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Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Mismatches are not magic

By Henry Abbott

A lot of people will tell you that mismatches are the story in the NBA. One favorable matchup can win you a game.

Or not.

Early in the Sixers loss to the visiting Blazers, Portland had an obvious mismatch. The 6-7 Martell Webster was being guarded by the smallest guy on the court, Allen Iverson, who is listed as 6-0 but was once described by then-teammate Aaron McKie as 5-10, which seems plausible.

Webster can shoot from the outside, and is strong and athletic enough to score in the paint. In theory, he could feast on a small defender.

The Blazers force-fed Webster again and again. The smaller Iverson battled. "Just trying to fight him early," said Iverson after the game. "Trying to push him out as much as possible, and front him if I had to." He also used some veteran tricks. Not once, but twice on an early play Iverson yelled and threw his body around, pretending Webster had fouled him.

The referees weren't buying it.

Webster went to work.

He ran Iverson off screens, Reggie Miller-style. He posted up. He shot long jumpers. He fought into the paint.

And just about none of it worked. Webster missed a layup. He made a mid-range jumper. He missed a 3. He missed a tip-in. He missed a short jumper.

In one telling play, Webster posted Iverson, rushed a move into the helping Samuel Dalembert, and missed a tough shot over the longest arms on the court.

Another time, the Blazers fought to get Webster the ball in the corner and looked to create something off the dribble. But he didn't have a lot of room to operate, and ended up having to escape to the top of the key. By the time he determined there were no easy shots for him, he swung the ball into a shot-clock violation.

After all that, Portland was down six, and had scored just five points in the game's first five minutes. Webster missed one more shot, then Portland stopped going to Webster.

Iverson points out that the Blazers didn't find it profitable to isolate Webster on him. "They didn't go down there much," he says, "after the beginning."

Webster's normal offense consists of transition buckets, putbacks and open jumpers.

Portland's normal offense normally features players like Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Steve Blake and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Despite the appearance of an appetizing mismatch, as soon as the Blazers stopped going to Webster, it took just over a minute for Portland to tie the game. Portland went on to win while Webster played sparingly the rest of the way. He finished one of six in the first quarter, one of nine for the game.

"Martell is not normally on the block for us," says Portland coach Nate McMillan. "We wanted to make Iverson work some, so they didn't just rest him. We wanted to go into the post with our guards ... we tried Martell a few times.

"You don't want to take yourself out of rhythm by going to a guy who's not normally in that position. We went to it a couple times, but we felt like we were trying to force some things there and we went away from that, and went back to what we normally do."

And quickly the offense got much better?

"No question," says McMillan.