Went through some archived NBA games and came across this game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers. 2 teams that had a lot of high expectations going into the season but have so far disappointed. The 76ers won the game, but they really made it a lot harder on themselves. They are a good team defensively, but they just don't have enough offense right now to beat the better teams in the NBA.

The 76ers ran a matchup zone the entire game. Personally, I wouldn't run it the entire the game, but I think that it helped to force the Clippers to become a perimeter team. Here are a few sequences from throughout the game of the 76ers matchup zone,

The matchup zone is perhaps as confusing to run as it is to play against. Is it a zone defense, or is it a switching M2M? Every matchup zone is specific in that there are set rules to defend against different situations. Therefore, each matchup zone will most likely not like another, and depending on what you want to do defensively, the rules may go counter to what you would normally do in a traditional M2M or zone defense. The rules that you need to specify how your matchup zone will defend are:

1. How will you defend PNRs and other screens? Will you switch, double, hedge, fight through, etc..
2. How will you defend against cutters into the lane? Will the defender follow all basket cuts, baseline cuts, etc...
3. How will you defend penetration into the gaps? Who will help and from where. Who rotates to closeout? Who do you leave open?

PNR Defense Stop the Ball and Rotate:

For the Sixers, they always stop the ball first, then rotate to the next pass. They always stop penetration first, then every one must rotate to the first pass away. The PNR is set by O4, then O4 pops out. X4 and X1 stop the ball,

X1 and X4 stop the ball. X2, X3, and X5 are basically zoned up in a mini-triangle. Once the ball goes to O4, X2 closes him out. The ball is reversed to O2, X3 closes him out,

The ball is finally reversed all the way to O3. X2 rotates from O4 and closes out O3. Note, instead of X4 rotating down to take O5 and X5 rotating to close out O3, X5 moves with his check O5 (not sure why, probably one of the Sixers matchup rules for bigs on bigs). In this case, X4 rotates back to his original check O4,

Defending Cutters:

In this specific case, the 76ers decide not to follow O3 cutting baseline into the lane. X3 first looks to trail, then comes back to the ball, presumably to help on penetration against O2 (Baron Davis),

After O3 cuts, you'll see X4 and X3 zoned up. Again, it is probably built into their rules that O3 is to be left semi-open on purpose,

I didn't show the entire sequence, but eventually the ball is skipped to O3 in the short corner, but X3 closes out, and the ball is kicked back out.


The matchup zone is a great way to disrupt the offense. Because of the specific rules, the defense is very unpredictable and as an offense sometimes teams tend to play to break the zone instead of just running their normal sets. The matchup zone has its flaws though. First, you give up more offensive rebounds due to all the switching and closing out, forwards crashing the boards tend to get overlooked. Second, it is inherently complex, and so players tend to sometimes forget rules, or 2 players get mixed up on exactly what to do at a given moment and the offense takes advantage. I think the Sixers did a good job with it, but like I said, I wouldn't run it all game. I'd run it once in a while say out of a timeout, just to throw off the other team.

For a brand new video on the matchup zone defense, take a look at Dave Odom's DVD on his 10-Rule Matchup Zone. Coach Odom is a former head coach of South Carolina and Wake Forest. Discuss your favorite offenses at the X's and O's Basketball Forum with other coaches from around the world.