With Boston Celtics' (28-5) loss to the Trail Blazers and the Cleveland Cavaliers' (26-5) loss to Miami on Dec. 30, the two top Eastern Conference teams now have the same number of losses as the Los Angeles Lakers (25-5).
The Celtics' five losses are hardly surprising. Although Boston is still a top defensive team, leading the league in limiting its opponents' field-goal shooting (41.9 percent) and second in the NBA in opponents' points allowed (90.8 per game), the C's really struggle against the best offensive teams in the NBA.
Let's break down their losses:
Loss No. 1: Pacers (10-21)
Nov. 1, 2008 at Indiana, 95-79
Indiana is a good offensive team, averaging 102.3 points per game, good for sixth best in the league. They are fourth best when playing at home, averaging 106.6 points per contest. Indiana's offensive superiority was really evident in their game, as the Pacers led by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter.
They also made hustle plays that forced 24 Celtics turnovers, which the Pacers converted to 19 points. Boston is the worst team in the NBA in that department, averaging 15.9 turnovers per game. The Pacers also had 20 assists compared to 15 for Boston. Indiana averages 22.4 assists per game (third best in the league).
Loss No. 2: Nuggets (21-12)
Nov. 14, 2008 vs. Denver, 95-85
Boston's only home loss so far was against the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets average 102.7 points-per-game (fifth in the league). With the arrival of Chauncey Billups, they've become a top defensive team also, limiting their opponents to 43.6 percent field goal shooting (fourth in the league).
They're also one of the best Western teams in matching up against Eastern teams. They are 8-3 in their games against teams in the Eastern Conference and are undefeated (5-0) in their games against Atlantic Division rivals.
In their game, Denver hit 48.8 percent from the field, well above the 41.9 percent the Celtics allow opponents to score against them, with six Nuggets scoring in double-figures. The Celtics only shot 39.7 percent from the field. Denver also won the rebounding battle, with 43 vs. 37 and Carmelo Anthony leading the way with 13 boards.
Loss No. 3: Lakers (25-5)Dec. 25, 2008 at LA Lakers, 92-83
The LA Lakers lead the league in scoring, averaging 107.3 points per game. And their scoring average at home is even better at 109.4 points per contest. The Lakers are also underrated defenders. They actually limit their opponents to 44 percent field goal shooting, for sixth best in the league. They are also top rebounders, with 44.8 boards per game (second in the NBA) and the second best passing team in the league, with 23.3 assists per game.
The Lakers shot 46.2 percent from the field (it would have been 50 percent if not for Derek Fisher's 2-of-10 field goal shooting) and hit 8-of-20 from beyond the three-point line in their Christmas Day matchup against the defending champions.
They had 27 assists against 22 for the Celtics and blocked nine shots (vs. three for Boston). The Celtics also had 18 turnovers (vs. 11 for the Lakers) that were converted into 22 points.
Loss No. 4: Warriors (10-24)
Dec. 26, 2008 at Golden State, 99-89
This game was the second game of the Celtics' back-to-back against the top two offensive teams in the league. The Warriors are the second best offensive team in the league, averaging 105.2 point-per-game behind the Lakers' 107.3 average. They are No. 1 when playing at their home court, at 109.5. (The Lakers are second.)
Despite the Warriors' undersized frontcourt, they are the best shot-blocking team in the NBA, with Ronny Turiaf averaging 2.2 blocks per game. They also average 13 offensive rebounds per game (third in the league).
For two straight nights, the Celtics' turnovers proved too costly for them. Boston had 23 turnovers that were converted into 27 points by the Warriors. Golden State shot 45.8 percent from the field and was only 10-of-27 from beyond the arc but used a 35-17 fourth quarter run to seal the win.
Loss No. 5: Trail Blazers (20-12)
Dec. 30, 2008 at Portland, 91-86
Portland is just an average offensive team, scoring less than 100 points per game. But the Trail Blazers are getting 103.5 points per contest when playing at home (ninth in the league). They are also the best Western team matching up with their Eastern counterparts. They are 10-2 against teams in the Eastern Conference and 4-1 against Atlantic Division rivals.
Portland is the most defense-oriented of the five teams that beat Boston. Its record against defense-oriented East teams shows this orientation. But they are just 10-10 against offense-oriented West teams.
Portland limits its opponents to 75.9 field goal attempts per game (third best in the league). The Blazers are one of the top offensive rebounding with 13.2 per contest (second in the NBA).
In their last game, the Blazers shot 45.2 percent from the field, hitting 6-of-15 attempts from beyond the arc while Boston was 3-of-14 from beyond the three-point line and 27-of-67 overall for 40.3 percent. The teams' rebounding disparity was more prominent with Portland getting 44 rebounds (13 in the offensive end) to Boston's 24 (just five offensive boards).
With the exception of its last game against the Trail Blazers, Boston's losses are against top offensive teams in the league. The Celtics' current record against seven of the top offensive teams in the NBA is as follows. (Boston owns the eighth best mark, at 101 points per game.):
1. LA Lakers: 1 road loss, next game at home on Feb. 5
2. Golden State: 1 home win, 1 road loss
3. New York: 2 home wins, next game on the road, Jan. 4
4. Phoenix: 0 games played, next game at home on Jan. 19
5. Denver: 1 home loss, next game at home on Feb. 23
6. Indiana: 1 road loss, 1 home win, 1 road win, next game on the road, Feb. 27
7. Cleveland: 1 home win, next game on the road, Jan. 9
Are the Boston Celtics really struggling against the top offensive teams in the NBA? We'll see this month, when they face New York, Cleveland, and Orlando (the ninth best offensive team) on the road and play against Phoenix in Boston. They might already be a nine-loss team before they meet the Pistons in Detroit on Jan. 30.
By then we can say whether they can match up with the best offensive teams in the league and beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their next game in Boston on Feb. 5