Month: April 2012

The After Game 1 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference

I always like to wait until after Game 1 of each first round series to complete my assessment on what is going to happen in each round of a playoff series.  In the NBA, playoff basketball has a different dynamic than it’s regular season.  The term “every possession matters” becomes more than a cliche, it becomes a mentality.  Execution becomes the pinnacle of success and playing with effort becomes second nature, not an afterthought.  The beauty of the NBA Playoffs is that the best team ALWAYS wins in a seven game series.  There are so many “what ifs” and rhetorical talk among fans, bloggers and everyone who follows the NBA that always leads to this: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

My Off the Dome Playoff Picks from April 27:

Bulls in 5.
Celtics in 5.
Pacers in 6.
Heat in 5.

Celtics over Bulls in 6.
Heat over Pacers in 5.

Heat over Celtics in 5.

Spurs in 6.
Grizzlies in 5.
Lakers in 7.
Thunder in 7.

Spurs over Grizzlies in 7.
Thunder over Lakers in 5.

Spurs over Thunder in 6.

Spurs over Heat in 6.

So here are Previews for the First Round:

Chicago vs. Philly

What We Learned in Game 1: Attrition has become a vital part of the 2012 NBA Playoffs and nothing changes the overall landscape of the Playoffs like an injury to Derrick Rose.  Chicago is still a better team than Philly without Rose and Chicago should be concerned defensively after giving up 91 points to a Philly team that struggles to score in the Half Court.  Philly did get to the line 31 times and only turned it over 11 times, a trend that will have to continue for them to have a chance in this series.

What to Expect the Rest of the Series:  To say it will be more competitive is a slight understatement (1).  Philly now has the best player in this series in Andre Iguodala (2), but after that their roster is filled with very mediocre players who struggle to score in the Half Court.  Philly’s frontcourt who doesn’t rebound well, will struggle with Noah and Boozer up front, and Chicago still has the advantage in the backcourt.  Philly has to make it an uptempo series by creating turnovers in order to extend this series because even without Rose, Chicago still executes better on both ends. Philly will get 1, maybe 2 at home, but I don’t see them winning anymore than that.

Bulls in 6.

Boston vs. Atlanta:

What We Learned in Game 1: That the Celtics need Ray Allen.  Bad. OK, let’s give some credit to Atlanta.  Joe Johnson was 3/15 and was +24! Josh Smith was incredible and the Hawks got great performances from 2 guys who I’m not sure were going to be effective in this series in Jason Collins and Ivan Johnson.  I can’t get over how brutal Boston’s offense looked.  Avery Bradley was their most efficient player in the first half and they just could not stretched the floor (3).  The attrition factor has hit again for Boston, as Allen and Rondo will likely both be out for Game 2.

What to Expect:  A series that is not easy on the eyes, for starters.  The Celtics can ill afford to have KG and Pierce shoot 33% and 7 FT’s combined and expect to win the series.  Both teams are extremely beat up on the front line as Atlanta is missing Horford and Pachulia, but despite that they outrebounded Boston in Game 1.  Guard play is going to be the deciding factor in this series as the Hawks are going small by starting Teague, Hinrich and Joe Johnson.  Atlanta probably wins Game 2 without Rondo.  Despite advancing to the second round in each of the past 3 seasons, the Hawks have struggled to win on the road in pressure situations, which they will have to do to win the series.

Celtics in 7.

Orlando vs. Indiana:

What We Learned: You know what they say about opinions, so that is why the game is settled on the court.  The Magic by no means played a great game, even without Dwight.  Ryan Anderson scored 5 points.They shot 39% and were out-rebounded.  Yet, it was evident that they clearly outplayed the Pacers, coming up with seemingly every lose ball and every key rebound in the fourth quarter.  The Pacers, meanwhile shot 34% from the field and missed 7 or 8 HTFDTSNGI (4) shots, and if Danny Granger and Paul George were anywhere in the vicinity of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, someone please inform America’s Most Wanted.

What to Expect: The only advantage Orlando has is intangibly and at the PG position, so they must continue to exploit that in order to continue to have an opportunity for results like Saturday.  Indiana made 10 (5) shots outside the paint, which is unacceptable for an NBA team, much less a playoff team.  Orlando will win at least another game, because they hit an insurmountable amount of 3’s and possibly another one because of their effort and home crowd.  If Indiana exploits the advantage inside with Roy Hibbert and gets better play from Granger and George, it should win this series.

