After consecutive bad losses, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton tinkered with his starting lineup and went small by inserting Rajon Rondo and replacing JaVale McGee at the center position with Kyle Kuzma.
While the Lakers had their share of struggles with Anthony Davis and Julius Randle in the paint, they managed to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans in a back-and-forth affair. “We needed to win,” Walton began to explain of the lineup change.
“Rondo, he’s won championships. He’s an NBA champion. It was, ‘Let’s get him on the court, see what happens.’ The decision was either going small or leaving JaVale in. We just felt like we wanted the shooting still.
“Talked about it with the group, and they were up to the challenge of blitzing, full rotating, all that stuff. We needed to do something different, because it wasn’t working, what we had going on. I thought we had a pretty good all-around team effort. I was very pleased.”
The lineup of Rondo, Reggie Bullock, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James and Kuzma is a versatile one in the fact that four of the five players can guard multiple positions. Although McGee was again relegated to the bench, Walton noticed the veteran center remained focused.
“Even though JaVale was out of the lineup, he would’ve played more but he got into foul trouble. I thought he was very aggressive and into the game,” Walton said. “Conducted himself like a professional out there.”
The major problem with going small is a lack of rim protection, but Walton put the onus on the Lakers to nevertheless play strong defense. “We’ve got to do both,” he said of defending the perimeter and painted area.
“It will get more challenging with a smaller group, but that’s where you’ve got to look at what you have. We’ll see if stay with this group for the next game.
“I haven’t gotten into Milwaukee yet; they have all sorts of matchup problems. If that’s the group we have, then we’re quicker, more athletic, we can be more aggressive on the ball and look to force turnovers, get out and run type of thing. We’ll watch the film on this, learn from it, and make a decision.”
Giannis Antetoukounmpo presents matchup problems no matter what, but going small may keep him from being able to penetrate the defense as often as he does. It will be a tough game either way, but maybe the Lakers have found a short-term solution.
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