Opposing basketball ideologies will clash as the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Lakers hope to impose their will on a Rockets team that has leaned fully into the small-ball era, with zero regular rotation players standing taller than 6’8. By potentially starting out big, L.A. is of the belief they’ll force the Rockets to adapt to their style of play, rather than the other way around.
The Rockets’ game plan against the Lakers should be simple. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will look to control the pace early by either scoring themselves or finding opportunities for open 3-point shooters. How successful they are in this will decide how long the series goes, and whether or not the Rockets can force the upset.
Houston and L.A. met twice during the regular season and once during the seeding games. They split the two regular season matchups, with the Lakers loss coming on the day of the NBA trade deadline. It was the Rockets’ first game with their ultra small ball lineup.
Their meeting during the seeding games wound up as a big Lakers loss. L.A. has since broken out of their shooting funk, which should make for a different looking team in Game 1.
LeBron James — for one — is not worried about the drastic variance in styles between the two teams. “It’s five guys versus five guys. It’s basketball,” James said.
“It’s not the first time I’ve gone against five guys who shoot 3s in my basketball life. I’ve played against all different types of lineups since I started playing basketball when I was 9 years old. Nothing strange about it. It is what it is. We have to prepare for it and we have to be great every night in order to win. If we’re not, we’ll lose. It’s that simple.”
While James says it’s nothing new, Anthony Davis believes L.A. is prepared for such a unique game plan. “Their entire team is good with their hands. They like to strip the ball, be physical and get up under you,” Davis explained.
“A traditional big will kind of play off and try to use their length. With [the Rockets] their advantage is playing low to the ground and using their hands. It’s going to be different for all of us.”
I think the quicker the move the harder it is for them to get up under you and be physical. It’s going to be a good matchup for us. We’ve been prepping for these guys and will try to have the same result and move onto the next round.”
Game 1 will be the bubble debut for Rajon Rondo, who has been out for the entirety of the seeding games and first round with a fractured thumb and back spasms.
It will be interesting to see how head coach Frank Vogel uses him in such a vital situation despite having not played a game since March.
Since eliminating the Portland Trail Blazers last Saturday, the Lakers have had nearly a full week to prepare.
Lakers (0-0) vs. Rockets (0-0)
6:00 p.m. PT, Sep. 4, 2020
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Florida
Radio: ESPN 710
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Danny Green
PF: Anthony Davis
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, Rajon Rondo
Projected Rockets Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: James Harden
SF: Eric Gordon
PF: Robert Covington
C: PJ Tucker
Key Reserves: Danuel House Jr., Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore
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