Here is some interesting research — so interesting in fact that you will hear no doubt hear it again — but remember, you heard it from ME first! 😀 Anyway…
In the last 14 years, when it has come down to just the last 2 teams in the NBA Finals, the team with the best defense during the regular season has won the NBA Championship every time, except for the New Jersey Nets, and in 2001 when the Lakers beat the 76ers — but that year injuries caused Shaq to miss 8 games, Kobe to miss 14 games, Horace Grant to miss 5, and starting point guard Ron Harper to miss 47, so the Lakers regular season defensive rating is misleading. (The previous season the Lakers had the #1 defense in the NBA).
So if you are looking for a team to bet on in the Finals, the odds are VASTLY in favor of the better defensive team.
In fact, in the last 28 years (which is all I wanted to research back to), except for the aforementioned Laker team, and a Rockets team that had regular season injuries to Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Vernon Maxwell, Robert Horry and Ortis Thorpe, the NBA Champion was always in the top 10 defensively.
In fact, in the last 28 years, 18 NBA Champions were top 5 defensive teams during the regular season preceding their championships.
And in the last 28 years, only 3 NBA Finals have not had at least 1 top 5 defensive team (2006 Heat vs. Mavs, 1995 Rockets vs. Magic, and 1982 Lakers vs. 76ers), and in every instance, the eventual champs defensive ranking was skewed due to injuries to key players such as Shaq, Wade, Olajawon, Kareem, Magic, Cooper, etc.
So, if you adjust for injuries, over the last 28 years, EVERY NBA Finals has had at least 1 top-five defensive team in it, and adjusting for injuries, the better defensive team has won every NBA Finals for the last 14 years… unless its point guard was Jason Kidd. Hmm, I wonder if Mark Cuban knew that before he traded for him last year. 😉
At any rate, those statistics may take some of the mystery out of predicting the Finals.
Basketball is very much a battle of wills.
Now that the Lakers have learned they cannot just shoot their way past the Celtics defense, ranked #1 in the regular season, it will be interesting to see if they up their defense in the regular season from last year.
If they don’t, then we probably shouldn’t be predicting a Lakers parade next June.