Pacers in 6.

Heat vs. Knicks:

What we Learned: That the Knicks didn’t have a chance of winning the series in the first place, and now that Iman Shumpert is lost for the series, it’s likely that the Knicks may not get within 10 points of a game this series.  Why? Because Iso-Melo just does not work in the playoffs and the Knicks have below average guard play with Baron Davis and Bibby as their guards.  11 Assists on 25 Field Goals while shooting 35% and allowing the Heat to shoot 49% is just unacceptable.  The Knicks need Carmelo to go off and I’ll be hard pressed if he scored an efficient 25 by being guarded by one of the best defensive players in the league.  The Knicks also have guard issues, as they have no guards that are able to penetrate that Miami defense and create easy baskets.  Also having 27 turnovers that leads to 38 points is just asking to go home.

What to Expect: While it is just one game, I just don’t see the Knicks hanging.  For everything the Knicks do, the Heat can do better, and are a more focused group after falling two games short.  And with Shumpert perhaps being able to slow Lebron down, it will be interesting what Woodson does to try to slow Lebron down.  As long as the Heat continue to get solid performances from Battier, Chalmers and Joel Anthony they should have no problem dispatching the Knicks.  Heat in 4.

That’ll do it for the East.  West to Come tomorrow afternoon.

1.  Sarcasm, just one of the services I offer.

2. Iguodala has always been one of the most underrated players in the league in my opinion.  Long overdo first time All Star this season.

3.  That’s what happens when you’re 0/11 from 3 and get to the line 13 times.

4. How the Freak Did Those Not GO in

5. if you don’t believe me

Stay tuned for the Western Conference, which will be posted tomorrow!

Measuring Success

“I won’t keep the titles, I will keep the memories of personal relations, what we lived together. That has been the best part.” – Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola stepped down as coach of Barcelona last week after a four year run in which his team won thirteen trophies and staked a viable claim to being the best team in the history of the sport.  In Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and others, his team featured by any measure 5-7 of the 25 best players in the world.  It would be easy to underestimate Pep’s value to the equation.

The coach is responsible ultimately for the team culture.  When Pep took over four years ago, Barcelona was a talented team, but dominated by players that had lost their drive and no longer sought greatness.  Pep astutely broke the dominant contingent by selling off the unmotivated.  This was addition by subtraction as it allowed leaders of lower maintainance and purer purpose the space to lead.  Tactically, a high tempo training regiment that demanded discipline carried on to the field creating greatness.

In departing though, Pep’s quotation above resonates with the experience that is coaching.  It is not the titles, but the experience that remains.  The respect earned from mutual sacrifices in furtherance of a common goal.  The tears of joy and sorrow flowing down the cheeks of the band of brothers that make a team.  The goofy, irreverant moments and laughs shared within the confines of the team.  All forming the memories that are his, and theirs alone.

The Europa

The Europa is a body building competition that serves as the center piece of an eclectic convention whereby one with payment of $20 one can watch “world” championship cheerleading, grappling, arm wrestling, run an obstacle course with a $10,000 cash prize or fill a bag with free samples of fitness products. For the record, I watched body building and acquired free samples.

I digress to profile a few of these samples. There is Jet Fuel Pyro the so-called #1 feel good fat burner premised on an “uplifting 4-part multi-process”, the fast-acting muscle voluminzer Jet Mass (no relation), Velocity XT the “extreme fat incinerating energizing solution”, Kickbutt amped energy ballz, and the key lime flavored muscle gel shot that in one disturbing tube bearing the instructions “rip open tab, squeezed packet, enjoy” provides the protein equivalent of a whole chicken breast or six egg whites. This all begs two questions 1) how does fat sustain itself against such vicious verbiage? and 2) who writes this shit?

