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Even in preseason, risks of small ball begin to show

Oct 15, 2012, 12:04 PM EDT

Matt Barnes, Ray Allen AP

In Shanghai we saw it — Chris Bosh and the assortment of other Heat centers could do little to slow the bigger, stronger DeAndre Jordan short of fouling him. With Chris Paul feeding him the rock, Jordan shot 8-for-8 in a Clippers win.

In Hartford we saw it — the Knicks went to the Raymond Felton/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll early and the Celtics with their smaller lineup couldn’t contain Chandler, who racked up 16 points.

Two of the best teams in the NBA this season — the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics — are leading a “small ball revolution.” Which is less revolution and more reaction to the kind of players coming into the NBA now — 30 years ago mobile bigs like Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett, guys who can step out and stroke an 18-foot jumper like it was a layup, were basically nonexistent.

So some of the NBA’s elite teams are going with what would be untraditional lineups, ones that count on what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likes to call “position-less” basketball. You can post up Bosh or you can post up Dwyane Wade, whatever creates the mismatch. If that means Bosh is at the three-point line drawing the opposing big man out of the paint, then good. Use the versatility of sometimes smaller players.

And they are doing it because it works — Miami won a ring last year and Boston took them to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals going small.

But there are ways to attack “small ball” for the handful of teams have mobile or hard to defend traditional centers.

In the East, the Heat and Knicks will have to deal with 76ers and Andrew Bynum, and New York and Chandler (who is an often underrated pick-and-roll big man). This isn’t a simple matter of putting Bynum on the block and making the Celtics bring a double team, it’s also dealing with pick-and-rolls when both size and speed come into play.

Put another way, Jared Sullinger can’t handle Chandler rolling to the basket. Boston can counter that by going with Darko Milicic, but he doesn’t have the foot speed to play that way. It’s a hard matchup for them that will require much better pick-and-roll coverage from the Celtics guards, something Doc Rivers pointed out Saturday.

Not a lot of teams can play the Heat and Celtics this way — mobile traditional big men are still hard to find — the problem is some very elite ones can. We mentioned the Knicks, Clippers and Sixers, but there are more. The biggest threat is the Lakers who run two very mobile big men out in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. They will be a load for every team (because they have great point and wing play, too). Then there is Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

It will be interesting to see how over the course of a season, in games that matter, how Boston and Miami deal with these challenges. They might just overwhelm some teams with offense. The Celtics can run Garnett out there longer (not ideal long term but for a game here and there it is doable). There are counter measures.

The bigger challenge will be in the postseason, when teams can scheme, set up matchups they like and run those plays until the other team stops them. Smart money is still on Boston and Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but it won’t be easy because there are ways to attack them

  1. dls612 - Oct 15, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    The games that matter are the playoff games considering you make it! Miami and Boston had the same issues of being a small team last season Miami more than others. But Miami made it to the finals the last 2 seasons and losing the first one which had nothing to do with their lack of size but lack of chemistry! Teams can have all the size they want but if there’s no chemistry u have nothing! Why do u think Boston is always in the mix! Small-ball can be just as dangerous for these big teams! Miami or Boston will be in the finals!

  2. ihavenonickname - Oct 15, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    Great article, Kurt. Restoring my faith in why I read this blog!

  3. nycalldayz - Oct 15, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    C’mon, Kurt. It’s preseason and already there’s an overreaction. These games are meaningless to teams like Miami, OKC, LAL, Boston, San An and CHI. Boston and Miami have been two of the top 5 defensive teams 2 seasons straight. Boston has been one of if not the best defensive team the past 5 seasons. I’m sure these teams with clean up their defensive flaws.

    Pump your breaks, Kurt. Lol

  4. illegalblues - Oct 15, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    boston and miami’s pick and roll defense will be great come the regular season. KG is practically going through shoot around during the preseason. Lebron and Wade probably aren’t playing anywhere near full strength. Over-reacting to preseason ball is pretty lame, man.

  5. eventhorizon04 - Oct 15, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Miami played against Indiana’s frontcourt of Roy Hibbert and David West and won that series even after losing Bosh to injury.

    That’s more meaningful than a preseason game to me.

  6. miamatt - Oct 15, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    “Smart money is still on Boston and Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, but it won’t be easy because there are ways to attack them.”

    Umm, aren’t there ways to attack every team?

    And outside of Bosh, the only bigs Miami rolled out in China were guys competing for the last spot on the roster- Haslem and Anthony sat out both games. Not to mention the fact that they didn’t put Lebron on any of the Clippers bigs, something they are prone to do in games that matter.

  7. michaeljordanseviltwin - Oct 16, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    It sure seemed like Miami couldn’t handle the size of the Clippers frontcourt but an early preseason game isn’t an accurate measure. Miami plays great team defense, double teaming the post and the next guy already closing out to the shooter. There was exactly 0 team defense in that loss to the Clippers so DeAndre was able to practice his new post moves and feel good about himself. When the season starts he’ll be doubled and probably turning the ball over or missing free throws.

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