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On driving and kicking and horns

OK, first things first: the powers that be have decided that the Pistons and Bulls will officially renew their playoff rivalry this Saturday in Detroit. Game 2 will be on Monday, and both games will be televised by TNT. What times will the games start? Um ... yeah, nobody knows that quite yet. I'm guessing they want to figure out how the rest of the series play out to see if there's a more glamorous matchup they can give top-billing. (Jerks.)

There's obviously a lot of excitement building for this series -- Monday's open thread is rife with intelligent analysis and banter -- so I'm going to do my best to catch you up on some of the good stuff I've seen around these here internets, starting with an interesting analysis (hardcore nuts-and-bolts style) on FoxSports describing how to defend a couple of offensive sets used by the Pistons and Bulls. (Both of these links were swiped from Blog-a-Bull.)

First, a look at Detroit's offense:

But now that Detroit has a best-of-seven date with the Chicago Bulls, let's take a look at how one Eastern Conference scout would defend the Pistons' popular "horns" set.

"By horns, we mean a post player lining up at each elbow, usually with two shooters spacing the floor at each wing or corner and a one-guard front," the scout said. "There are several different options a team like the Pistons can run off of this because the wings can shoot and both post players are good passers as well as shooters.

"The key to defending horns, which generally begins with a brush screen by one post for the point guard, is for the defender guarding the screener to maintain contact with the screener while showing to slow down the ballhandler. If the defensive post player loses contact, the screener can slip to the basket; because of the alignment, the backside is empty."

That means there's nobody to rotate over and deal with the post player slipping the screen.

"Some teams attempt to have the opposite post defender drop to the middle on the slip screen," the scout said, "but that leaves you vulnerable for a pass to either (Chris) Webber or (Rasheed) Wallace who can eat up that shot."

And now, how will Detroit stop Chicago's "drive and kick?"

In addition to specific sets run for Gordon and Deng, the biggest challenge defined by the Chicago offense is the drive-and-kick option.

"All three of those guys can shoot along with (Andres) Nocioni," said one Eastern Conference scout, "and the guards can take guys off the dribble, making gap help a risky proposition."

Explanation: gap help refers to a defender sliding over to help a teammate who's about to be beaten off the dribble by Gordon, for example. If the help defender is guarding Deng, an open jumper (that figures to go in) could be the result.

"Here's my recommendation," said the scout. "Almost never leave Gordon or Hinrich or Deng to help on the drive. With (Ben) Wallace and (Ty) Thomas on the floor, the key is making the guys guarding them aware of penetration. That means your bigs must be the primary helpers because Wallace and Thomas, especially Wallace, aren't threats to make that mid-range shot. P.J. (Brown) can make it, but his release is a bit slow and he's not looking at threes like the perimeter guys."

How about a caveat?

"Well, if you leave Wallace or Thomas to stop dribble penetration and nobody rotates to them, either one will dive to the rim for a pass and dunk. I'd rather live with that risk, though, than watch Gordon, Hinrich and Deng shoot open threes."

Like Matt B. from Blog-a-Bull points out, I love reading about this type of stuff because it's head and shoulders above my regular knowledge of the game. I do my best to recognize players moving without the ball, how they're setting up, how the flow of the offense works, but I'm miles away from understanding the game at such a detailed level. I'd love to watch a game with a coach or a scout and have him explain all of this in real-time, or at the very least, sit in on a video session and learn how to properly "watch tape" and scout opponents.