<
>

The psychology behind the starting lineup

5/4/2011

A psychology professor of mine said something that has always stuck with me.

Proverbs are coping mechanisms.

We are hardwired to be optimists, constantly rationalizing our decisions to make ourselves feel better about our situation. Our brains don’t like being wrong, we find ways to convince ourselves that the choice we made is the right one. At its core, a proverb is a survival tactic. These expressions keep us going.

But here’s the thing: proverbs are often contradictory.

To illustrate this phenomena, let's run through some contradictory pairings.

Look before you leap.

He who hesitates is lost.


Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What you see is what you get.


Better safe than sorry.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


There’s no place like home.

The grass is always greener on the other side.


See what I mean?

Sometimes, the proverb that you cite in a particular situation doesn't reveal what is happening, but rather, what you want to believe is happening. It is a coping mechanism.

Why do I bring all of this up?

Because the Heat's starting lineup is getting pummeled in the playoffs, and yet, the Heat have won six of its seven games. The Heat are winning even though the starting lineup being outscored by 50 points (Heat 138, Opponents 188) in the postseason.

And despite the bad outcomes, Spoelstra continues to stick with it. Why?

The common rationalization I'm hearing:

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

There's that proverb thing again. The thought is that, as bad as the starting lineup is, the Heat are doing just fine. Winning is all that matters and the Heat are winning.

But the logic behind that saying has always struck me as troublesome. It essentially encourages less than your best. If Joel Anthony is clearly a better matchup against the Celtics' best five, then why does Spoelstra continually throw Zydrunas Ilgauskas out there?

I asked him after Game 2 and here was his response:

"I've got to figure out a way to make that lineup work," Spoelstra said. "I don't want to overanalyze it -- yet -- because no team is perfect. They have a great starting lineup and that's their strongest unit. That's probably when we'll see them at their best so I don't know if another lineup would really change that or not."

That's fair. And yet, there's part of me that believes there's no reason to settle for a C-minus product if there's potential to achieve much better. Sure, the starting lineup is getting by right now, but the road will get tougher and making that adjustment could be key going forward. After all:

A stitch in time saves nine.