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NBA Playoffs: A Different Animal

   by Bryan Leonard - 05/05/2007

Yes, that NBA playoff roar you're hearing is a different animal from the one you saw and heard during the regular season. The games are different. One, they mean more. Two, teams see each other 4 to 7 times in the span of a week or two. This makes adjustments a huge factor by the coaching staffs. Just as important are moves NOT made by coaches, usually because some coaches aren't good enough to recognize some of the subtleties of the game or what the opponent is doing.

Another factor is that tensions can fly far easier. Players rub elbows all during a game, then see each other again two nights late. And then two nights again after that. During the regular season, a cheap shot or hard foul would be easier to forget if you play a game, then don't see that team again for another 4 months. But the playoffs are a different animal. Handicappers must be sensitive to changes each game, as well as the fact that regular season numbers don't always stack up in the postseason.

Take a look at the Miami Heat. A year ago Miami was the hungry team aching for a title. This playoffs, Miami was overmatched by the young, hungry Bulls! Let’s not forget that last season those same two teams met in the playoffs.

Miami had led the NBA in field goal percentage during the regular season at just over 48%. However, during the 2006 playoffs, they topped 48% four times in their first eight postseason games, just half the time. The Bulls made adjustments after the first two games with Miami and held the Heat to 41%, 41% and 45% the next three games. Miami went 1-2 against the spread in those games, losing twice. Defenses step it up this time of the season.

The playoffs are also about adjustments. The best has been the Golden State/Dallas series, with Don Nelson going small-ball against the Mavericks and coach Avery Johnson having to decide between a small lineup or a big one.

This is why it's important to examine regular season stats and regular season meetings between teams. However, don't put too much weight into those meetings. Coaches make adjustments. The old saying is that familiarity breeds contempt, and that can be true with playoff teams facing each other 4-to-7 games in such a short period.

The Spurs have turned up their defense for the postseason, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. San Antonio has only one three NBA titles under Tim Duncan, in 1999, 2003 and 2005. Against Denver, Allen Iverson was disappointed in his Game 3 performance, especially in the fourth quarter. Though he finished with 20 points, he didn't make a basket in the final period, scoring just one point. What's more, he took only one shot. For the game, he was 7 of 20. That’s turning up the defense at the right time!

That’s the kind of defense the Mavericks have been looking for, as Baron Davis and Jason Richardson have killed team. In Game 4, Davis led the Warriors with 33 points and eight assists and Richardson added 22. Dallas coach Avery Johnson started his third lineup in four games, pulling center Erick Dampier for DeSagana Diop. That was a little slower lineup, though, and the small and fast Warriors took advantage. The NBA Playoffs are about adjustments and intensity!

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