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Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Success is where the benches are?

By Brian Kamenetzky

Before losing at home to Oklahoma City Monday night, the Utah Jazz put together a remarkable streak of five consecutive double-digit, second half comebacks, the final four coming on the road. Ahead of Sunday's loss to Phoenix, I asked Phil Jackson how a team can be so bad in one half and so dominant on the next, particularly away from home.

His response: "When Utah goes on the road, they play flip-flop of every other team. They play offense on the far end of their court, and when they come back in the second half, they're playing offense in front of their bench, and they generate a lot of points in front of their bench because of that. For whatever reason, teams a lot of times play better when the coach is yelling at the guys to make the right moves and the right passes and whatever. They're more comfortable... It's been in front of their bench that they've been able to do it, but I think they're the only team in the NBA that does that."

The visiting team has the option to choose the direction in which they play, something I didn't know. Jackson said he's pulled the proverbial Jerry Sloan at points in his career, but only back in his Chicago days. He certainly has no intention of doing so as the Lakers kick off their first multiple game roadie of the season. But why not do it more?

"It's what you trust. Do you trust the fact that your team can go and operate in the offensive end with confidence and with assuredness. If you have a system, like Jerry has a system, like we have a system, you hope that the guys would be able to, whatever happens they can still organize themselves and play out of the system and under duress or pressure," he said. "Defensively, a lot of coaches like to be in front of the bench because they can call out stuff. People can call what's going on, or the tendencies you can see behind you. Give eyes to the players that have their back to the basket."



How much any of this actually impacts the final score of a game would require the sort of statistical analysis for which I am ludicrously unqualified, given all the factors that play into the equation. Just for fun, I went back and checked the box scores for each of the eight games played at Staples between the Lakers and Jazz during the last three postseasons. In six, the Jazz indeed scored more points in the second half than the first, and in seven of eight actually outscored the Lakers (the eighth was a draw). Except they tended to be in deep holes by halftime, and lost all eight games.

In the grand scheme of things, I doubt Sloan's directional preferences have a great deal of impact on wins and losses (nor would I expect him to say they do), and as Jackson notes there are benefits to playing defense with coaches in a team's ear. But for the sake of argument, let's agree teams perform better, offensively in particular, in front of their own bench. As a road team, I'd rather play on my "good side" early, get off to a good start, try to take the crowd out of the game, and establish a good rhythm my team might carry into the second half, where I'd take my chances.

That only one coach (far as Jackson/i know) does it, though, makes it one of those quirky hoops things always fun to kick around.