Head coach Frank Vogel and the Los Angeles Lakers will be facing a completely different basketball philosophy against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals than they did in the second-round matchup with the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets completely abandoned the traditional center position, instead opting for P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington to patrol the paint. However, the Nuggets have two seven-footers, including perhaps the best center in the NBA in Nikola Jokic.
In order to defeat the Nuggets, L.A. will have to rely more on size and strength, rather than length and speed. Because of this, Vogel is likely to bring back JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard to the regular rotation.
“They make it very difficult to guard and make this series a lot different than last series in terms of hw much we’ll use our centers,” Vogel said.
“I don’t want to get too much into detail, but obviously we’re going to be the L.A. Lakers we’ve been all year. We adjusted to a small-ball team last series, but I would expect us to return to form.”
While Jokic is plenty of trouble just by himself, Mason Plumlee has played a significant number of minutes off the bench. Just like the Portland Trail Blazers, the Nuggets will likely always have at least one seven-footer on the floor at all times.
The simplest re-introduction will be McGee most likely being put back into the starting lineup, sending Markieff Morris back to the bench unit. Howard should also see a significant uptick in minutes to match the Denver’s size.
While the Lakers two main centers will certainly play a major factor, it’s Anthony Davis that will likely face up against Jokic when it matters the most. Davis is the only player on the Lakers — and perhaps the only player in the NBA — with the defensive versatility and size to match Jokic’s gifted abilities on the offensive end.
When that happens, McGee and Howard will either be on the bench, or circling the floor with Paul Millsap.
Vogel proud of Lakers defense through first two rounds
With the Lakers facing a much more well-rounded team in the Nuggets than they did in either of the first two rounds, they’ll have to rely on their defense to get them to the NBA Finals. Luckily, Vogel has pride in the Lakers defense up to this point.
“I’m really proud of our whole team, beginning with our captains, but really top to bottom our whole roster’s commitment to the defensive end,” Vogel said following the Game 5 victory over Houston. “Our verticality and rim protection was just special.
“From the beginning of the season our group has really committed to that end of the floor and it’s paying dividends right now.”
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