Phil Jackson needs to adjust 

May, 27, 2010

Today, by popular demand, we're taking another look at lineups and matchups in the NBA playoffs, which are turning out to be crucial, maybe even decisive, factors in both conference finals.

A good chunk of any NBA game involves the most gifted players on the court spontaneously creating scoring opportunities. At the opposite end of the improvisation spectrum, there are relatively few set plays in most hoops contests, though some coaches go out of their way to make these as complicated as possible. (Someone once said Hubie Brown could make diagramming an inbounds pass seem like planning the landing at Inchon.) In between, there's a whole world of strategy, where different players' skills come together and face off against opposing combinations, and the results create a game's ebb and flow.

As I detailed earlier this month, we can use plus/minus, which is simply the difference between the points a team scores and the points it allows when a given player or unit is on the floor, to study these matchups. For example, in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, the Phoenix Suns' bench outscored the Los Angeles Lakers' bench 54-20. But even that doesn't describe what happened Tuesday night. When a nonstarter was on the floor, Phoenix was an incredible plus-69, while when L.A. played any member of its bench, the Lakers were minus-45.

Peter Keating

ESPN Senior Writer
Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. His column, The Numbers, appears in every issue.