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NBA Playoffs: A Different Roar

   by Bryan Leonard - 05/13/2006

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. Miami led the NBA in field goal percentage during the 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.

Speaking of improved defense, the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns have now faced two teams in the playoffs who have made a huge effort to defend and slow down the Suns. The Lakers were able to slow the pace down by milking the shot clock and forcing the ball on offense into the low post. At least in the first four games, which all went under the total. The Suns made adjustments of their own and managed to come back from a 3-1 deficit. However, the Clippers have copied the Lakers strategy and pounded the ball down low, especially in Game 2 where they outrebounded the Suns by a whopping 57-26 advantage, including 19-5 on offensive rebounds! The Suns are 0-4 in the playoffs when they fail to score at least 100 points.

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, as we've seen with the Suns and Heat. 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.

6 of the last 10 Spurs/Mavericks games have gone under the total, but before you begin looking at the next few games to be defensive slugfests that go under the total, take careful note of what Dallas coach Avery Johnson did in Game 2. He went uptempo, by replacing defensive specialist Adrian Griffin with playmaking point guard Devin Harris in the starting lineup. Johnson essentially conceded that Dallas needed more offense against the Spurs. "It was drastic in a sense that we hadn't done it in a while," Johnson said of playing with a lineup featuring Harris and Jason Terry together. "But at the same time, it was calculated." Part of Johnson's thinking was the idea that the Mavs needed more space for their scorers to operate, and they weren't going to get it with weak shooters Griffin and center DeSagana Diop on the floor together.

So Johnson made the change, hoping the new lineup could increase the game's pace without sacrificing too much defense. Not only did the Mavericks put up 78 shots on Tuesday, 12 more than the Spurs, they held the Spurs to 45 percent shooting and forced 14 turnovers. Oh yes, and the game sailed over the total by 22 points. Totals players should take careful note! And watch this weekend to see if San Antonio adjusts.

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