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Five NBA Teams That Are Better Than Their Record

Darian Nourian |
December 4, 2014 | 10:17 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

We’re almost a quarter of the way through the NBA regular season, and most wouldn’t have predicted that the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies/Golden State Warriors would be occupying the top spots in their respective conferences. 

While we’ve been surprised by the over-performing of these teams to go along with a few others, it has been just as astonishing to witness the underperformance of teams that that we expected to see in the Conference Finals come playoff time. 

However, a number of these team’s records don’t truly indicate how good these teams can actually be at full strength, while playing their best basketball. 

Here, we take a look at five teams that are much better than their records reflect and how they can reach their maximum potential as the season goes on. 

1. New Orleans Pelicans (8-8), 11th in the West 

With a new name, a few offseason additions and the breakout performance of their superstar in Anthony Davis, many thought that this would also be a coming out year for New Orleans. Currently sitting at .500, however, the Pelicans have struggled to get over the hump in a tough Western Conference. Davis has been a beast in the paint this season, which has catapulted him into becoming the league’s third leader scorer at just under 25 points a game. He’s also gotten it done on the boards and defensive side of the ball, averaging just over 11 rebounds a game, while leading the league in blocks as well. All opponents will continue to “fear the brow," but the Pelicans continue to hover around mediocrity due to the fact that Davis hasn’t gotten as much help from his supporting cast. Jrue Holiday, who was an All-Star last year, was brought in to complement Davis, but after being sidelined for most of last season, he has struggled to be consistent, though at his best he provides a boost of speeding, scoring and facilitating. With the addition of Omer Asik down low and guys like Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Austin Rivers providing scoring on the perimeter, this Pelicans team could potentially be very dangerous if they can find their groove. 

2. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-13), 12th in the West 

It hasn’t helped that the Thunder have been without their two superstars, in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but the dangerous tandem is now back and they’re not holding anything back. This is absolutely vital to the Thunder’s well-being, as they have a lot of catching up to after digging quite a large hole to begin the year. Nonetheless, the team’s sense of urgency needs to be at its highest. After missing the first 17 games of the season with a foot injury, the reigning MVP led the Thunder with 27 points, while Westbrook put up 21 in just his second game back from a hand injury. Even though the duo’s performance was not enough to trump the Pelicans in New Orleans Tuesday night, it’s s a good sign for the team moving forward as they try to get back to .500, and slowly but surely climb up the Western Conference standings and back into the playoff picture. I have no doubt in my mind that the Thunder will be able to do this, but should it want to get back to the Western Conference Finals, they’re going to need role players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Serge Ibaka to help carry the offensive load as well. 

3. Los Angeles Lakers (5-13), 14th in the West 

With their current roster built the way it is, most people predicted that the Lakers would indeed be where they are currently, sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference under the direction of first-year head coach Byron Scott. Looking at the glass half full, however, the Lakers still have the “Black Mamba” in Kobe Bryant, who seems to be only getting better with age at 36. After returning from injury, Bryant has proved all of the doubters wrong by leading the league in scoring at just under 26 points, though he hasn’t been all that efficient, currently shooting under 40 percent. The thing is, this isn’t the best Lakers team that GM Mitch Kupchack has put on the floor, but it isn’t the worst either. They haven’t had much trouble putting the ball in the basket, currently eighth in the league in points per game. Younger guys like Nick Young a.k.a. “Swaggy P," Jeremy Lin and Jordan Hill have alleviated a little bit of the scoring load off of Bryant. Young just recently made his debut on Nov. 18 and since he’s been in the lineup, the team has been in just about every game with the exception of being blown out at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers' biggest downfall, though, is their play on the defensive side of the ball, ranked 29th in the league in scoring. If Scott can just inspire his team to play better defensively, which is a lot easier said than done, then maybe we can see this Lakers team creep back up into playoff contention, assuming Bryant and Young are able to stay healthy. 

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-7), 5th in the East 

The most disappointing of all of these teams has arguably been the Cavaliers. With the homecoming of LeBron James and the off-season acquisition of Kevin Love via trade to complement Kyrie Irving, Cleveland quickly became the favorite for many to represent the East in the finals. However, LeBron and company have struggled to find their groove early on, as the team continues to go through growing pains of adapting to each other’s playing styles. Many want to blame the new “Big Three," others blame first-year head coach David Blatt, but like in Miami, it all comes down to two things: the supporting cast and defense. Veterans like Anderson Varejo and Shawn Marion and younger guys like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters have struggled to find their niche around James, Love and Kyrie, but the play of these role players is crucial to this team’s championship aspirations. The Cavs have also struggled on defense, especially in the paint and on the boards, currently ranked near the bottom of the league (24th) in rebounding. With all of their talent and arguably the best player in the world right now in James, this Cavaliers team has the potential to be a defensive nightmare for opponents, but let’s remember that while offense wins games, defense wins championships. 

5. Los Angeles Clippers (12-5), 7th in the West 

The Clippers’ current standing just goes to show how stacked the West is year in and year out. Even though it’s still early, they’re seven games above .500, yet near the bottom of the playoff picture. However, this is a good wake-up call for the Clippers, who have not been able to establish consistency so far this season, with the exception of a five-game winning streak that featured wins against weaker teams like the Pistons, Timberwolves and Jazz. When the Clippers’ offense is at full strength, we know how dangerous it can be with the lethal duo Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. However, the Clippers have had a tough time thus far beating the West’s playoff-caliber teams. For example, they are 0-3 against Golden State, 1-2 against Portland and winless against both the Spurs and Grizzlies on the one occasion they played each team. This should be a concern for head coach Doc Rivers, as these are the teams that will stand in the way of the Clippers come playoff time. 

Reach Staff Reporter Darian Nourian here.



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