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Consistency leads to success

By Chris Zielinski
On February 16, 2011

Consistency: A word synonymous with practice, as well as every coach's wish. It is an integral part of success in the NBA. We've all heard the age-old saying, "Practice makes perfect," and it unquestionably holds true, regardless of what Allen Iverson might try to tell you. Although I won't venture so far as to say practice guarantees consistency or perfection, it surely improves a team's likelihood of achieving these things. As we've seen in the current season, success in the NBA often comes and goes, with few teams maintaining a winning performance throughout the season. A few have come close, while many have faltered. What drives these performance variations, you ask? The answer is simple: consistency.

Let's consider Exhibit A: A young, explosive team in the Western Conference., after a horrid start, seemed to be on track to enter the playoff race, only to have everything fall apart again. If Bob Barker was hosting, he would inform us that the team behind Door One is the Los Angeles Clippers. After a tragic 1-13 start, the Clippers rode the Blake Griffin express back to becoming respectable and competitive. The young team played a high-energy, up-tempo game, led by Griffin's above-the-rim insanity and Baron Davis's veteran leadership. But the clock struck midnight on this Cinderella story, as the Clippers have dropped seven of eight and fallen out of playoff contention. The culprit? Diminishing consistency. The Clippers have fallen off in a multitude of categories, including points, reboundsand assists per game. Likewise, Griffin continues to draw more attention from defenses, and although his performance has been steady, he is rarely given space on the floor, as he is the focus of every team's defensive game plan. Add to the equation an injured Eric Gordon, who, by the way, is the team's leading scorer, and an injured Chris Kaman, the team's second leading rebounder, and the Clippers' recent failure becomes more understandable. Clearly, injuries are a catalyst in declining consistency, as they not only shift a team's rotation they also shift a team's success, as illustrated by the Clippers.

Furthermore, consider the NBA's best and worst teams. On one hand, we have the San Antonio Spurs, whose consistency of play has only been rivaled by their consistency regarding the lack of recognition they get in NBA circles. With the best record in the league, it is no surprise to find the Spurs in the top 10 of league scoring, rebounding, passing and defending. Altogether, the Spurs spread offensive and defensive responsibility better than any other team in the league, and in turn, their success has been unmatched. Equally important for the Spurs is the development of DeJuan Blair, who has evolved from a rookie with potential to a solid post presence, which only improves Tim Duncan's effect.

On the other side of the equation, insert the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, with Lebron James leaving no one expected much from Cleveland. But no one expected the train wreck that is the Cavaliers' season. Like the Spurs, the Cavs spread the scoring responsibilities decently, except for the fact that they aren't scoring at all. Ranked in the bottom 10 teams for almost every major statistic, the Cavaliers represent the exact opposite of the Spurs.

Perhaps the most telling statistic is only one Cavalier, Anderson Varejao, has started every game he has played. Even so, Varejao has only played in 31 of the team's 52 games. Aside from a recent win over the Clippers, no end seems to be in sight for the Cavaliers, whose only consistency is the fact that their season will be consistent with the worst seasons of all time.

Finally, let us examine the major playoff contenders. First, we turn to the Boston Celtics. The consistency of Rajon Rondo has elevated the Celtics to the top spot in the East. The Celtics also play great team defense, leading the league in scoring against. If they can avoid a big injury down the stretch, look for the Celtics to make a deep run.

Fittingly, the Celtics recently defeated the Miami Heat, whose early season struggles have been rectified due to increasing consistency amongst team chemistry, and the play of Miami Thrice. The Heat have also played great defense down the stretch, and with players returning from injury, look to remain a major player in the title race.

Similarly, consistent play from superstars Dwight Howard and Derek Rose have Orlando and Chicago respectively just barely trailing in the Eastern Conference race.

Turning to the Western Conference, the Lakers' consistency has fluctuated, resulting in back-to-back losses to Orlando and the Bobcats, a game in which they trailed by 28 at one point, after looking like the reigning champs only a week before in their triumph over Boston.

The Dallas Mavericks, winners of 11 of 12, are currently firing on all cylinders. But let's not be so quick to forget the forgettable span of play the Mavericks experienced without star Dirk Nowitzki. Told you, I wasn't kidding about the injuries.

All in all, with the All-Star break approaching, the NBA buzz is approaching its highest levels of the season. Undoubtedly, the trend can be expected to remain constant, with competition in the East and the Spurs' quiet dominance in the West sure to continue. More importantly, the central question in the league is now turning to who will be the last team standing (finally, someone changed the record on Carmelo). In a season with historic levels of competition, shifting into cruise control until the playoffs, as we've seen the Celtics and Lakers do in the past, seems to be a futile strategy. No distinct championship team has emerged yet. But when one does, I assure you, consistent play down the stretch will determine of this year's champion.  

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