After defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers are back in waiting mode. This time it’s to learn the identity of their opponent for the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Trail Blazers provided a challenge with their backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but the Laker defense was able to slow them down in Games 2 through 5. There were concerns L.A. could be upset, but it was difficult to believe that a LeBron James-led team would be bounced so soon in the playoffs.
The Lakers have ample time to rest as they await the winner of the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder series. Chris Paul came up clutch in Game 6, knocking down shots in the final minutes to help force a Game 7 on Wednesday.
In an interview with Michael Pina of GQ, Jared Dudley answered who he thinks Los Angeles will be seeing in the next round:
“Houston. I think Houston’s the better team.”
The Rockets have been one of the NBA’s most volatile teams as they have fully committed small-ball lineups that feature even more three-point shooting that league average. Under head coach Mike D’Antoni, James Harden has become arguably the NBA’s best scorer and the extra space on the floor has allowed him fully maximize his talents.
Houston blew out Los Angeles during the seeding games, but the latter was without James as the team opted to rest after clinching the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Still, the Rockets exposed the Lakers defense with their drive-and-kick scheme they have become known for and that could present a problem.
With the Rockets starting with PJ Tucker at center, the Lakers could look to use their size and strength to carry them to victories. But Houston’s outside shooting may also require head coach Frank Vogel to go small.
While that is not his preferred way of playing for the Lakers, Vogel believes they could be successful with either a small or big lineup.
Not taking LeBron for granted
It went under the radar, but James finished the first-round series averaging a triple-double (27.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 10.2 assists).
“I think the media and maybe the fans are taking it for granted,” Vogel said of James’ elite level of play in his 17th season. “We don’t take it for granted in-house here.
“Our coaching staff, the front office, his teammates, we all really, really understand and appreciate how special his performance is and what he brings to the table. Definitely do not take that for granted.”
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