Back on task, my presence at this event was occaisioned by Carlton Stubbs second body building competition. The venue was the Orange County Convention Center which conjures the very definition of the word vast and possibly sprawling as well. Sans exaggeration, I walked well over a mile to reach the Europa. I was fortunate to find Carlton’s girlfriend Julz shortly after arrival, and found a seat while some female fitness competitors finished routines to a largely unimpressed audience. Several weight classes passed before Carlton and the other three heavyweights took the stage for pre-judge. All four men walked on to stage and were directed to specific poses by the judges. Each man then posed alone for sixty seconds before the entire group posed down together on final time. On this display a champion will be decided. Tomorrow at 11am the “show” as it were takes place with introductions, ninety second routines with background music and awards.

Carlton weighed 203. Three pounds lighter then he projected two weeks ago, but looked very good. Of the four in his class only one was close enough to pose a threat. This man appeared to struggle during his pose down likely due to dehydration. By contrast, Carlton seemed composed and comfortable.

About ten minutes after leaving the stage, I met Carlton. He was hungry, but in good spirits. We walked the venue and picked up the aforementioned samples and tried to solicit sponsorship. The hunger mounted. We went to the Brick Tavern to eat. Service was slow and by the time his burger arrived, Carlton was nauseous. The extreme dieting and preparation were exacting revenge.  He retired early.  The rest of the dinner party included Julz sister, who spent most of the competition evaluating speedo covered penis rather than musclature and George, a talkative guy connected with the muscle and fitness industry, who had apparently sparred with a 6-7 300lb guy earlier in the day and lived to enjoy pretzel bites and cheese.

Body building is of course a subjective sport.  Results are determined by a panel of five judges.  On Saturday morning at 11am, Carlton took the stage for his 90 second routine.  He flexed, TI rapped, and people applauded.  An hour or so later, he was judged to be second place.  I do not agree.  It was a poor decision.  I am not alone.  Several people approached Carlton after the results to protest the injustice.  It is in these voices that victory is found.  One can only speculate as to the bias of any judge or panel, but to have put in the hours in the gym, committed yourself to the dieting, and walked onto the stage for all to see, and succeed in convincing many that you were the man of the hour is the transcendant quality for your efforts will linger longer in those minds than the bigger trophy on your mantel.  But longer still will persist the pangs of guilt for those who’s votes may have been swayed by some prior relationship or other bias.

Sergio Ramos, Kevin Garnett and Thoughts on Emotional Players

I was in my office past 5pm last night, something of a rarity according to my co-workers. I was watching a feed of the Champion’s League semi-final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The game went to a penalty shoot-out. Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka had penalty kicks saved by the Bayern keeper. Both shots were low to the left side of goal, but lacked the pace and precision to beat the diving keeper. Iker Casillas saved two Bayern penalties, and all was left open.

Enter Sergio Ramos. He is an excellent defender, but over my close observation of Real during the last two seasons, an exceptionally emotional player. He is full of fight and vigor, but when things go against Real his is prone to senseless fouling and excessive complaining. Also notable is the fact that Ramos dropped the Copa Del Rey trophy from the top of a double decker bus during a victory parade last year. For these reasons, I was filled with a sense of inevitable doom when I realized he would be taking the fourth penalty in the shootout. Predictably, he missed….spectacularly sending his kick well over the goal and into the crowd.

Excessively emotional players like Ramos are not suited to perform in the clutch in skill-based actions. He should not have been one of the penalty kick takers. This can be a difficult decision for a coach to make as emotional players like Ramos bring much to the team. Their emotion brings a fighting spirit and morale to the team, and the energy of that emotion is capable of heroic, herculean efforts in difficult games. The disctinction comes with whether the specific action is skill-based or effort based. A penalty kick, a decisive final pass, a free kick, a free throw attempt, a shot late in a game are all skill-based. Brave defending, pressing the ball, rebounding, winning loose or 50/50 balls are all effort-based.

Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics are an excellent example of this balance. Garnett is an excessive emotional player. During his career in Minnesota, he was miss cast as a go to player. He was willing, but emotionally incapable of being a fourth quarter scoring assassin. The only playoff success he had was when he was paired with Sam Cassell, an underrated skill-based clutch performer. Garnett’s greatest success has come with the Celtics where he has Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to handle skill-based scoring duties late in games, while he provides the effort-based impetus.

