The Los Angeles Lakers so far have earned most of their wins during the 2021-22 season by besting teams in shootouts, though the script finally changed in their victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
The Lakers beat the Rockets 95-85 and the 85 points they allowed was by far and away their lowest-scoring outing allowed. Houston did themselves no favors by going 15-of-29 from the free-throw line and committing 27 turnovers, but Los Angeles was largely responsible for most of those mistakes and even limited them to just a shade over 21 percent from beyond the arc.
It was not too surprising L.A. would have a better defensive showing because head coach Frank Vogel downsized his starting lineup by inserting Avery Bradley over DeAndre Jordan and sliding Anthony Davis to center. The smaller lineup allowed the Lakers to fly around more and hang better out on the perimeter, but Davis credited the team’s overall communication for their success.
“Our communication was really good tonight,” Davis said. “Our schemes, we followed our game plan to a T tonight. We had a team with 85 points. We saw after last quarter, we did a really, really good job, you know 15, 20 and 19 in the first three quarters- we were able to work as a unit. Do what we’re supposed to do.
“I think our communication was very on point tonight which helped us with a lot of our coverages where we usually have some struggles. But when we’re out there communicating and guys are listening to everyone and making sure that guys are talking and holding guys accountable on a defensive end, we can play really good defense.”
Davis acknowledged the perimeter defense was better with him in the middle, but he also added that the starting group could change depending on the matchup.
“I think getting me on the perimeter, another lob threat with DJ and Dwight, we can be great defensively with the rim protection and letting our guards come back and get the rebounds and push, LeBron, Russ or whoever the other wing is. It’s some good components to us playing big, but also some good components of us playing small when I’m at the five.
“We just take it game by game. Obviously, there was a match up where they don’t have a real dominant post presence or a guy who’s really dominant in doing offensive boards, so we want to look at that small lineup when I’m at the five. But it can change game by game.”
The star big man previously outlined communication, energy and effort as criteria to be a good defensive team and those were all present against the Rockets. Los Angeles went up by as much as 28 points and never looked back despite a late fourth-quarter surge from Houston.
Vogel noted after the game that he has yet to decide if this starting unit will be the same one he uses when the Lakers play the Rockets again on Tuesday, but it was definitely a major success considering how good they looked on both ends. Davis at center has always been the ace up the Purple and Gold’s sleeve and it is about time they fully lean into it.
LeBron James still learning how to play next to Russell Westbrook
While L.A. might finally have something with their small-ball lineup, the LeBron James-Russell Westbrook tandem remains a work in progress. The two stars have shown flashes of what they can be, but there are still several possessions each night that make it evident they are still working through things.
James himself admitted that he is learning how to play with his new co-star, though it is only a matter of time before they are on the same page.
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