Charles Barkley, among many other ex-players, often gives the same old stale comment about NBA teams: “they should push the ball…quit walkin’ it up.” This isn’t NBA 2K12, where you just turn the tempo bar all the way to the right and use the turbo button on your controller. The game of basketball is simple, but it’s not that simple. The reality is, running is easier said than done and it doesn’t always solve a team’s problems.
During a recent TNT doubleheader, the Heat put on a highlight show in the first half as the combo of Lebron James and Dywane Wade ran the Boston Celtics into the ground. Charles Barkley was thrilled that Erik Spoelstra had finally taken his advice to go uptempo. Then, in Game 2 of the double-dip, Sir Charles again pounded home his thesis. The Utah Jazz were struggling to stay in a ballgame with the veteran Los Angeles Lakers, prompting Charles to drop this pearl of wisdom… “they should push the ball, quit walkin’ it up” (sound familiar?). While running may be easier for Barkley now thanks to Weight Watchers, it’s not for everybody…..
The Miami Heat have two of the more explosive players in the game on the wings so it makes perfect sense for them to try and get into the open court. Heck, even when LBJ was in Cleveland guys like Barkley opined for the Cavaliers to go uptempo…and I agreed with them. But the key to running is defense and rebounding. You have to get a defensive stop and then secure the rebound. The Heat are a top 5 defensive team in the NBA and also have focused on improving their rebounding this season (with a bulked up Chris Bosh and a healthy Udonis Haslem). They also upgraded their PG position in the offseason with rookie Norris Cole. In South Beach, getting out on the break is a realistic strategy.
The Utah Jazz, on the other hand, are a different story. Just because a team is younger and less experienced than their opponents doesn’t mean that running will equal a victories. That’s the perspective of an NBA fan, not an NBA analyst. Head coach Tyrone Corbin has a young group of guys that are still learning how to win in the NBA. In all due respect to Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni, you can’t just roll the ball out and say “push it!” Mike was successful doing this in Phoenix with Steve Nash, but most forget that his first NBA gig was coaching the Denver Nuggets (pre-Melo). The only thing that team ever pushed was our buttons. They didn’t have the talent nor the pieces to get wins playing fast.
Today, Corbin is trying to instill a solid gameplan with his young team in Utah. The defensive philosophy is to push the ball to the sideline, and it takes time and repetition to get everybody on the same page there. As a result of a shortened training camp and inexperienced players, what we saw against L.A. the other night was a lot of defensive miscues…two defenders rushing at one shooter and leaving another guy wide open. How is running going to solve that? it won’t. While Utah has the rebounding to start the break (Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter) they don’t have the stops. Unless your PG is named Nash, you can’t run on made baskets. Plus, if you look at their roster all the best players are at the PF and C spots. Running doesn’t make sense when your best players are bigmen.
Let’s say Tyrone gives in and lets his boys try and outrun their opponent. What does he do in practice the next day when he wants to teach his basketball principles? The guys will want to play helter skelter all the time…and that’s how a young coach loses a team. You just can’t let the inmates run the asylum, not with guys in their early 20′s (Favors is 20 and Kanter is still a teenager).
Some of you may be wondering, isn’t this the same guy who recommended that the Blazers go uptempo recently? yes, I am that man. The difference there is that Nate McMillan‘s team went small last season down the stretch and played well as a result…the proof is in the pudding. The Blazers also have the versatility to do this consistently: guards/wings that can play multiple positions and, most importantly, defend. They also have big men in LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby who can not only contest shots but also get rebounds and head downcourt quickly.
In conclusion, the Miami Heat can and should get out in the open court (as they already are doing). The Utah Jazz, though young and athletic, should listen to their coach and focus on the basics before trying to make SportsCenter every night. And, oh yes, the Blazers should still go small. I’m not always right, but I’m right more often than Charles…..I never miss on ‘Who He Play For?’
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