In their win against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers opted for a small-ball rotation, starting LeBron James at center while playing neither of their traditional big men for the entire game. While it was against the Rockets, it certainly appeared to be a success, with James and Russell Westbrook dominating.
James and Westbrook each had triple-doubles. James finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists while playing nearly all of his 39 minutes at center. Meanwhile, Westbrook had 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists having much more space to operate than usual.
Westbrook spoke about James starting at center, and what changes for him when there’s no traditional center in the game.
“Just want to attack usually gaps, be able to create some type of angles to be able to drive and kick or to finish around the basket,” Westbrook said.
The Lakers guard also discussed the chemistry that is starting to form between he and James. “Just figuring it out. We’ve been able to kind of create some chemistry on things we like to see when defenses are trying to guard both of us together.
“People don’t really want to switch, so it gives us a good advantage and my job is to be able to make sure I put the ball in position to make it easy for ‘Bron to do what he was able to do and that’s finish well around the basket.”
The Rockets certainly looked out of sorts against the Lakers in the 132-123 L.A. win. The paint was wide open for most of the game, and Westbrook took advantage by scoring a majority of his points right at the rim. James dominated the paint as well, scoring at will against the smaller Rockets defenders.
James at center is an interesting approach, and it’s not something that can be used against every team. However, until Anthony Davis returns to the lineup, it may be something the Lakers deploy whenever they play a team without a true center.
The Rockets were a great first team to try it against, now we’ll see how often they go to it over the next few weeks.
James praises Westbrook’s performance
James gave his thoughts on Westbrook’s night and how he and the Lakers were able to support him in playing the type of game that works best for him. “I think it starts with other guys that’s on the floor at the time. Obviously, with Melo, Malik [Monk] and AB out on the floor that level of space allows Russ the ability to get into the lane and his ability to pass.
“We’re just working the two-man game and if the defense makes the mistake on our two-man game, we have enough shooting on the floor at the same time we can continue to make them pay as you saw when Melo hit the big three by their bench. AB got a backdoor cut from one of the plays I had from the post. Also, Russ was able to walk in for a layup as well because of that space. Malik throughout his whole 40 minutes he was a threat every single second he was on the floor, so it helps when you have those complimentary guys on the floor.”
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