In the first round series between the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat, I thought the Hawks did a decent job on the Heat and Dwyane Wade, especially by making them take shots from the outside. The Heat, not a great 3-point shooting team struggled with consistency throughout the 7 games, and subsequently lost the series.

At the time, I figured the Hawks would need to make adjustments against Lebron James and the Cavs as that kind of matchup zone (or switching M2M) defense they were using would not work here. After a shaky first half by the Cavs, they pulled away in the second through a combination of Lebron drives and shots by his teammates. I took a few sequences from the first half that illustrate how the Cavs spread the floor, and Lebron finding his open teammates,

In the first sequence, it's just a straight drive and kick by Lebron to Mo Williams for the corner 3-pointer as the defense sagged in. In the second sequence, it was mostly a bad primary defensive matchup with Mike Bibby of all people guarding Lebron, gets caught watching the ball and Lebron for the alley-oop dunk.

In the third sequence, you can really see how the Hawks matchup defense left wide open shooters. The Hawks are basically positioned with 1 primary defender on Lebron. Once he receives the pass (which they make it way too easy to allow IMO), the other 3 help-side defenders sag into the lane to help on a Lebron drive,

After the sag, the Cavs run a cutter around, O2 (Szczerbiak) comes up dragging the arc. The defenders have all sagged in an attempt to contain Lebron and therefore O2 is left wide open,

The close out comes eventually but is way late, as Szczerbiak knocks down the open 3-pointer.


Against the Heat, this kind of matchup zone (or switching M2M) worked decently. The Heat did manage to shoot better in a few of the games, game 2 in particular. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Cavs are simply too good of an outside shooting team this year to be left wide open for 3-pointers. What was worse, there was a stretch in the 3rd quarter when the matchup zone failed to stop consecutive Lebron drives. So they were unable to stop Lebron, and contest shots. If I was Mike Woodson, I would probably aggressively trap all ball screens against Lebron and gamble in the passing lanes. But really, defending Lebron and the Cavs is really like picking your poison, they can beat you in so many ways.

For a new video on pick and roll defense, check out Dave Odom's DVD on Defending the Pick and Roll. Coach Odom is the former head coach at the University of Southern Carolina. Don't forget to check out the X's and O's Basketball Forum to discuss this and any of your favorite basketball topics.