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by Bryan Leonard - 05/06/2008
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.
Look at the just completed Hawks/Celtics series. The top seeded Celtics dominated the regular season meetings and many were expecting a sweep, especially when Boston won the first two games 104-81 and 96-77. The world turned upside down as the Hawks took the next two games and went 3-0 Su/ATS at home. The games are different and anything can happen in a playoff series.
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.
Detroit got a wake up call after losing Game 3 at Philadelphia, then swept the final three games, 3-0 SU/ATS, and ripped Orlando in Game 1. The Pistons are playing a physical style. Things can turn a dime in the postseason, and for difference reasons.
Two years ago Miami was a hungry team aching for a title and got it. Last season, Miami was overmatched by the young, hungry Bulls! Miami had led the NBA in field goal percentage during the 2006 regular season at just over 48%. However, during the 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 76ers played Sam Dalbert one-on-one on Rasheed Wallace in the first round, which surprised the Pistons. Philly didnâ€™t want the Detroit guard duo of Hamilton and Billups to kill them. The Pistons countered with adjustments and got on a roll as the 76ers, with less talent, couldnâ€™t adjust.
A year ago, we saw a terrific chess match in 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. In Game 4, Baron Davis led the Warriors with 33 points and eight assists and Jason Richardson added 22. Dallas coach Avery Johnson started his third lineup in four games, pulling center Erick Dampier for DeSagana Diop trying to adjust. That was a little slower lineup, though, and the small and fast Warriors took advantage.
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 won four NBA titles under Tim Duncan, in 1999, 2003, 2005 and last season. When the Spurs topped Denver a year ago, 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! The NBA Playoffs are about adjustments, intensity and survival.