Amazing what a couple of decent performances can do to your team morale. Sure, we've only won 20 percent of our games this season, but all is well because we've actually won 40 percent of our last five games!
Okay, I'm being a little facetious. Seriously, this recent stretch has been encouraging. We're competing against very good teams on the road and we're doing it often without our best player. You have to be happy about that when this season has been so bad.
What's been the difference. It's only a five-game sample, but here are our defensive ratings for our last five games. Our opponents' average offensive rating is in parenthesis. League average is around 106.
Charlotte: 90.9 (103.1)
Cleveland: 101.1 (113.8)
Oklahoma City: 102.2 (97.6).
Houston: 97.8 (107.8)
New Orleans: 116.9 (108.6)
It may not look like much to hold our opponents under their offensive efficiency rating three out of five times, but keep in mind that we have consistently been in the bottom five in efficiency the last few years. Earlier this year, we were dead last. So to see us defending that decently is a nice sign. Even the times when our opponent was more efficient than normal come with slight caveats. We shut down Oklahoma City in the fourth quarter of that game, while we actually did a decent job with New Orleans before they started to score at will in the fourth.
What's causing this? I don't think it's merely a coincidence that these have been the five games Dominic McGuire has started. I was somewhat against the move initially (my initial position was to start Nick Young as a teaching tool to develop his complete game), but I realize I missed something. I don't think McGuire himself is the reason we're defending better necessarily, but I see it sending an intangible message to the team that good defense will be rewarded. From the looks of it, the team's starting to get it.
Now, it's true that our offense has sputtered a bit with our defense picking up, but that's alright for the long term. Our big offensive guns are out anyway, and we've been saying for a while that this team has defensive talent on it if it was used and fostered more effectively. Perhaps this is part of that process.
It could also be a random five-game sample, who knows. We'll soon find out.