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Coaching Adjustments in the Playoffs

   by Al McMordie - 05/01/2005

You can’t win without the players. That’s a given. Larry Brown’s tough defensive, low post game didn’t work as well when he was in Philadelphia, where guard Allen Iverson was the best player. On the other hand, coaches do have a key input in game strategy, something that is especially important and noticeable this time of year. With teams playing each other four to seven times in the playoffs, what coaches do and don’t do from game to game can have a significant impact on the side and total.

For example, after getting smoked two games in Chicago, the Wizards came home Saturday and Washington Coach Eddie Jordan made a key strategic move. The Wizards took advantage of the fact that Chicago was without low post force Eddy Curry and employed a zone defense, which kept forwards Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin near the basket while the guards fanned out around the perimeter and took the Bulls out of the pick-and-roll game that was so effective in the first two games. The zone took the Bulls out of their game, and the Wizards rolled 117-99. This was something that Jordan had employed during the regular season, too, against the Bulls. Chicago coach Scott Skiles admitted, “Washington played some zone against us all year but we became tentative and we were slow.â€쳌 Having home court advantage also helped immensely, as both young teams have been strong at home and weak on the road (the home team is now 3-0 SU/ATS in this series, and started 13-6 SU/ATS in all the playoff games). And the coaching adjustments by Jordan were significant. In fact, these factors convinced me to make a serious play on the Wizards in Game 3 as I made it my Playoff Game of the Month. My clients and myself enjoyed the second half as the adjustments took hold and the Wizards pulled away in a rout.

In the Spurs/Nuggets series, Denver surprised San Antonio with a win in Game 1. Yet, the last two games the Spurs won easily with brilliant defense, in part because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made moves to prevent the Nuggets from running, which is their game. “For us, that's where our defense begins," Popovich said. “We practice it all year long.â€쳌 They’ve actually been practicing it for six years, which has netted two NBA titles. In addition, one Denver writer heavily criticized Nuggets’ coach George Karl for not making any adjustments the last two games. He gave credit for Karl playing a big part in the Nuggets’ second half surge, which is true, but didn’t hesitate to point out that Denver has had no answer for the Spurs’ defensive adjustments that, thus far, has stopped the Nuggets’ fast break and turned the series around in favor of San Antonio.

It will also be interesting to see if the Rockets make any adjustments after losing two in a row at home to Dallas. One thing that stands out like a sore thumb is that Yao Ming is killing the shorter Mavericks in the low post – when he gets the ball. Ming shot 13-of-14 in Game 2, a win at Dallas, yet the last two games he hasn’t got the ball or taken as many shots. What gives, Jeff Van Gundy? Keep an eye on the next two games and see if Houston feeds Ming down low more often. Also note that Dallas hasn’t played good defense this series, allowing Houston to shoot 47%, 45%, 54%, and 47% in the four games! Dallas is fortunate to be tied and needs to make better defensive adjustments, having been outshot by Houston in three of the four games. Yes, coaches need talented players to win, but coaches, too, can have a significant impact on games and series depending on what they do or don’t do.

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