things with this team that hurts them. They allow teams to shoot 38% from behind the 3-point line, which means that they’re closer to the basket instead of being spread out on defense. Well that surely must mean they rebound the ball a lot then, right? Wrong. They’re ranked 21st in total rebounds. You can’t stress enough how important defense is to a team’s success.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Remember the Minnesota team that started the season 5-3? Well now they’re sitting at 9-10 after going 4-7 over the past 11 games. After a tough loss to OKC Sunday night, they’ll need to focus their attention as they host the Spurs and Heat in their next two games. Two quality wins at this point in the season can do wonders for a team’s momentum. If the Wolves want to make the playoffs they can’t get lazy and lose a bunch of games early because their conference is too competitive. I still love the combo play of Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, and Ricky Rubio. Speaking of Rubio, I’m very close to dedicating a section in Beyond the Arc specifically for the amazing passes throughout the league. Rubio is one of the leading contributors…more on this to follow…but here’s a little appetizer…

Detroit Pistons

They haven’t had a winning record since they were 2-1. Now they’re 7-10 and this team has even more talent than both teams above. Andre Drummond is molding into a freak center that will dominate the league for years to come. Yet for some reason the JenningsSmithMonroeDrummond combo hasn’t panned out yet. They are extremely athletic which is why I like this team in the playoffs. Luckily at 7-10, the team is technically in the playoffs because of the lack of strength from the Eastern Conference. You’ll see an example of their athleticism further down in a clip.

THE GOOD

The Fab Five

These five teams are sitting pretty at the top of their respective conferences. Each team has things they do well and some things to improve on…(in no particular order)

Portland Trailblazers

They just beat the Indiana Pacers in a thrilling game Monday night. They’re the hottest team in the NBA right now, winners of 13 of the last 14. They’re 15-3 with two loses to the Phoenix Suns. They have benefitted from playing a friendly schedule, seeing that they have yet to play the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, or Heat. Stay tuned.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to lead the way as the Thunder have won 7 in a row. A date with Portland on Dec 4th should be a nice test. Serge Ibaka needs to continue to play well and carry the load defensively while chipping in on the offensive end when given the chance. They success hinges on the production they get out of anyone not named Durant or Westbrook.

San Antonio Spurs

Tim Duncan contributed a 23-point – 21-rebound effort along with the game winning shot on Monday night. Proving the trust and faith the Spurs still have with him after all these years. The biggest facet of this team is what got them to the Finals last year…rest. They’re the most disciplined team in the league with only 305 personal fouls. For perspective, the league average is 362 and the high is the Los Angeles Clippers with 422.

Miami Heat

LeBron and company definitely shook off any rust they may have had from the offseason. The Heat are winners of 10 straight, currently the longest active win streak in the league. The biggest threat for them is the fact that they are ranked dead last in total rebounds (608). The league average is 741 and the leader is the Houston Rockets with 875. I’m anticipating this problem rearing its head throughout the season, but with LeBron hungry for rings sometimes the stats just don’t matter. Let the record state that as of the start of December, James has a PER of 30.3, the best in the league to date.

Indiana Pacers

A tough loss for the Pacers Monday night when they fell to the Trailblazers. Paul George is playing brilliantly right now coming off a 43-point outing. He continues to showcase himself to the league and prove to everyone why the Pacers are performing as well as they are. They’re also holding opponents to just 87.6 points per game, which is a league best.

Dojo Power Rankings – Top 10

* Not reflecting games played on Dec 3rd and after

** ( x ) – previous ranking in Top 10

  1. 16-2 Indiana Pacers (1) – Even though they faltered against the Trailblazers. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt although they may not be #1 for long. Their next four opponents are the Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, and Heat. Talk about an important stretch…
  2. 15-3 San Antonio Spurs (2) – Although tied for the #1 seed with Portland in the West, their two recent big games against the Thunder and Houston both resulted in losses.
  3. 14-3 Miami Heat (3) – The one game I’m looking forward to…the rematch of last years Eastern Conference Finals. December 10th in Indiana.
  4. 15-3 Portland Trailblazers (9) – They passed their biggest test of the year when they defeated Indiana. Up next is another test as they host the Thunder. It must be pointed out that Wesley Matthews is the only guard in the top 15 of players according to field goal percentage. His shooting accuracy thus far has been ridiculous for a guard.
  5. 12-3 Oklahoma City Thunder (4) – All things quiet on the Thunder front as Durant and Westbrook continue to light up the box score (and my fantasy team I might add).
  6. 13-6 Houston Rockets (7) – Jeremy Lin’s injury doesn’t hurt their depth as much as you think. The Rockets have two competent backup guards in Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverley.
  7. 12-6 Los Angeles Clippers (6) – They’re ranked 3rd in the league in terms of SOS or the average winning percentage of opponents played (.551). Basically they’re doing just fine against tougher competition compared to the SOS of Indiana (.446) and Miami (.438).
  8. 10-6 Denver Nuggets (NR) – Since JaVale McGee injured himself during the 5th game of the year. The Nuggets are winners of 9 of the last 11 games, which is a pleasant surprise.
  9. 10-8 Dallas Mavericks (NR) – Surprised? Dallas has played 11 of its 18 games against teams with records above .500. They’re defense is still suspect and the offense seems like an on and off switch, after starting out 6-1.
  10. 10-8 Golden State Warriors (8) – The most entertaining team to watch in terms of their offense has only won 2 of their past 7 games. Those two wins were over the Kings and Pelicans and won by a total of 3 points. Are they worthy of the top 10? Hmm…that makes me think…

Teams Looking In

—9-10 Atlanta Hawks: After falling out of the top 10 this time, they certainly aren’t far off this list.

—9-8 Phoenix Suns: They’ve gone 4-6 over the past 10 games, washing away what looked like a nice 5-2 start to the season.

Teams Falling Out

—10-8 Golden State Warriors: Their recent struggles and close finishes against sub-par teams damage some of the faith I have in this team. Come playoff time I expect a packed yellow arena with overzealous fans but they just aren’t playing up to that level yet.

The Replay Booth

(Plays occurred between Nov 13 and Dec 3)

Best Display of Individual Skill

*Kyrie sure is sneaky*

Passes that make you think/say “How did he do that?”

THE ULTIMATE ASSIST

The award for the best pass of the season thus far…

Lance Stephenson

*It’s difficult to explain how hard it is to throw a behind-the-back pass. Let alone throw one while in mid air*

Stay tuned for more frequent articles in the coming weeks and as always, continue to enjoy.

-E-mail: senseimeola@gmail.com

-Twitter: @brosephmeola

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