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Coach’s Notebook: Poker & Adjustments
Posted By Anthony Macri On June 2, 2011 @ 9:28 am In All,NBA | No Comments
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.
One level deeper: Avoiding overadjustments in poker & basketball
One of my passions away from the court is poker. Some of you may know that this week is the start of the World Series of Poker, a 45 day series of poker tournaments featuring a mix of great professionals and amateurs doing battle on the green felt, culminating in the “Main Event,” a tournament which determines this year’s world champion.
What does this have to do with basketball? Stay with me.
A common scene at a poker table in the WSOP right now might unfold like this: Two smart, thinking players try to out-play each other over a number of hands, mixing in bluffs and aggressive raises, neither really giving ground. After a number of hours of deadlocked play, one player (our hero) starts to feel he has developed a read on his opponent’s actions. Part of the goal in poker is to be thinking on one level deeper than your opponent. Eventually, our hero senses that he has an opportunity. He begins thinking; not only thinks about his own cards, but also about what his opponent might have. He also considers what his opponent might be thinking our hero has. And, this cycle continues – some players get so caught up in thinking through these levels that they are unable to think clearly. Instead, their mind swirls: he knows that I know that he knows that I know…
This type of thinking is called “leveling” in poker, and it often results in a player making a bad decision as he attempts to out-level his opponent – in reality, he only outwits himself.
After Tuesday’s impressive showing by the Miami HEAT, many analysts dove into the litany of changes that the Dallas Mavericks have to make to stand a chance of winning a game (let alone the series). However, the Mavericks have to face the same question as a poker player facing a major decision: at what point are the adjustments harmful instead of helpful?
For Dallas, at this point in the season, making radical changes in course and strategy might be the advice from some pundits, but it is not the way to be successful in a playoff series. However, a series of small adjustments, mostly focused on fine-tuning their season-long approach, is appropriate.
When playing against a team like the HEAT that can switch nearly any screen and trap at will, a team must find an offensive balance between taking quick, open shots and working their halfcourt offense via the pass to break down the opposing defense. Dallas didn’t do enough of either on Tuesday evening, finding many of their shots midway through the shot clock, basically when the Miami defense was at its absolute best. Instead, Dallas must look to push the pace to find a quick shot, and then be confident in taking that shot. However, if that initial shot is not available, they are better off running actions deep into the shot clock in order to find something late, rather than taking something in the middle.
Early in the season, I wrote about how Dallas used fakes as well if not better than any team in the league. That must become a priority for them throughout the rest of this series. When a defense is as aggressive and athletic as Miami is, a good offensive team must use that aggression against them. Their attack must be quick when lanes and shots are available, and when there is a question, any action should be preceded by a fake – either a shot fake or a pass fake, a jab or a combo. Their ability to keep the HEAT off-balance is critical to their title chances.
Finally, they must put a premium on attacking the rim. By shooting jumpshots (unless they make a ton), the Mavericks play directly into the hands of the HEAT. As a team that rotates aggressively and does not do as much stunt and recover, Miami relies on its ability to guard the ball-handler one-on-one. Dallas must take advantage of this and put the ball on the deck with a purpose. Constantly attacking the rim (even if it results in missed shots) will have a long-term effect of softening Miami’s perimeter defense, and may start to provide Dallas with slightly more daylight shooting.
These types of adjustments are not re-inventing the Mavericks’ wheel by any stretch: they are very simple, “next-level” modifications. The very best poker players in the world have an uncanny ability to think just one level deeper than their opponent. That is all Dallas needs to achieve at this point: avoid paralysis from over-analysis and do the things that have made them one of the best teams in the league all season long.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 2PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
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