The New NBA

My favorite sport is the NBA.  It’s the best sport in terms of the talent of it’s players and the entertainment values it provides (1).  The NBA is also the most unpredictable of sports with parity dominating it’s regular season (2).  The NBA is also unique in it’s own right, as it’s following (from the blogosphere to its fans to its sponsors)are its most unique aspect.  Everyone always has ideas to improve it, or tweak it, so I figured as a newfound blogger I’d figure to write a post on what I’d like to see in the NBA next year.

1.  The schedule- This lockout shortened schedule has been ridiculous.  66 games in 132 days.  Usually durable players like Al Horford (3), Dwight Howard, David Lee, Lamarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love are out for the season.  Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving have all missed significant (4) time with various ailments.  Before the season I thought that this may happen.  Here’s my remedy to the schedule:

A. Start the season in the first week of November-  Opening night on the first Friday and end the season in the last week of April.  82 games in 182 days.  Spreads out the season so it gives teams more off days, more rehab days and most importantly, more practice time (5).  Start training camp in the first week of October and run it for 14 days (3 off days mandatory).  Then throughout the next 10 days play 4 preseason games.

B.  Make all teams play 3 games in 3 nights one time during the first half of the season.  This cuts down on the amount of times having to play the dreaded back to backs, 4 games in 5 nights, etc and allows more off days and rehab days which in turn improves the quality of the product.

C.  Announce a 74 game schedule.  The last two weeks of the season (8 games) would be matchups set based on playoff races, positioning, etc. so it would make the last 8 games meaningful instead of teams trying to tank, rest players, etc.  More of this listed below.  The  74 game schedule would consist of : 37 home, 37 away, play all teams from the other conference home and away (30 games) and play your 4 divisional opponents 4 times (16 games), and play all your non-divisonal opponents home and away (20 games), so essentially there is only a margin for 8 games in which divisional opponents battling for playoff spots will not have in common.

So the final 8 games would work somewhat like these examples:  OKC and San Antonio are deadlocked for the top spot in the West.  They would play each other twice, once home and once away, and their other six games would be against mutual opponents.  Same with Miami and Chicago, have them play each other twice, and let the games be decided on the court.  The only stipulations for the final eight games would be:

1. No games vs. the other conference.

2. 4 home, 4 away with one back to back.

So let’s take the Magic for example, here is what I would make a schedule for their last eight games

vs. Pacers (battling for the third seed), @Knicks (battling for 6th), vs. Hawks (battling for 5th), @Boston (battling for 4th/5th), @Phily (for 6-8 spot), vs. Knicks, @Hawks, vs. Philly- See how all those games are meaningful games.  Each game could affect playoff positioning and not allow players (especially healthy ones) to be “rested.”

D. The playoffs would be played on every other day beginning May 1.  This assures that the first round would end by May 15. Second round would end May 30 and the Finals would begin June 15.  Would avoid that classic long lull between games for some teams.

2.  Lottery: This is for the so-called tanking aspect.  It’s evident that teams such as Minnesota, Golden State and Charlotte (6).  Here’s my solution to the lottery.  There are 2 of them.  Let me explain.

For the 14 teams that aren’t set to make the playoffs, establish the 1000 lottery balls based on the 74 game record, For example this season:

Charlotte would have gotten 250

New Orleans gets 210 (7)

Sacramento gets 190

And so on….

Now here’s where the twist comes in: There is a 500 lottery ball draw based on the teams record during the last 8 games.  I’m talking about best record, not worst.  Now I know it’s not fair, but neither is the lottery itself.  If you think the point of this tactic is to penalize teams… put a competitive product on the floor.  So in this instance using the 1500 lottery ball system:

Charlotte would get 255 lottery balls out of 1500 (250 for having worst record, 5 more for having the worst record during the eight games).

3.  Allow fighting under retaliatory circumstances.  Yes, I know this sounds radical, but it has to happen.  I can’t stand when Metta World Peace elbows James Harden in the head and is allowed to square up vs. Serge Ibaka while being protected by the refs for such a gutless act.  I can’t stand when Blake Griffin gets cheap shotted by Jason Smith and Kenyon Martin has to hold back from being an enforcer for fear of being fined or suspended.  I’m not saying to make it like hockey, where fighting becomes a side show.  I’m saying that if Kenyon Martin were to go after Jason Smith in retaliation or Russell Westbrook decks Metta World Peace for elbowing Harden, that is totally understandable.  I feel like fighting has no place in the game, but neither do cheap shots or acts of pussiness.  Sadly, with the new NBA rules being a pussy/ fake tough guy is being encouraged.

