The Mavericks are still zoning up, and it’s still working

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NBA teams are — by rule — prevented from running true zone defenses. The defensive three second violation was put in place specifically to prevent zones from clogging up the paint and slowing down the game, and as a result, even though most teams utilize some sort of zone coverage in pick-and-roll situations and the like, more explicit zone schemes have become a rarity. Practice time all presents a significant hurdle, as most NBA teams just don’t have time to implement their full offensive and defensive packages with a separate zone set on top.

The Dallas Mavericks are the exception. Over the last few seasons, Rick Carlisle has implemented a match-up zone scheme that was at first used sparingly, but has since become a regular part of the Mavs’ defense this year. The zone has been quite successful, but with such atypical approaches, there’s always a worry of a regular season smokescreen. Just as most teams don’t have time to install their own zone sets, they also don’t have time to specifically address how to counter them. The time just isn’t there in between regular season games, and thus the Mavs have been able to catch quite a few opponents off-guard with extended use of the zone. Given the spaced out schedule of a playoff series however — not to mention the singular focus of only having to play a single opponent at a time — it’s widely assumed that opponents will be more effective in their teched-out counters.

Only time will tell, as Dallas has never been this good at using the zone in past seasons, and never leaned on it quite as frequently. Sebastian Pruiti — also of NBA Playbook, amid myriad other sites at which he contributes — took a closer look at the Dallas zone for a feature at Basketball Prospectus:

There hasn’t been a team that has used the zone for long stretches and been successful. That is, until this year.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Mavericks have played zone defense 12.8 percent of the time this season, by far the most often in the league and more than double that of the Trail Blazers, second at 5.8 percent. Seeing and expecting the zone is one of the keys to being able to beat it. Yet, Dallas opponents seeing the zone multiple possessions per game, the Mavericks remain very effective running this defense. They’ve allowed just 0.85 points per possession on 39.8 percent shooting from the field.

In fact, even though the Mavericks play so much zone, they still have posted a top 10 defense in terms of Defensive Rating (102.3, ninth in the league). One of the main reasons you don’t see teams run a lot the defense is because you can’t run a standard zone in the NBA because of the defensive three second rule. Teams struggle with this concept and instead of trying to work through it, they just abandon the zone as a primary defensive concept.

The Mavs’ execution of the zone is worth an even closer look, so follow along to Basketball Prospectus to read Pruiti’s breakdown in its entirety.

Watch Buddy Hield’s game-winning three lift Kings past Pistons

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DETROIT (AP) — Buddy Hield beat the buzzer with a winning shot for the first time in his NBA career.

Hield made an off-balance, fadeaway 3-pointer just before time expired and scored 35 points in the Sacramento Kings’ 103-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night.

“I’m blessed to say I got one in the NBA at the highest level,” he said. “It’s fun. As a kid, you always dream of hitting one of those type of shots. It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Detroit outscored the Kings in each of the first three quarters and had a 12-point cushion midway through the fourth.

That wasn’t enough.

Hield made a 3-pointer with 1:11 left to put Sacramento ahead for the first time since midway through the first quarter.

Blake Griffin, who scored 38 points, scored on the ensuing possession to put the Pistons ahead 101-100. Griffin had a chance to add to the lead on Detroit’s next possession, but he passed to Reggie Jackson, who missed a shot to give the Kings another chance.

Hield made the most of it.

He fumbled an inbounds pass, scrambled to regain possession and put up a shot from the left wing that hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

“We were trapping him because we knew he couldn’t make another play with 3.4 seconds,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We had three guys there. You have to be shoulder to shoulder, but he got between two guys, saw some daylight and threw one up there.”

Hield sprinted around the court after making the game-winner, leaped over a camera cord and led a joyous parade to the locker room.

“The lady almost tripped me. I think she was trying to trip me,” Hield said. “She put it up high. Thank God for my track background, I was able to hurdle over the wire.”

Griffin scored 14 points in the first quarter to help the Pistons establish control they had until Hield led a charge over the last several minutes of the game.

De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley scored 14 point apiece and Willie Cauley-Stein added 12 points for the Kings.

Luke Kennard scored 19 points for the Pistons. They were without center Andre Drummond due to him being in the concussion protocol.

Detroit held Hield scoreless in the third after he had 20 points in the first half, helping the Pistons go into the fourth quarter ahead 82-74.

“We were kind of running in mud,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “We hung in there long enough with our defense to make it close at the end and then Buddy got going.”

 

Lakers’ Lonzo Ball carried off court with sprained ankle

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Saturday night the Lakers, already without LeBron James as he recovers from a groin strain, lost their next best playmaker to an ankle injury.

Lonzo Ball had to be carried off the court after spraining his ankle in the third quarter when he collided with and apparently accidentally stepped on the foot of James Ennis. Ball went to the ground grabbing his ankle the second it happened.

Because the X-ray machine inside the Toyota Center was malfunctioning, Ball was taken to a local hospital for further examination. At least the news there was good for Los Angeles.

There is no timeline yet on Ball’s return, but he’s going to miss a little time.

The Lakers, without Ball or coach Luke Walton (who was ejected), lost to the Rockets in overtime, behind James Harden‘s 48.

The Lakers host the red-hot Warriors on Monday night without Ball, LeBron, or Rajon Rondo.

Russell Westbrook has beef with Joel Embiid after hard foul (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook is always looking for something — real or imagined — to use as motivational fuel.

He found something real Saturday in Joel Embiid.

With 1:46 left in a close game on national television, Westbrook was off to the races in transition with just Embiid back and the result was a hard foul.

Westbrook was pissed after the game thinking this was not just a hard foul (warning, NSFW language):

Embiid essentially shrugged.

The actual foul was hard but a bit of a fluke. Embiid went up to block the layup/dunk but Westbrook lost his dribble for a second, and the result was an airborne Embiid crashing into Westbrook. Hard. Was there a little bit extra in there? Depends on if you’re on Team Westbrook or Team Embiid.

But the NBA could use more feuds, so bring it on.

The Thunder went on to beat the 76ers on a Paul George game-winner.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart goes after Hawks’ Deandre Bembry, gets ejected

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Marcus Smart will be lucky if all he has to do is write a check to the league office. This is the kind of thing that can lead to a suspension.

Midway through the third quarter in Atlanta Saturday, Boston’s Smart picked up his second technical foul jawing with Atlanta’s DeAndre Bembry before a jump ball. That got him ejected. But it was when it charged back after Bembry rather than leaving the floor that the real trouble started.

Predicting the league office on fines/suspensions is like predicting a roulette table, but that looks like it could cost Smart a game. Smart had picked up his earlier technical arguing calls.

Boston came from behind to win Saturday in Atlanta, with Kyrie Irving leading the way scoring 32.