The Los Angeles Lakers were able to tie up their second-round series with an impressive 117-109 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 2.
The Western Conference Semifinals matchup has been of major intrigue to the league and its fans as it is a battle of two contrasting styles and philosophies. The Lakers have dominated teams with their size, length, and physicality down low.
The Rockets have leaned all the way in to small-ball lineups that hunt 3-pointers and drives to the basket on every possession.
Los Angeles would appear to have a massive advantage just pounding the ball in the paint, but Houston’s lineups feature plenty of defenders who are stout and willing to get under bigs to keep them from scoring efficiently.
Anthony Davis struggled against P.J. Tucker in Game 1, often being forced to settle for contested midrange jumpers that he was unable to convert. Game 2 was a better showing defensively as the Lakers opted to go small, which helped them rotate and get out to the Rockets’ shooters sooner.
While the strategy seemed to work, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said after the game that JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard will still play a part in the series moving forward.
“Our centers are still going to have a role in this series. Our plan was to go with Dwight as well,” Vogel said. “We’ve been working with those guys in terms of how to play against this team, which is unique.
“But we went on a heck of a run towards the end of the first with Markieff at the 5, and we wanted to stay with that group. It’s just how the game played out. Sometimes you’ve got to ride that hot hand or hot lineup. The plan was to play JaVale and Dwight, but we obviously audibled at that that point.”
McGee only played eight minutes as he was pulled after experiencing some pain in his ankle. Meanwhile, Howard was a healthy scratch as Vogel looked to optimize the offensive spacing that was nearly non-existent in the first game.
It is an interesting comment as Los Angeles actually fared pretty well with their normal two-big lineups as the extra rim protector helped dissuade James Harden from getting all the to the basket, something that he repeatedly did when the Lakers went small in the second half.
Allowing McGee or Howard to play next to Davis also should generate extra looks as they are both solid offensive rebounders, but perhaps Vogel likes the flow of the game when the team has an extra shooter or ball-handler on the floor.
Either way, it will be something to watch for when Game 3 tips off.
McGee’s status up in the air for Game 3
McGee has not looked quite himself since entering the bubble and it has shown in his play. In a series against the Rockets, his shot blocking and rebounding are valuable skills, but so far it has yet to provide much of a difference.
However, after he suffered an apparent ankle injury early in the third quarter, McGee could be held out of Game 3. He underwent an MRI and the Lakers are going to re-evaluate after the center receives treatment.
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