Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has avoided knee-jerk reactions but has proven willing to make lineup and rotation adjustments in the playoffs. In the second round against the Houston Rockets, he benched Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee, but against the Denver Nuggets, the opposite has been necessary.
Howard has proven to be the Lakers’ best option in making things difficult on Nuggets’ All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and overall has simply provided a spark the team has needed in the Western Conference Finals.
Following a flat outing in Game 3, Vogel made the decision to start Howard in place of McGee for Game 4. Howard responded with another excellent performance, finishing with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
“In the loss, his energy was, to me, infectious,” Vogel explained of Howard. “We knew what he could do in this matchup. We like to try to start the series with the lineups that we play throughout the season, and then you feel out the series.
“We knew this was something we could always go to. We started the series 2-0, lost Game 3, played poorly. It wasn’t anything with the starting lineup, as a matter of fact, in Game 3 that cost us the victory. But I just wanted to get him in there more rather than bringing him in mid-second quarter.”
Howard and Anthony Davis set the tone for the Lakers in the first quarter of Game 4, helping them take a lead that they held for practically the entire night.
Howard’s physicality and energy has been great for the Lakers in the series and his work on the glass was crucial for their Game 4 victory. Six of Howard’s 11 rebounds came on the offensive end with most of his scoring coming on those putbacks.
The Lakers had 25 second-chance points as a team, which may have been the biggest difference in the contest.
While McGee played a big role for the Lakers through much of this season, it has been Howard who has been the team’s most important true center in the Western Conference Finals. Simply put, this series is completely different without Howard’s contributions and Vogel made the right move by inserting him with the starters for the Lakers’ most important game of the season.
However, there was no public commitment to keeping with the change. “We’ll let you know then,” Vogel answered when asked if Howard would start Game 5.
Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic not focused on Howard
Howard’s biggest role in the Western Conference Finals has obviously been to try and contain Jokic. While the Nuggets’ big man has had his moments, there is no doubt that Howard has had a big impact on that front. In fact some believe that Howard has taken things a little too far, and has even drawn the ire of officials during the series.
At times Jokic has seemed frustrated on the court, but off the court he maintains that he isn’t botherd by what Howard has brought to the table. “He’s a big guy, he knows his role, he’s doing it really well. But it’s not just me against him, it’s Nuggets against Lakers,” Jokic noted.
“To be honest, I don’t think about it. Whoever is over there, I’m going to try to beat him, try to win the game. It is what it is. Again, I say it’s not just me against them, it’s Nuggets against Lakers.”
In Game 4 it was the work of Howard and Davis that helped to hold Jokic to just 16 points and seven rebounds while also keeping him in foul trouble as he had five on the night and was forced to sit much of the fourth quarter.
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