The Los Angeles Lakers have had success keeping their rotation fluid, switching between big and small lineups in recent weeks.
DeAndre Jordan started in Sunday’s 110-106 win over the Detroit Pistons but spent just over 20 minutes on the floor. Coach Frank Vogel kept on experimenting with smaller units, featuring Anthony Davis and LeBron James playing as the center.
Even though the Lakers gave up some size for big swaths of the game, they still outscored the Pistons 58-40 in the paint. However, they lost the battle on the glass and allowed Detroit to collect 53 rebounds while grabbing 42 themselves.
Still, Vogel has noticed an improvement in L.A.’s paint presence. He added the fluidity of the Lakers’ lineup is “part of evolution” for the team.
“We’re still starting with a big lineup in certain games,” Vogel said after the win over the Pistons. “But in some ways that does give you more space on the perimeter.
“It’s not five-out, there’s a big on the baseline. It creates problems when AD or Bron have the ball and Russ cuts and there’s already a big in there. They played small with a second unit. I feel like this is part of our evolution as a team and learning what our identity is going to look like. We played a different second unit tonight.
“We played a second unit that basically closed the game out in Indiana with Bron and Melo at the four-five. Call it a ‘centerless’ lineup. There is a lot more space for Russ. Bron has a lot more space to be a roller going to the basket, which was effective. We just have more ‘switchability’ on the defensive side of the ball. I do think that is something that we’re gonna grow and will be a part of our team growing forward.”
Vogel reiterated that although the Lakers compromise offensive spacing when playing with a nominal center, they also likely benefit on the defensive end with more size on the floor.
He added the coaching staff will continue evaluating the pros and cons of different big- and small-ball lineups, which could lead to Dwight Howard starting games for L.A. for the first time this season despite sitting out the Pistons game completely.
“I will say that Dwight didn’t play tonight. We made a decision that if we’re gonna look at this smaller second unit, that one of our centers will play and not both,” Vogel said on Sunday.
“It’s not always gonna be DJ, sometimes it will be Dwight. You could see Dwight in the starting lineup with DJ being the third center or whatnot. We’ll continue to evaluate that going forward.”
So far, Jordan has started 15 of the Lakers’ 22 games in 2021-22, spending 14.3 minutes on the floor per night. Meanwhile, Howard has made 19 appearances for L.A, coming off the bench and averaging a career-low 13.6 minutes.
Russell Westbrook explains his in-game adjustments when Lakers go small
The Lakers’ experiments with smaller units impact Russell Westbrook and his in-game responsibilities. But the 33-year-old guard said he is comfortable making adjustments when L.A. switches to small-ball.
“One thing about me, I can adapt to anything,” Westbrook said.
“I can play 1-5. I’m very comfortable playing in the dunker’s spot, rolling, pick-and-roll, setting a screen. Doing whatever it is that our team needs to be successful, I can do it. That’s us going small helps us out, we can still space the floor, I can play the dunker’s spot.
And he added: “I would say I’m a pretty good rebounder for my size, so I take it as a challenge.”
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