As we get closer to the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the push to secure a playoff berth and playoff positioning is the daily topic of conversation around the league. Let's take a look at five teams who are fighting for their playoff lives and the positioning to move on past the first round.
Taj Gibson's Sixth Man of the Year effort has helped keep the Bulls surging on:
Chicago Bulls' super reserve Taj Gibson averages 13.2 points but that's not why he's out on the floor. He's out there to shut down the other team, and that's mostly what the Bulls do when he checks into the game. Defense would have to be recognized at a premium this year for Gibson to win the Sixth Man of the Year award because it's rare they give it to someone with such a low scoring output. The last time the Sixth Man of the Year scored under 14 points per game was Mike Miller in 2005-06 and the last time the award winner had a lower scoring average than Gibson was Aaron McKie in 2000-01.
The team gives up a paltry 97.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. They often ask him to defend the best scoring big man on the opposing team so Joakim Noah can roam and call out defensive coverages. He handles switches onto smaller opponents and managed to play much bigger than his 6'9" frame thanks to his 7'4" wingspan. Scoring has been great but his defense is arguably as valuable, if not more, than any reserve scoring performances this season.
The Raptors have found a way to maximize Greivis Vasquez on the court:
Greivis Vasquez turned himself into one of the best distributing point guards in the NBA last season, but struggled to find consistency when he was moved to the Sacramento Kings. Once he was traded to the Toronto Raptors, Vasquez joined a team that was about to go from hopeful to legitimate playoff team in the East. His emergence as one of the most effective backup point guards in the NBA this season hasn't just been about his passing ability; he's no longer a complete liability on defense thanks to some savvy lineups Dwane Casey uses to unleash Vasquez.
Vasquez often offers up the resistance of a saloon door on defense, and yet they're 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor, giving up just 97.7 points per 100 possessions. How is this possible that one of the worst defensive players in the league can be so well hidden? The Raptors almost always play him with at least three quality defensive players. His most used lineup with Vasquez also includes Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas. Those five give up a defensive rating of just 93.0. Of the 10 most used lineups including Vasquez, only two of them give up a defensive rating of over 100.0 and three of them are under 91.0. The Raptors know the correct personnel to put around a solid distributor like Vasquez.
The Bobcats' starting lineup hasn't just been good in the East; it's plain good:
The Charlotte Bobcats possess the second best lineup in all of basketball. No, I haven't been drinking; this is factual. Of the 19 lineups in the NBA that have logged 450 minutes or more this season, the Bobcats' lineup of Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts, and Al Jefferson have the second highest net rating with a plus-11.7, ranked behind the plus-15.2 by the Warriors' lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, and Andrew Bogut. The Bobcats' lineup has been destroying teams for most of this season.
Of these 19 lineups, only the Indiana Pacers' starting lineup and the Chicago Bulls' starting lineup have a better defensive rating. It's not just the defense that has been good either. This Bobcats' lineup has the eighth best offensive rating out of these 19 teams. They can stop you from scoring and put up points efficiently at the same time. Maybe it's time to stop thinking the East is so monumentally bad?
Chris Bosh's spectacular defensive impact is still very much a thing:
With Dwyane Wade conserving his effectiveness for the postseason run at a third straight title and LeBron James not being as intense or productive on defense as we saw last season, the one constant that remains with the Miami Heat defense is the play of Chris Bosh. We can pretend he's soft or not worthy of being a part of a Big Three all we want, but if we want to be accurate about the type of player Bosh is, he's one that anchors the Heat's defense and keeps it from being mediocre.
The Heat put up a poor defensive efficiency of 105.6 when Bosh is on the bench, but with him in the game that improves to 100.8 per 100 possessions. His play and the effectiveness of Chris Andersen seem to be the only components valiantly keeping the Heat in the top 10 in defensive ratings this season. He doesn't block a ton of shots and he doesn't grab a lot of rebounds. He just keeps putting himself in proper help position and defends beautifully when his man has the ball.
Just a reminder that Kevin Durant is ridiculously good
Oklahoma City Thunder demigod Kevin Durant's scoring streak of 25 points or more in a game ended at 41 games, after surpassing Michael Jordan's best streak of 40 straight games. Just to put that in perspective, five players in the NBA average at least 25.0 points this season and Durant just had their elite scoring averages or better in half of an 82-game season. Not to mention, he has a current streak of scoring more points than he's taken field goal attempts at 172 straight games with DeAndre Jordan possessing the next best active streak at 42 games.
That is some kind of alien technology for scoring efficiency that we can't even understand as a human race right now.