4.  Allow transparency when it comes to media relations: I wish people would just speak there mind.  If James Harden wanted to say “Metta is a bitch for what he did to me.” or Doug Collins calls Billy Kennedy “an asshole,” and not have to worry about being fined.  Sure it may sure a lack of tact, but what are you really teaching your audience by being politically correct? Maybe David Stern should worry about collecting fines for things that actually happen related to the game (8).  There’s too many Twitter gangsters spending time interpreting what people try to say during interviews.  In other words, more interviews need to happen like Stan Van Gundy.

5.  Integrate a 4 point shot, for every shot over half court….Why not? Shouldn’t someone be rewarded for making a 47+ foot shot (9)??

The rest of the regular season should be fun, capped by Utah hosting Phoenix on Tuesday on TNT at 10:30 (10).  We’ll also see if Charlotte can lose 23 in a row, or if they could beat the Magic.  Scoring titles, #1 seeds, and MVP races will also be decided, as well as the Game of the Year has the chance to play out (11).  So, please delay your visit to the Irish Whorehouse next week, the spit on the deep-throat sound will be the same (12), I promise you.

1.  Both on and off the court

2.  How else do you explain the Washington Wizards beating the Heat and Bulls… on the road, in the same week?  Or the Rockets losing 7 of 8 to blow their chances of the playoffs?

3.  What are the chances that 2 players suffer an non-basketball related injury on the same day putting them out for the season…. Well it happened.  Al Horford and Kwame Brown both tore a pectoral muscle ending their seasons.  Crazy.

4. In perspective

5.  Don’t believe those that tell you that you don’t need practice in the NBA…. Essential to the development of players.

6.  Well maybe not them, they are just so bad you can’t accuse them of tanking.

7. Numbers are approximate, except for Charlotte’s of course.

8.  Such as tanking.

9.  Sorry, no Beej references folks, just couldn’t find anything appropriate for this.

10. Past your bedtime Arrogant One, I know.

11.  Reason #1 to watch the NBA: Dallas at Utah this past Monday.  Thunder at Lakers tonight.  Games of the Year so far.

12.  Got one in there.  Just for you JO.

Concepts on Attacking Zone Defenses

One of the great credos I coach by is “teaching kids how to play, not how to run plays”. In no aspect of the game is this more evident than in attacking a zone defense. For me the best way to attack a zone is by concept not specific play. In the fantasy world that lives in my mind I would simply yell “Barcelona” the next time my team faces a zone, and this would unleash a conceptual assault upon our opponent forcing a time-out and/or a defensive change, if not outright, unending humiliation.

Barcalona, of course, was until this past Saturday the greatest soccer team in the world. They are famous for possession of the ball facilitated by sharp passing and fluid movement. Soccer features tactics, more akin to concepts, than plays, thus the tribute. Here are the concepts.

1. Mindset – Zones have a tendency to make teams static and passive. The result is a tendency to concede tempo and settle for jump shots. It is vital to attack the zone and take the shots you want. This has to be ingrained in your players. This is accomplished broadly with movement that manipulates the zone, and the patience to allow the manipulation to take effect. A cut, penetration or pass may break the structure of the zone, but the best available shot may still be a pass or two away.

2. Kill Zone – Every zone is exposed when ball gets in the middle, or kill zone as we call it at Winter Springs. With the ball in the middle, the zone is either compressed to protect the danger opening passing lanes to all parts of the floor, or it is caught exposed for direct attack at the basket. The ball can’t be trapped at this point either. The ball can reach the middle by flashing or penetration.

3. Attacking the Gaps- Every zone will present gaps, the area between two players in the zone that raises uncertainty over the coverage responsibility between the two players. Gaps can be attacked by putting a player in the gap and drawing a reaction, flashing a player into the game to recieve the ball in space, or penetrating into the gap to split it or compress the zone. The failure to react to a player in the gap creates an open shot, the reaction to the player creates an inbalance in the structure of the zone that can be exposed with a pass into the unbalanced area. Fundementally, attacking the gap manipulates the zone and makes the offensive team the aggressor.

