As we head into the final weeks of the NBA season, a good forecaster needs to be in tune with all the changes that are taking place. I know it’s the end of a long regular season, but that doesn’t mean teams will play the same way NOW they’ve played all season.
Some teams are packing up, others are motivated by reeling in the playoff bubble, while other teams are making changes, either to play with more kids for experience or to change strategy because they have to. Take the Memphis Grizzlies. You know those Grizzlies, the team that likes to run and shoot without playing defense, since interim coach Tony Barone took over.
They have been a machine for going over the total under Barone. However, he looks at what he went through this week: 87 and 88 points on offense, both games sailing under total. What has happened? A total change of strategy, that is! The Grizzlies are shorthanded, with Damon Stoudamire and Mike Miller out, both with knee tendonitis. Point guard Chucky Atkins has also been out with a groin injury. That means Junior Harrington is the sole point guard.
So this week, guards Tarence Kinsey and Junior Harrington made their first two starts of the season and led the Grizzlies to an improbable 88-86 victory over the Lakers as 13-point dogs in front of a stunned and disappointed crowd at the Staples Center. He broke the Lakers’ five-game winning streak.
Both players excelled, with Kinsey posting a career-high 24 points and seven rebounds in 44 minutes. Harrington played all 48 minutes, adding season-highs of 13 points and eight rebounds, while tying his season-high of eight assists. Throw in rookie Rudy Gay and you won’t recognize these Grizzlies. Gay finished the game with 20 points, his career-high 12 boards, and four blocked shots.
The Grizzlies settled for their makeshift lineup and slowed down. After seeing Kobe Bryant score 60 against them last week, the Grizzlies used a zone defense this time around. After scoring 40-plus points in five straight games, Bryant missed 15 of his next 16 attempts. He finished the game with 23 points on 7-of-26 shooting. The Lakers were held to 34.4 percent shooting.
“We don’t like to play in the zone,” Barone said, “but that was the smart thing we did and it worked.” “They played box-and-one,” Bryant added. “I haven’t seen that since high school.” The match went 75 points short of the total. How about THAT for an easy cover?
The Portland Trail Blazers have also made some big changes, covering 5 of the last 7 games. Rookie LaMarcus Aldridge is starting and playing well, along with rookie Brandon Roy. They couldn’t cover in Chicago in part because the Blazers were without two of their best players, Roy and Ime Udoka. Roy, the best player on the Blazers, left hours before the start of the game to attend the imminent birth of his son. Udoka, the team’s best defender, suffered his second concussion in three months and did not return. Udoka’s injury allowed Bulls forward Luol Deng to go free with his career-high 38 points on 18-of-25 shooting.
The Pistons have been hit with the flu virus this week with Richard Hamilton, Dale Davis and Chris Webber out on time. But the Pistons have gotten a steady game from their reserves, namely Flip Murray, Jason Maxiell, Carlos Delfino, Antonio McDyess and Lindsey Hunter. Saunders said he’s seen reserves make critical plays at critical moments in recent games.
“You look at our last four, five games, our second and fourth quarters, and those guys are playing, that’s when we made our runs,” Saunders said. Detroit has covered 9 of 11 games. So even good teams are making changes that can affect their game, both for better and worse! A smart handicapper monitors all of these changes and anticipates how to apply that knowledge to the next game roll.