By Jerry Bollinger
At this time of year, many sports writers will give playoff predictions. They will say one team will sweep another or say one team will win in 6. But what they won’t tell you is the nuts and bolts on what the makeup of a given team may be. They won’t describe their weaknesses and strengths. They won’t give insight to how an underdog might gain an advantage over the favored. Now I know what your first question is: “Why don’t they offer up this type of information?” And the answer is: “Because they themselves have no idea.” So as I write to you today as a sports commentator I must also admit that I don’t really have the answer to these questions either. For that reason, I have done extensive interviews with the master strategist of the Miami Xtreme, General Manager Brent Bangerter. I spent many hours with Brent sitting at his desk cluttered with analysis reports. Spreadsheets up on multiple computer screens. Going through custom software written to identify hidden talent in underutilized players. We went through the various playoff matchups and discussed in detail the ins and outs of each team and what it will take to win.
Let us begin with the Brooklyn vs Las Vegas matchup. It’s no secret that this is going to be a tough series for Las Vegas. We have a less than 500 team going against a team that only lost a WBA season record of 4 games. Having said that, more teams would beat Brooklyn if they understood the Rage’s weaknesses.
The basic Rage game plan: The Rage play a run and gun high-intensity offense. This means they live for the fast break both of the Rage guards, Jefferson and Bailey are very quick and will beat any unsuspecting defense down court for easy points. In the half court game, the Rage like to camp outside the arc. This comprises about a third of the shots they take. The third attack the Rage use is to run slashers in the paint. You will notice that most of their points are easy layup or short range shots but strangely enough, it is not by their frontcourt players. On the defensive side of the ball, the Rage like to run a trap defense as well as a man to man defense. They also will often run a full court press relying on the quick hands of Jefferson and Bailey for some cheap turnovers.
So what can the Gamblers do to sway the odds in their favor?
Step 1: To compete with the run and gun offense, the Gamblers should first be conservative on their offensive rebounding. They should rely just on their 3 bigger men for offensive boards. Their backcourt has a pathetic ability in offensive boards anyway. There is no reason to include them in the effort. Set your offensive rebounding to about 8. That should let your guards stay back and defend.
Step 2: To compete with the Rage 3 point game, you will need to play man to man defense. A trap defense or a help defense will expose the 3 point line, and a zone will not keep up with the speed of Bailey and Miles as they slash to the basket.
Step3: On the offensive side of the ball, the Gamblers should run a high-intensity offense much like the Rage. The Rage will spend a lot of resources crashing the offensive glass. This will create fast break opportunities for the gamblers. Many of the Rage offensive rebounds come for their shooting guard and small forward positions. This makes it difficult for them to get back on defense when they are focusing on second-chance points. This will also help beat the full court press the Rage like to run.
As for the gamblers lineup. Putting Brice Bell at the point is, of course, the only option. His ball handling will help against the Rage trap defense and his defensive ability is about the best you are going to get to compete with Jefferson’s offense. At the 2 spot, you may have better results putting Castellano there over Kramer. Kramer will get picked apart in the half trap. Not to mention neither player is going to be able to defend Bailey. Plus Castellano is better at drawing the foul and may get Bailey into foul trouble. This point actually brings up a big weakness for some of the Rage starters. They sure like to foul. If you have players that know how to draw the foul, it is a real good idea to match them up to the foul prone players of the opponent. Castellano has the ability to get Bailey in foul trouble quickly. Talacka will have to face off with Miles. Same concept here with fouling. Talacka is great at drawing fouls and Miles is great at committing them. For the big men, I would run Merritt at the 5 spot and Peska at the 4. I would then set Merritt as one of my main scorers. We know that the Rage big men are not allowed to touch the ball so big man defense is not that important. The Rage are weak on defense with their front court, thus giving Merritt all the opportunity to exploit them. Peska has good enough defense to defend against Mayes.
Now to just give a few thoughts for the Rage to think about. Clearly the Rage are doing everything right so their best bet is probably to just not change a thing. But their propensity to foul is a weakness that teams in the past have been able to exploit. The best thing they could do for that is to dial down the full court press. Currently, they are running it about 70% of the time. If they dialed it down to 50% they may get 1 to 2 less fouls from their guards. The other thing is to change from a mix of man and half trap defenses, both of which are foul intensive, to a mix of zone and help defenses. The zone favors outside shooting, but let’s face it, the Gamblers are not a great outside shooting team. The help defense should force the Gamblers to take more outside shots.