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Winderman: Real men do play zone. Because it works.

May 26, 2010, 12:35 PM EDT

Kobe_Frye.jpgReal men, of course, don’t play zone.

It is why the Suns’ gimmickry was derided by the Lakers after Game 4 as inconsequential to why the Western Conference finals are now tied 2-2.

It is why Carmelo Anthony, Jonny Flynn and now Wes Johnson enter the NBA seemingly needed to be reprogrammed from Jim Boeheim’s wretched ways.

And yet, during a quiet moment, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy couldn’t help but grin about the whole fuss.

Yes, he, too, disdains the approach. But in speaking with his brother, he said the two coaches consistently came to the same conclusion when the opposition sprung a zone: confusion, temporary loss of cohesion.

No, nothing like the scale we’ve seen from the Lakers this past week, but a very tangible sense of perplexity.

For years, Phoenix has been the NBA’s test kitchen, from “seven seconds or less” to this unyielding preponderance of playoff zone.

How ironic that a state that has come under fire for its restrictive social policy continues to serve as the NBA’s most progressive party?

So where does it go from here? If the Suns do somehow manage to spoil Celtics-Lakers, will there be copycats awaiting next season?

Don’t kid yourself, there already are.

Among the reasons the Heat managed to finish second in the league in both defensive scoring average and defensive field-goal percentage was a liberal dose of zone. Just go through that roster and try to find a single defensive stopper (and don’t try to equate Dwyane Wade’s steals and blocks to man-on-man deterrence).

Former NBA coach Don Casey, who quite literally wrote the book on the approach, Temple of Zones, argued for years that the league needed to open its mind to the possibilities.

“Many people felt the zone is a poor-man’s way of teaching defense, that it slows down the game, it’s harmful,” Casey told me in an interview a while back. “They’re wrong on both counts. It’s the inability of the offenses to attack them in a proper way. Hence it looks like it’s a slowdown game.

“When I first came into the league, as a college guy, I had played a zone. As time went on, I kind of agreed with them, that the stand-around approach (of a zone), it just may not be good for the game. But if it’s taught properly, it’s an aggressive defense and it can be played very well and it can be attacked very well.”

No one is suggesting Alvin Gentry had any back-to-the-future thoughts in mind when desperation prevailed after Game 2 of a series that appeared headed to a sweep.

But this nonetheless stands as a wakeup call, that there are other ways, that what’s old can become new again.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

  1. Omnius - May 26, 2010 at 6:32 PM

    Real men don’t play zone defense nor do real men need the refs to bail them out from being swept. The NBA refs have been given the message from Stern to do everything they can to extend the Lakers-Suns series. Just look at the foul disparity in Phoenix, no wonder they were able to win both games as the refs bailed them out with phantom foul calls time after time. Lakers will come home and smoke the Suns and refs and then go back to Phoenix and win the series in 6 games.

  2. rush2112 - May 26, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    I just looked at the fouls for the 1st 2 games and the suns had more free throws in the first game also, the lakers had 6 more the 2nd game. So the ref thing is a bunch of BS. The suns bench flat out blew away the lakers bench in the last 2 games, thats why the lakers lost. I love when people think everything involves a conspiracy theory. If u really think the nba pre determines the winner then why have 3 of the semis end in sweeps not very smart if u are dictating the wins when u can make more money by extending the series. Also then why are the cavs gone the big thing was the Kobe and James going at each other. So ur hypothesis is absolutly ridicules. If u really want to look calls look at kolbe when he drives he gets to take 4 steps w/o putting the ball on the ground, looks more like a running back going to the basket with the ball in his arms.

  3. Sam Crawford - May 27, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    Real men don’t make sophomoric excuses for their team getting beat.

  4. b.nimble - May 27, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    zone or no zone, the league just wants a 6 or 7 game playoffs, east and west…more money from the networks that way…it’s all about getting mo’ money from tv these days…not about the “purity of the game” anymore, if it ever was, the refs get it “loud and clear” from their boss – david stern – every night… what you see on both east and west series is pretty obvious to anyone even if one has a basketball IQ of 10…there’s now 3 teams playing every night in these playoffs…the 3rd team wears black pants and uses a whistle to shape each game’s outcome to suit the nba’s grand design…

  5. Patrick M - May 27, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    Real men, as in real men on basketball teams, know how to beat this supposedly unmanly defense called the zone. Evidently the Lakers are not real men.

  6. azdave - May 27, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    Yo, Omnius. Even Phil Jackson isn’t blaming the foul shot disparity on the refs, and when have you seen Jackson hold back his criticism of the refs when he thinks they’re a problem? Jackson pointed out that the difference is due to style of play and which team is attacking the paint. I’ve had my own complaints about blown calls in this series, but as best I can tell (and I’ve rerun LOTS of the plays) the bad calls have been pretty equally distributed.
    As far as real men only playing man-to-man defense , that’s just stupid. Good teams don’t rely solely on man-to-man offense either … they run screens, they make assists, and they block out for offensive rebounds. A zone is just help defense on a large scale that requires lots of hustle from everyone to be successful (which is why it can be so hard to play well). Besides, real teams with a real point guard and crisp interior passing usually destroy a zone in short order.
    I expect the Lakers to figure out the Suns zone and win Game 5, and if they do it will be because they played smarter and harder, not because they whined like a baby like you are doing.

  7. MadRaven - May 27, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    Thanks for the laugh, Omnius. Watching games 1 & 2, I would have thought that Phil Jackson had personally umm..”serviced” the referees because it seemed like being anywhere near the same time zone, county or zip code as any player in a Lakers jersey had somehow become a foul, much less making any sort of actual physical contact with them and even through the regular season it always seemed that the Lakers, (as they almost always have over the decades), get a disproportionate percentage of calls…so yeah, keep crying about the officiating.

  8. Arizona Fan - May 27, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    Hey, Winderman. Real men keep their political views out of sports stories. From your story: “How ironic that a state that has come under fire for its restrictive social policy continues to serve as the NBA’s most progressive party?”
    But, since you brought it up, how is it that enforcing federal laws becomes “restrictive social policy”?
    Stick with sports.

  9. biglou - May 27, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    Real men don’t let the zone stop them. Went he Lakers move on to the East winner, then the Sun fans can complain about how they got shafted by the refs even though they got to the line nearly twice as much as the Lakers did in the games in Phoneix. It wasn’t that way in LA. Fouls were pretty even there (at least so far). Just be thankful we don’t have Stever Jave. The whistle looking for a player to call a techincal on. Or was that him in the Boston game calling them on Perkins? The refs always suck. Real teams win anyway. The real question? Can the Suns win in LA. Ya right!!!

  10. Anonymous - May 27, 2010 at 6:10 PM

    it’s States imposing Federal Laws, can you say fascist Nazis? yeah i bet you didn’t think about that. Heil your interim Gov.

  11. geno - May 27, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    Great players can break the zone. Zone never stopped the great players.

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