NBA Personnel and Strategic Changes

As we approach the last few weeks of the NBA season, a good handicapper must be in tune with all the changes that are taking place. I know it's the end of a long regular season, but that does not mean teams play the same way NOW that they've played all season.

Some teams are packing it in, others are motivated tottering on the play bubble, while still other teams are making changes, either to play more kids for experience or to change strategy because they have to. Take the Memphis Grizzlies. You know those Grizzlies, the team that likes to run-and-gun while playing no defense, ever since interim coach Tony Barone took over.

They have been a machine at going over the total under Barone. However, look what happened this week: 87 and 88 points on offense, both games sailing under the total. What has happened? A total change in strategy, that's what! The Grizzlies are short-handed, with Damon Stoudamire and Mike Miller out, both of whom have knee tendinitis. Point guard Chucky Atkins has also been out with a groin injury. That means Junior Harrington is the only point guard.

So this week guards Tarence Kinsey and Junior Harrington made their first two starts of the season and lead the Grizzlies to an improbable 88-86 win over the Lakers as a 13-point dog in front of a stunned and disappointed crowd at the Staples Center. It snapped the Lakers five-game winning streak.

Both players came up huge, with Kinsey posting a career high with 24 points and seven rebounds in 44 minutes. Harrington played all 48 minutes, adding season-highs of 13 points and eight rebounds, while tying his season high of eight assists. Throw in rookie Rudy Gay and you will not recognize these Grizzlies. Gay finished the game with 20 points, a career-high 12 boards, and four blocked shots.

The Grizzlies made do with their makeup lineup and slowed the pace down. After watching Kobe Bryant go off for 60 against them last week, the Grizzlies employed a zone defense this time. After scoring better than 40 points in five straight games, Bryant missed 15 of his next 16 attempts. He finished the game with 23 points on 7 of 26 shooting. The Lakers were held to 34.4 percent shooting.

"We do not like to play zone," said Barone, "but that was the smart thing for us to do and it worked." "They played box-and-one," Bryant added. "I have not seen that since high school." The game went 75 points under the total. How's that for an easy cover ?!

The Portland Trail Blazers have also made some major changes, covering 5 of the last 7 games. Rookie LaMarcus Aldridge is starting and playing well, along with rookie Brandon Roy. They failed to cover at Chicago partly because the Blazers played without two of their top players, Roy and Ime Udoka. Roy, the Blazers' best all-around player, left hours before tipoff to attend the impending birth of his son. Udoka, the team's top defender, suffered his second concussion in three months, and did not return. The injury to Udoka allowed Bulls forward Luol Deng to get free for a career-high 38 points on 18 of 25 shooting.

The Pistons have been hit with the flu bug this week with Richard Hamilton, Dale Davis and Chris Webber missing time. But the Pistons have received steady play from their reserves, namely Flip Murray, Jason Maxiell, Carlos Delfino, Antonio McDyess and Lindsey Hunter. Saunders said he has seen the reserves making critical plays at critical times in recent games.

"You look at our last four, five games, our second and fourth quarters, and those guys are playing, that's when we've made our runs," Saunders said. Detroit has covered 9 of 11 games. So even the good teams are making changes that can affect their play – both good and bad! A smart handicapper keeps tabs on all these changes and anticipates how to apply that knowledge into the next game's spread.

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