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The Microscope: NBA Playoff Rotations, Crippling Injuries and Paralyzed Offenses

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The Microscope: NBA Playoff Rotations, Crippling Injuries and Paralyzed Offenses
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Microscope is your recurring look at the NBA's small-scale developments—the rotational curiosities, skill showcases, coaching decisions, notable performances and changes in approach that make the league go 'round.

Larry Drew's Lineup Shift Pays Off for Atlanta

At the beginning of March, Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew made the decision to shuffle the starting lineup and, by extension, his entire rotation in light of Marvin Williams' linear regression over the course of the season. Drew inserted Kirk Hinrich as a starter in his place, nominally moving Joe Johnson to small forward and gifting Jeff Teague some ball-handling help in the backcourt. 

The move paid dividends in the regular season, but could ultimately have gone down as an unremarkable tweak in a season of more pressing action. But against a ball-hounding backcourt like that of the Boston Celtics, we finally got a chance to shine the spotlight on the delayed payoffs of Drew's alteration. 

Avery Bradley has established himself as a premier defender this season by way of threatening the live dribble and immediate space of opposing guards. The backcourt is no sanctuary to Bradley's assigned man. What in most games is a mere formality has become a trial in its own right, as Bradley's one-man press forces opponents to expend unusual energy just to get their offensive sets initiated in a timely manner. It adds an additional challenge before the real challenge of scoring against Boston's set defense really begins, with the only cost being the extra effort of a single defender.

Drew's lineup shift—while hardly predicated on playoff foresight—negated Bradley's extracurricular impact before the Hawks had to make any specific decision to do so. By way of having two ball-handlers and playmakers on the floor, Atlanta was able to go away from Bradley in the backcourt where need be—allowing the other guard to initiate the offense against the less-immediate defensive pressure of Rajon Rondo.

That in itself isn't an overwhelming victory considering Rondo's defensive effectiveness, but that the Hawks—who struggle to create quality shot attempts in virtually any setting—were able to dodge a hiccup to their early offense is a blessing.

Factor in the terrific defensive work that Johnson put in against Paul Pierce, and the delayed benefits of Drew's lineup change made for some incredibly subtle postseason heroics.

Devin Harris: Making the Seemingly Simple Exceedingly Difficult

The Utah Jazz offense has the potential to captivate. It can flummox opponents and delight fans so long as the post action doesn't stall, the cutters remain engaged and the few outside shooters Utah has stay true on their jumpers.

Nonetheless, it is often derailed before it can even begin, all because Devin Harris—for all of his strengths as a penetrator—oddly struggles with post entry passes to Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

Such passes are a simple yet crucial element of a team's offensive flow. When Harris hesitates on his post feeds, he doesn't just milk a second or two off of the shot clock. He allows Jefferson's defender (primarily Tim Duncan in this series) and the defense as a whole to wall off passing lanes and further complicate the situation.

In fairness to Harris, post entry work—just like any other form of playmaking—requires an underestimated precision. It may be an assumed part of any point guard's job, but it's a skill that needs to be honed and improved. In his efforts to round out other parts of his game, that particular facet of development seems to have eluded Harris.

Synchronicity of Ailments in the Playoffs' Opening Weekend

It was a horrible coincidence that knee ailments claimed both Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert within a few hours of one another on what was supposed to be a day celebrating basketball, but it was also a strange instance of happenstance that two players half a country apart were hit by completely unrelated flu bugs on crucial days for their respective teams.

Tyson Chandler hardly looked himself during the Knicks' implosion; he mustered as much energy and enthusiasm as one could under such circumstances, but looked lifeless compared to his own vivacious standard.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma City, Delonte West went through the motions as best he could for the Dallas Mavericks, but ultimately slogged his way through a game in which he was ideally supposed to play an integral part. 

Neither Chandler nor West has seen a knee buckle or feel their back tweak, and yet they have been rendered as ghosts of themselves by all-too-common maladies. They will continue to play—just as they did on Saturday—but it's bizarre to see a team's fate altered by something as pedestrian as a stomach illness or the common flu. As tragic as it is for Rose and the Bulls that their championship pursuits have been halted by a freak injury, hopes can apparently be dashed through ailments far less severe and to less spectacular players.

New York and Dallas haven't seen their situations change as radically as Chicago's has, but their respective series have begun on the wrong foot due to a bit of bad food or a missed date with a bottle of Purell. One can only hope that whatever the result of either series, such bits of misfortune don't come to hold any definitive sway.

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