Saturday, December 24, 2011
With key pieces gone, will zone be back?
By Jeff Caplan
DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks' zone defense was so effective last season -- whether it was early in the year to throw a wrench at teams in crunch time or in the NBA Finals to force the more athletic Miami Heat into a bombs-away approach -- that it was widely regarded as the best in the business.
But without Tyson Chandler in the middle barking orders and with an influx of new players unfamiliar with the mechanics -- and add that assistant coach Dwane Casey, the defensive architect who called most of the sets, is now the head coach in Toronto -- one has to wonder if the zone will continue to be a part of Dallas' defensive repertoire or, at least, an effective part of it.
"Definitely, the zone is where it shows how long you’ve been together because it’s a lot of pointing and switching on the fly and matching up," Dirk Nowitzki said. "So, we’ll see how ready we are."
Dallas mastered what it called an amoeba-like, 2-3 zone that can look a lot like man-to-man coverage and used it extensively in the NBA Finals. On paper, the older Mavs couldn't match up with the Heat's athleticism and the zone proved to be a successful means to choke off the Miami offense and force 3-point shots -- six more per game on average than the Heat attempted in all three rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Miami beat Dallas' zone in Game 1 with hot outside shooting (11-of-24). In fact, the two games the Heat won they shot a combined 19-of-43 (44.2 percent) from long range compared to 26-of-87 (29.9 percent) in the four losses. In the Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls, Miami averaged just 11.6 shots from 3-point range. In the NBA Finals, they took no fewer than 14 in any of the six games, and four times lofted 19 or more and once hit 30.
With Chandler out of the picture and the Mavs now starting less athletic center Brendan Haywood, and with Vince Carter replacing the tenacious DeShawn Stevenson for on the perimeter, will Dallas employ the zone Sunday, or even much at all in the early portion of the season?
“I don’t know. We’ll have to see from game to game," Nowitzki said. "Usually a zone can be a game-changer when the other team runs a play you can’t stop, when the pick-and-roll is hot or a post-up guy is hot, then you throw in the zone. But if our man-to-man is fine, which it was last year, then some games we didn’t even use it [the zone]. So it kind of just depends on how it’s going. If we have trouble guarding teams man-to-man, then we might throw it in there."