clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2011 NBA Finals: Mavericks 'Not Going To Make A Living' Using Zone Defense

The Dallas Mavericks ranked among the league leaders in using zone defense during the regular season, but head coach Rick Carlisle told the media prior to Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, "We're not going to make a living off of zone." Perhaps that's a good call.

In the regular season, the Heat faced a zone defense on 226 possessions, or just under three possessions per game, according to Synergy Sports Technology. In that limited sample size, they were only marginally less effective against zone defenses (scoring 0.951 points per possession) than against man-to-man defenses (0.955 points per possession). When one weighs the risk of playing zone--which reduces turnover creation and generally leads to weakness on the defensive glass--against its minimal reward against this particular Heat team, it's easy to understand why Carlisle might be tempted to scale back his team's use of zone as the series moves forward.

With that said, even some man-to-man defenses have zone principles. For instance, any defense which tilts or cheats to the strong side of the floor, perhaps to discourage a particular player from driving, uses zone on the weak side, often with two or three defenders trying to account for three or four offensive players. Though technically a man-to-man set, such an alignment pulls one defender away from his man ever so slightly, creating a zone on one side of the floor. Against Miami, which boasts, in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two of the most fearsome slashers in the game today, these defensive sets are not uncommon.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.