In the playoffs, teams bust out matchup-specific strategies they might not bother with in the regular season. They aim to surprise. They go to greater lengths to shut down one weapon, and dare you to find a counter.
One such gambit for which Boston must prepare: teams slotting bigger wings onto Isaiah Thomas, and hiding their point guards on Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, or even Jae Crowder. This doesn’t scare Boston, and it shouldn’t. Nothing scares Isaiah Thomas. Put Leonard on him, and Thomas still thinks he can rain step-back fire.
Bradley can shoot over some little point guards, and Smart is developing a bruising post-up game — one he broke out this week, when Atlanta assigned Thabo Sefolosha to Thomas and stashed its point guards on Smart:
Versatility is everything the playoffs. It is adapt-or-die territory. Smart’s proficiency on the block gives Brad Stevens another tool.
The Heat, of course, already have a well-compensated starting center in Hassan Whiteside and, sources say, had no interest in Orlando’s pitch. The South Beachers continue to leave the impression that they’re resistant to surrendering Dragic before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
A player who is sure to move between now and the trade deadline?
Denver’s Jusuf Nurkic. Judging those decisions — even though we directly see how they play out on the field — is also tough. It’s too easy to criticize a coach who goes for it on fourth-and-short and fails, even if the play he calls manages to scheme somebody open.
Sources say that the Nuggets, having acknowledged that Nikola Jokic and Nurkic didn’t click as a pairing, are actively working to find Nurkic a new home that would give him the chance he deserves to be a front-line center.