As the NBA season winds down you may be noticing a lot of one-sided games. It’s not your imagination: This is the time of year for "blowouts."
Several things are happening. One is that some players know their seasons are almost over, and they’re more likely to try and score rather than focus energy on defense. Offense is more important for potential free agents. It’s easier for a player to walk into a general manager’s office and say, "Double my salary - I averaged 24 ppg," than to say, "The guy I was guarding only scored 10 the last 20 games of the season. Give me a raise!"
If you know your team won’t be making the playoffs, would you prefer to run and gun and have some fun for 48 minutes in a high scoring game, or work your butt off trying to stop the other guy? Why do you think NBA All-Star games are so high scoring? The players don’t care about defensive intensity. Their concern is having fun and putting on a show.
The Chicago Bulls know they won’t be involved in the postseason - again. Down the stretch, the Bulls have gone 17-6 OVER the total. One of those games was an incredible 51-point defeat at Indiana. Chicago tallied 89 points in that game, just four under its season average. The defense allowed Indiana to shoot 63 percent. Don’t tell me the Pacers were simply shooting lights out that night. The Bulls were playing the infamous ”˜Matador Defense:’ "Olay! There’s the basket!"
In recent weeks the Denver Nuggets lost by 30 points at Phoenix, the Bulls lost by 30 at Houston, Miami beat Minnesota by 27, and Golden State topped its season average of 103 points yet fell by 21 at Cleveland. During a five-game stretch the Warriors gave up 117, 99, 117, 107 and 124 points. They did manage two victories, but four of the five went OVER the posted total.
Even above-average teams are not immune. The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers scored 98 points at Seattle and still lost by 22. Utah fell by 20 at San Antonio, while the Rockets lost by 24 at New Jersey and the Timberwolves lost 119-95 at home to Dallas.
Players are more likely to conserve energy or avoid injury by playing lazy defense this time of year. The last month of the season you are prone to find one-sided games for various reasons. The Timberwolves have been very unusual of late. Fighting for playoff positioning, Minnesota last week suffered back-to-back losses of 27 and 24 points.
In one of those defeats, the T’wolves led 35-19 in the first quarter at Miami, before going on to defeat 111-84. That’s an amazing 43-point swing over the final three quarters. Minnesota had played Miami three days earlier and won in a blowout, 108-91. The hot offense and cold defense has contributed to Minnesota’s recent 7-3 OVER the total streak.
The Lakers have been playing well the second half of the season and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the playoffs. Los Angeles hasn’t played great defense (44-29-1 OVER the total) and has been prone to being on both sides of blowouts.
The Lakers have recently had double-digit wins over the 76ers, T’wolves, Hawks, Grizzlies, Wizards and Clippers, and double-digit losses to Seattle, Chicago and Detroit. LA lost back-to-back blowout games at Chicago (116-99) and Detroit (111-88). The Lakers play poor ”˜D’ on the road, giving up 100 points per game, which is why they started the season 23-14 OVER the total away from home (62 percent).
Perhaps Phil, Shaq and Kobe are saving their best defense for the games that really count. We’ll know soon enough.