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5 NBA Playoff contenders who have struggled defensively this season

The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled at the defensive end.
The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled at the defensive end.
ANALYST
Modified 22 Apr 2021
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The oldest cliche in NBA history might be that defense wins championships, something that could be true this season as well.

Defensive efficiency is a key attribute for any contending team in the NBA. If a team has a suffocating defensive unit, that often augurs well for their NBA Playoff hopes.

Five 2020-21 NBA Playoff contenders who have struggled defensively

In the ongoing NBA season, a lot of teams have emerged as contenders. But not all of them have been able to rely on their defense during the campaign.

In fact, there are quite a few teams in the 2020-21 NBA Playoff picture but have a negative Net Rating, which is surprising, to say the least. Without further ado, let us take a look at five such teams.


#5 Washington Wizards

Bradley Beal #3 and Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal #3 and Russell Westbrook #4 of the Washington Wizards

The 2020-21 Washington Wizards have had an up-and-down season despite having Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook leading their offense. Of course, when such a talented team does not find consistent success, their defense is likely their Achilles heel.

That is the case with the Wizards this season. They have simply not been great in defense all season, though they are making a late push to enter the postseason. The 25-23 Washington Wizards are tenth in the East and have recently entered the NBA Playoff mix (they're currently a play-in team).

Nevertheless, the Washington Wizards rank only 18th in Defensive Rating, allowing 112.8 points per 100 possessions. Moreover, their offense has only been the 24th-best in the league; they have an Offensive Rating of 109.1, which puts the team in 23rd place in terms of Net Rating (-3.7).

However, the Wizards are on a six-game winning streak and are 8-2 in their last ten games. In this period, they have had the second-best Defensive Rating in the league, which augurs well for their postseason hopes.


#4 Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic (#77) of the Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic (#77) of the Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic has led the Dallas Mavericks to a 31-26 record this season, with the Mavericks looking to qualify directly for the playoffs without going through the play-in tournament.

At one point during the season, the Mavericks had a 9-14 record, but they have gained momentum and are now seventh in the West, 0.5 games off the top six. However, their defense has not really been their strongest suit this season.

The Dallas Mavericks have the ninth-worst Defensive Rating in the 2020-21 NBA, allowing 113.1 points per 100 possessions. However, the Mavericks have a positive Net Rating (1.4) because their offense is the tenth-best in the league.


#3 Atlanta Hawks

Wendell Carter Jr. (#34) of the Orlando Magic dunks against John Collins (#20) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (#13) of the Atlanta Hawks.
Wendell Carter Jr. (#34) of the Orlando Magic dunks against John Collins (#20) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (#13) of the Atlanta Hawks.

One of the most impressive teams in the 2020 NBA Free Agency, the Atlanta Hawks are right in the playoff mix this season. They've established themselves among the East's top five teams and are firmly in postseason reckoning.

The Atlanta Hawks have played well recently, winning seven of their last ten games. However, their defense has struggled this campaign, which doesn't augur well for their playoff hopes.

The Hawks are ranked 23rd this season in terms of Defensive Rating, allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions. Their offense, however, has kept the team in the playoff race, as the team ranks eighth in the league.


#2 Brooklyn Nets

Kevin Durant (#7), James Harden (#13) and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant (#7), James Harden (#13) and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets

The 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets are definitely an intriguing team, to say the least. The franchise put together an extraordinary group of players, led by former MVPs Kevin Durant and James Harden, alongside former NBA champion Kyrie Irving.

However, the trio has scarcely played together, and concerns about the team's overall defense have always been there all season.

Nevertheless, the Nets have fared well despite their struggling defense (26th-best in the league). That's because their offense has been a class apart (scoring 118.2 points scored per 100 possessions, second-best in the league this season).

The Nets have a 39-20 record on the season and are second in the Eastern Conference. Barring injuries to their superstars, the Nets look good for a deep postseason run this season.

The Brooklyn Nets are 0.5 behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the East's top seed and are the favorites to go all the way in their conference.


#1 Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard (#0) and Robert Covington (#23) of the Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard (#0) and Robert Covington (#23) of the Portland Trail Blazers

Without a doubt, the Portland Trail Blazers are the worst defensive team among all contenders this season, and they're close to being the worst defensive team in the 2020-21 NBA. Period.

Though Terry Stotts' team are sixth in the Western Conference with a 32-26 record, they have struggled in defense all season. Their record against the top four (0-9) in the West is abysmal, which shows that the Trail Blazers need to improve drastically in defense ahead of the NBA Playoffs.

The Trail Blazers have the seventh-best offense in the league, which places them top 10 in the West. But NBA playoff success would only come if they improve at the other end to complement their offensive exploits.


Also Read: How many players in the NBA have signed a contract of $200 million or more?

Published 22 Apr 2021
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