Zone defense in NBA games limits excitement

The National Basketball Association completely changed the way the game is played when it approved zone defenses among a myriad of rule changes including defensive three seconds and the elimination of the illegal defensive violation in mid-April of 2001.

Gone are the days of classic one-on-one matchups between great defensive and offensive players such as Joe Dumars and his “Airness,” Michael Jordan. No longer will a coach be able to call an isolation play at the end of the game like the one Phil Jackson called in game six of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.

Remember when MJ embarrassed the Jazz’s Bryon Russell with one of the illest crossovers ever at the free throw line to create enough space for himself to hit the championship-winning jumper that year? For that matter, gone are the days when NBA players actually had to be able to stop someone from scoring all by themselves.

As a result of the zone defense, scoring has dropped in the last two seasons. The Dallas Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings are the only teams averaging at least 100 points per game. The Kings aren’t particularly good on defense, allowing 97.6 points per game.

The Mavericks, however, start five players who couldn’t stop Gary Coleman from getting to the bucket. They currently stand fifth in the Western Conference, two games behind the Lakers. This is all thanks to – guess what? – zone defense.

The Mavs lay back in a two-three zone late in games and force more athletic teams, which would expose them if they had to play man-to-man defense, to shoot jumpers. Sometimes, I don’t know whether I’m watching an NBA team or the Syracuse University Orangemen.

Defense wins championships, but it certainly does not win ratings. According to Nielsen Media Research, last year’s NBA Finals between San Antonio and New Jersey had the lowest television ratings for a finals series in 27 years.

With one of its last real superstars, Kobe Bryant, enthralled in legal trouble and Carmelo and Lebron’s teams’ chances of making the playoffs slimming, the NBA is losing its appeal fast.

Average basketball fans don’t want to see the Pistons hold every team they play to less than 80 points. They want to see highly skilled, world-class athletes pull off the types of moves that had everyone saying, “I love this game!” but the zone defense makes that nearly impossible.

Nick Birdsong is a sophomore newspaper journalism student from Tampa. He is an assisstant sports editor for The Famuan. Contact him at