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NBA Playoff Strategy

   by Al McMordie - 04/28/2006

It’s the time of the season where coaches REALLY earn their money. The NBA Playoffs are largely about three key points: Talent, defense, and adjustments. Naturally, you can’t win without talent on the court. There was no better example than Larry Brown. Brown went to the NBA Finals with the Pistons the last two seasons, even winning the title in 2004. This year he took over the sinking ship known as the NY Knicks (and what was he thinking, anyway?) and wins have been rare.

Defense is another key, as well as strategic adjustments by the coaching staff. If you don’t think coaching strategy is that important, think again. Remember the Phoenix Suns two years ago? They were a weak team going nowhere. In comes Steve Nash and the coaching staff implemented a run-and-gun offensive strategy molded around Nash’s ball sharing talents. The Suns were the talk of the NBA last season and have enjoyed another strong campaign.

Two years ago when the Lakers beat the Spurs in the playoffs, the Lakers simply packed the defensive paint to double team Tim Duncan, and let the San Antonio guards shoot from long range. They failed miserably, so the Spurs went out in the off-season and upgraded their three-point shooting. Shooting the trey was a huge asset as they won the title a year ago. And did you notice what the Kings did in the first two playoff games? Packed the paint and asked the Spurs to beat them from long range. San Antonio was lights out from the three-point line in the first two games, hitting 11-of-17 treys in Game 1 and 12-of-26 from long range in Game 2 (both wins).

Which brings up some interesting strategic moves in the other playoff series. Washington hasn’t played mush defense all season, but did bring it in Game 2 to tie up the series with Cleveland. On the one hand, Washington has been outrebounded by the Cavs 52-36 and 47-40 in both games. On the other hand, both teams shot under 40 percent from the field in Game 2. Note that 7 of the last 9 games between the Cavs and Wizards have gone under the total.

The Lakers have made a clear strategic challenge to the Suns. Coach Phil Jackson doesn’t want to play the Suns run-and-gun game, and he saw that during the regular season, as Kobe Bryant had big games against the Suns, but the Lakers still lost most of them. So he changed strategy, spreading the ball around with Kobe taking fewer shots, and they are pushing the ball into the low post to take advantage of the undersized Suns. They nearly won Game 1 and did win Game 2 on the road. In Game 1, Kwame Brown (14 points) and Lamar Odom (21 points) got shots and points, and the Lakers won the points-in-the-paint category, 42-30. In Game 2, Odom had 21, Brown had 12 and they held the Phoenix offense to 93 points and 42% shooting. All of which is slowing the pace down, and notice that both games went under the total.

Memphis NEEDS a change of strategy, as nothing has worked in the first two games, looking clueless as Dallas has rolled over them. Don’t be surprised if Memphis slows the pace to a crawl, like Mike Fratello’s boring Cleveland Cavalier teams of a decade ago. The Grizzlies are 30-11 SU, 23-15 ATS at home, where they are 27-14 under the total. The Grizzlies are also 0-10 in their playoff history. The Bucks, too, need a change of strategy as the Pistons have controlled everything. How about getting out and running behind all that good guard depth? If they do, notice that the Bucks and Pistons are 4-1 over the total their last 5 meetings (all this season). Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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