Game One Preview: Rested Lakers take on Houston Rockets

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 21: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets on February 21, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

After a thoroughly dominant first series against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers got some well earned rest as they waited for the Rockets to finish off the Oklahoma City Thunder in their opening series. Now, the scrappy underdog Lakers get to come in having gotten some extra scouting opportunities while the Rockets racked up minutes in that seven game slog. The Lakers present the ultimate challenge for Daryl Morey’s calculator and small ball tactics. On the other side, Frank Vogel has to game plan for a team unlike any other in modern basketball history.

Naturally, the first thing anybody brings up about this Houston team is that they’ve committed to playing small-ball. It’s made some wonder how the Lakers are going to adjust, given that they have one of the biggest lineups in basketball and the unique challenges that guarding the Rockets will bring. If his quotes from media availability are any indicator, Frank Vogel doesn’t seem to be too concerned with the potential mismatches playing big could have.

While you don’t want to read too much into this, it does seem like Vogel will continue to trot out his usual starting lineup that includes JaVale McGee. It will be interesting to see how successful this strategy is given that Houston seemed to relish whenever the Thunder played big with Steven Adams or Nerlens Noel in their first series. Houston defends at its best when you try to post them up, so look for McGee to mostly work as a roller so as to not crowd the lane too much. While the concerns about the versatility are valid, the players don’t seem overly worried about how they’re going to handle Houston’s tactics.

The Lakers seem to be relishing this opportunity to take on the small-ball Rockets, and while there are sure to be in-game adjustments, it’s interesting to note their confidence in being able to play a larger lineup and making Houston adjust to them. The concern with playing big is that you’re potentially sacrificing a lot of corner threes for the sake of rim protection. But, when you have two versatile defenders in AD and LeBron, it does present options for how you want to play. The Lakers will be happy to let PJ Tucker or Robert Covington beat them by committing to stopping Harden and Westbrook’s greatest strengths.

From the other side of things, Mike D’Antoni stated that the Rockets will be expanding their lineup a bit, at least to start the series. This likely means more Austin Rivers and Jeff Green minutes. While this is only game one of a potential seven game series, coming out and making a statement would be enormous after the week off.


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