Looking Ahead to the Conference Finals
By Jay Cipoletti
The Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies have punched their tickets to the Conference Finals and await their opponents, which could be determined tonight in Manhattan and Oakland.
The Indiana Pacers hold a 3-1 lead over the New York Knicks in the East, with the winner of that series headed to Miami for the East Finals. The San Antonio Spurs hold a 3-2 lead on the Golden State Warriors in the West, with the Grizzlies awaiting the winner of the series.
Both the Knicks and Warriors have a chance to extend their seasons by winning on their home court, so we may need a few more days to determine the Conference Finals matchups. But until then, we can take a look at the numbers and see how the Heat and Grizzlies match up with their potential foes in the next round.
Our second round match up preview for the Heat focused on which team they had the greater success against, Brooklyn or Chicago. Not so in this round, where Miami awaits the two Eastern Conference foes against which they had a negative Net Rating during the regular season.
Not coincidentally, the only Western Conference team with a positive Net Rating against Miami is Memphis, which has made it through to the Conference Finals, where they await the winner of the Warriors-Spurs series.
Over the regular season, the Grizzlies outscored the rest of the league by 4.2 points per 100 possessions; the Heat topped the league by 9.8 points per 100. While the Heat relied on a clean game -- making shots and getting to the foul line at a high rate -- Memphis played true to their Grit-n-Grind image, winning the possession battle in terms of turnovers and on the offensive glass while actually shooting slightly worse than their opponents.
|Season||Offense -- 101.7||Defense -- 97.4||Offense -- 110.3||Defense -- 100.5|
As mentioned, Miami had a negative Net Rating against both the Pacers and the Knicks, with losing records against both to match -- 1-2 vs Indiana, 1-3 vs New York.
With the current strong play of the Pacers -- who are one win away from setting up a rematch of their Conference Semifinals matchup with Miami from a year ago -- and the defensive matchups they could throw at the Heat, many believe they will be the toughest matchup for the defending champs. But the numbers tell another story, when examining Miami's season series with New York and Indiana.
|Miami vs.||W-L||Offense||Defense||Net Rating|
The Knicks held the largest Net Rating edge over the Heat in the regular season, well above the Grizzlies (3.1) and Pacers (0.3). In three games against Miami, Carmelo Anthony's Net Rating was +13.4 (111.4 OffRtg/98.0 DefRtg) on a usage rate of only 33.9%. Given the unprecedentedly high usage rate Melo has recorded since March that could proved to be critical should the Knicks get past the Pacers.
|Miami||Vs. Indiana||Vs. New York|
|Season||Offense -- 105.0||Defense -- 105.3||Offense -- 98.8||Defense -- 111.3|
The Grizzlies' preferred Conference Finals opponent is just as clear, though it should be noted that the Clippers held a 10.1 Net Rating advantage over Memphis in the regular season, and the Grizzlies dispatched the Clippers in six games in the First Round.
|Memphis vs.||W-L||Offense||Defense||Net Rating|
The Grizzlies held a free throw rate advantage and net possession edge over both the Warriors and Spurs. What stands out is their eFG% difference against the two. The Grizzlies don't make a high percentage of their shots -- their season eFG% was 47.2% for a reason. What they do is limit their opponents' looks and lean on their dominance on the offensive glass to grind out wins.
|Memphis||Vs. Golden State||Vs. San Antonio|
|Season||Offense -- 104.9||Defense -- 98.5||Offense -- 94.9||Defense -- 102.8|
That formula worked very well against Golden State this season. The eFG% disparity against the Spurs was too much to overcome. Can Memphis again reverse regular season form should the Spurs close out the series tonight?