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Defense in the NBA Playoffs

   by Al McMordie - 06/01/2006

NBA Playoffs are often about defense, and the Pistons/Heat series has been a textbook example. A strangling defense has been the norm, especially from Pat Riley and the Miami Heat. Detroit averaged 96 ppg this season, yet in this series they've scored 86, 92, 83, 78 and 91 points. In fact, all five games have gone under the total.

Miami's defense has been exceptional. In Game 3, Detroit shot 42% and got beat on the boards 40-27. In Game 4 Detroit shot 39% and in Game 5 they shot 42.9%, and won! This is common this time of year as the games mean so much that teams and coaches stress the importance of all-out defense on nearly every possession.

If you believe the conspiracy theorists, the NBA has changed the rules since 2004 to try to get more offense going. That happened after the Pistons and their slow-down defense won the title in 2004. David Stern stopped all the bumping and grabbing on and off the ball. He opened the floor up for quick players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. High scoring means more fan interest and higher TV ratings. The game was getting a bit stagnant. And what one event stood out more than any other this season? Probably Kobe Bryant's 81-point game.

In doing this, he was taking away a bit of an edge that teams like the Pistons and Spurs had: being physical on defense. Stern said this week, "I think it is fair to say that we went through a period where it became fashionable to get a piece of a player in the lane, and if you didn't stop him, you at least slowed him up. We made a decision to say we wanted to try it the other way. I think our fans and our players are responding to that. It's giving people a chance to see how talented our players really are. We are pretty excited about that."

So the physical and team-oriented Spurs are already out of the playoffs, upended by Dallas, while the Pistons might not be far behind. Still, loads of defense can be found in the current series. A key to this series has been Tayshaun Prince. He hurt Miami in Game 2, with 24 points as Detroit won 92-88. Prince was 10-of-20 shooting, after which Riley pointed out how Prince had hurt them and he needed to find a way to prevent Prince from getting open and to attack him as he drove the lane.

They did. In Game 3 Prince was 1-of-7 shooting in 46 minutes, and in Game 4 Prince was 6-of-16 shooting for just 15 points. Miami won both to take a 3-1 series lead. In Game 5, Prince was 11-of-17 shooting for a team high 29 points. He has really blossomed as a terrific all-around player, and as he has gone in this series, so have the Pistons.

As you watch the Heat and Pistons this weekend, note that in the last 13 meetings between these teams, the home team is 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS. That's a key obstacle the Pistons are going to have to overcome Friday in Miami. But they've done it before! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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