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NBA Playoffs: The Defenses Step Up

   by Al McMordie - 05/01/2006

So what did you think of the first half of the Miami/Chicago Game 4 Sunday? A 44-40 first half in favor of the Bulls. On the plus side for the Heat, Alonzo Mourning played 8 minutes while Shaq played 12. Miami coach Pat Riley likes that one-two low post punch, especially in the fourth quarter. Mourning played 8 minutes in the first half Sunday after playing 8 minutes for the entire Game 3. That's good news for Miami's frontcourt and playoff hopes having those two veterans healthy and playing side by side, especially for defensive purposes.

And speaking of defense, what did Miami shoot in that first half? 36 percent! Yes, the defenses are beginning to assert themselves, which is common this time of the season. Understand that Miami led the NBA in field goal shooting this season (48%), and shot better than that in the first two games. However, coaches understand that you don't go anywhere without defense in the postseason -- in any sport, not just the NBA.

After the over/unders went 4-4 during the first game of each playoff series, the unders have taken charge with a 13-7-1 mark since. That's not a huge edge, but in the world of sports wagering ANY edge is important to examine.

We can take this a step further and really see some advantages with individual series. The Clippers were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this season, allowing .435% shooting by opponents (4th best in the NBA). And they've used that defense to slow down the Denver Nuggets' fast break in taking an impressive 3-1 series lead. Even in the only victory for the Nuggets in the series (Game 3), Denver shot 37.8%! The Clippers outshot them in that game, too, shooting 40%. LA has shot far better than Denver in every game, holding them to 38.5% shooting in Game 1, 34% shooting in Game 2, and 42% in Game 4 Saturday. Every game in the series has thus far gone under the total, and you can thank the Clippers' relentless defense for that.

In the other series involving an LA team, the Lakers have used defense to get a leg up on the Suns in taking a 3-1 series lead. They've slowed the pace down, holding the Suns to 43.6% shooting in Game 3, a 99-92 LA win. In fact, since a 39-point first quarter in Game 1 for Phoenix, it's been all LA's defense, with the Suns averaging roughly 92 ppg since that opening burst. Like the Clippers/Nuggets series, the under was 4-0 in those first four games.

Two of the first three Memphis/Dallas games went over the total, but that was only because of Dirk Nowitzki's three-pointer to force OT in Game 3. Both teams shot under 42% in that game as the Grizzlies decided to slow the pace way down. The most points Dallas scored in any quarter in Game 3 was 22! Memphis controlled the tempo, but still couldn't squeeze out a win -- a fact that really must depress the team and the coaching staff. They did everything they wanted to, and still lost!

The Spurs' defense has been strong in the first three games of their series, holding the Kings to 39%, 48% and 42.9%. And speaking of defense, what the heck happened to the Pistons' defense in Game 3? That was the biggest shock of the playoffs, with Milwaukee shooting 60%! "There isn't much to say," coach Flip Saunders said. "They kicked our butts in every phase of the game." Chauncey Billups added, "We have to come out and play defense and make them play defense. We will be fine." As usual, players and coaches know how important defense is. And once again, the teams that play it usually win, and those that don't pay for it. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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