4. Reading the Reaction – Once the zone has been manipulated, the other players on the floor must make a read to exploit the manipulation. The first “hot” area is the vacated space, or area from which the reacting defender just came. If a dribble penetrated the top of a 23 and draws the middle guy, the vacated space is the basket. This space is open until a rotation occurs. If your read and react beats the rotation it’s a lay up. If a wing penetrates the 23 and draws the top and bottom guy, there is vacated space at the top, in the corner, and in the bubble, the area behind the penetrator as he compresses the zone. I mentioned patience earlier, and it is important to realize that the first “hot” area may not yield a shot if the defense is active and alert, the ball must then move to keep the zone is scramble mode, again 2, 3 or 4 passes out of the manipulation may yield a shot, but the concept remains to keep the ball moving to the vacated space until the shot comes.

5. Screening the zone – Good zone defense is predicated on rotations depending on the position of the ball. My previous concepts have dealt with causing uncertainty in the responsibilities or rotation of the zone and beating it with speed of decision making. The alternative approach is to use screens to physically disrupt the rotations of the zone. Zones by nature require alertness to the ball which renders the vulnerable to back side screen actions. This is heightened by the fact that no individual defender is responsible for the screener making communication of the screen less likely. The consequent confusion can make the zone more tentative and less trusting of it’s component parts. Screening the zone is particularly useful with limited time, because it’s route to a desired shot is generally more direct.

6. Overload – This is most readily evident in using a two guard front against an odd, or one front, zone. This puts two players against one in a defined area of the floor. Crisp, but patient movement of the ball will manipulate this single defender, and tempt adjustment or cheating by the other players to advance the pace of the game. The adjustment or cheating is the manipulation of the zone that triggers an attacking sequence. This concept can be used in other areas of the floor such as employing a double high post against a 1-3-1 or 2-1-2, or overloading a side of the floor with four players. The overload will manipulate the zone, by causing it to rotate and match up with your alignment making it more of a man to man match up than a pure zone. This is unsettling to the zones defined positioning and rotations.

7. Matching – This is a counter-intuitive concept that has you match the alignment of the zone with your players. It forces the zone to play you man in a sense, and is advantagous when you have the superior individual players or your emphasis is to feed the ball into the post to attack. It is not a usual way of attacking a zone, and will make the zone uncomfortable with how to react.

8. Respect and Reversals – Attacking the zone requires that each player on the floor be a threat to the zone. All players on the catch must square to the basket, and be ready to attack. This requires a reaction from the defense. The more the zone is required to react to, the more likely they are to blow a rotation and yield a shot. Reversing the ball from side to side taxes and leaves them exposed as they re-orient themselves to the position of the ball. The reversal of the ball must be seen as an opportunity to attack, not just play horizontally.

The concepts are most effective if mixed, again with idea that the more that is required of the zone the more likely the breakdown. Varying concepts of attack create a variety and maintain attacking initiative.


I should be in bed right now. I am tired, but I just watched a Moto GP clip of a three lap duel between Valentino Rossi (46) and Jorge Lorenzo (99). During the duel, both riders displayed incredible skill and concentration. Lorenzo was brilliant in a conventional sense. He rode excellent lines, passed twice when opportunity presented itself, and defended his position in the last “passing” turn.

Rossi won because his greatness was unconventional. After losing the lead three laps from the finish on a long straight away, conventional thinking would have had Rossi settle in behind Lorenzo stalk his line and pick his opportunity to pass. Rossi responded immediately by getting off the brakes and moving outside of Lorenzo entering a turn. His pass so close he had to tuck his leg against his bike to clear Lorenzo without contact, then had to stick his bike in the turn so Lorenzo couldn’t simply cut under him.

Lorenzo reclaimed the lead. Rossi stalked. Conventional tactics would have Rossi make his move in the third turn from the finish, a well-known passing turn. Lorenzo knew this and made an excellent block. Rossi would not give up and made the decisive pass in a fast right hand turn that was not in a passing area.

Being pushed to the precipice of his technical skill, Rossi’s competitive instincts to win did not fail him, but more importantly his vision and mind conjured the creativity for the decisive pass. This is Greatness.