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Lakers/Rockets: When Houston Has The Ball

NBA: APR 03 Rockets at Lakers
We start the breakdown of this series when the Lakers are on defense and the Rockets have the ball.

The Rockets offense is about Yao Ming — it is where their plays start, where they will need to get the majority of their offense. Basically, pretty much every Rockets set involves getting the ball to Yao or Luis Scola, either on the low block or at the pinch post. And in this series, when it will be the much larger Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom on Scola, that is not going to be a great option for the Rockets (he will have to do damage from the weak side if Odom doubles Yao in the block).

So the ball will go to Yao pretty much every time down. And this blog’s long-time resident Rockets fans makes the point that is what they should do:

They are 34-4 this yr when Yao gets 20 or more. Seems pretty simple what the Rockets must do, but the simplest things are often the hardest to do.

When Yao gets the ball deep he is hard to stop because this is a skilled 7’6” guy. Again Stephen:

His best is his “jump” hook that he can shoot w/either hand.(You can tell when Yao is tired, the hook is flat instead of a little arch at beginning of shot.) He will try dribbling into lane and backing towards basket to get better position for his hook but he has a very high dribble that is very susceptible to being picked. His back-to-basket move is often a fade-away jumper that looks like it’s being shot in slo-motion. If he feels his defender is overplaying his into lane side, he will make a surprisingly quick spin move and try to bank it in from in close.

The Lakers cannot just do one thing all series long against Yao — he is too good and too smart for that. One thing the Lakers need to do is make him work for post position — but unlike Oden doing it without fouling. Portland had some success fronting him in the post (something Houston counters very poorly for some reason) while earlier in the year the Lakers had success sending a slow double to the block (not when he first gets the ball but when he starts to make a move). The Lakers may even go with a little one-on-one — although let’s be clear, while we should expect more out of Bynum, expecting him to stop the best center on the planet one-on-one is asking too much of him. (And before you say Dwight Howard is the best center on the planet, look at his head-to-head with Yao.)

The goal is to both Make Yao hesitate and make him think and pass out — he is a smart player and in recent months he has become much better to passing out of the double, out of trouble. But that is still the preferred option. Let’s go to Reed to lay it out.

It seems the best way to shut down their offense is to force them deep into the shot clock and make Artest and others try to create from the perimeter. If Yao is fronted then they spend 20 seconds trying to get him the ball from one side to the other, then the ball finds Brooks or Artest and they have to make a play. But, fronting (especially while sandwiching) Yao leaves Scola and their 3 point shooters open. Those players are not great creators for themselves (Artest is okay, but low efficiency), so I’d change things up so that they can’t just get all those easy open looks. I also think Yao is turnover prone in the face of pressure, so varying the looks could prove beneficial in confusing and frustrating him.

Reed is of the opinion that the Lakers should go with a lot of Gasol on Yao, not giving him a more traditional center to work against. The other thing that can do is wear him down a little — Yao’s conditioning is better but you can still wear him down if you make him run the floor, make him chase outside on offense, make him work to get his shots. Portland did not have the personnel and style to do this, the Lakers do.

The Rockets have good three point shooters all over the floor, and all of them are dangerous if you let them set their feet, but make them move and their numbers go way down (save Artest, who still shoots well if you let him take one step to the left). The Lakers need to close out on Rockets shooters — they did that in the regular season sweep of the Rockets, holding the Rockets to 28.4% three point shooting in the four regular season games.

As Reed said, the Rockets do not create their own shots well, what shots they do get in the paint tend to come off of cuts and motion in the offense. Things the Lakers should be able to stop, if they are paying attention on defense. One thing they will do to create shots on offense is run the pick-and-roll, with Yao setting some very good high picks. Darius breaks that down.

First things first, I don’t respect any of the Houston shooters enough (at least off the dribble) to go over the top on any screen. I’d be comfortable playing our usual hedge/recover D, but I wouldn’t mind if we made Houston make some jumpers first before we did. Brooks, Lowry and Wafer are their primary Guards who play P&R and with their quickness, I think we’d be better off clogging the paint and not letting them get into the middle where they can create for their themselves or for Houston’s shooters (who are much better as spot up guys). Artest is another guy that will play P&R with Yao/Scola, but Ron is a wildcard that will cause interesting matchup issues in any scenario.

Ah yes, Ron Artest. The guy so many Lakers fans wanted instead of Odom. I’ll let Darius talk about him so my anti Ron-Ron bias doesn’t creep in:

Defending Artest will be another big key to this series. We can joke about Ron or play up his penchant to go into hero mode, but he is capable of playing a controlled game and when he does is an extremely dangerous player. He’s a good outside shooter and can bull his way to the basket (and do it without committing charges) against any player we put on him. I’m not sure if we want to put Kobe on him, but I’d lean in that direction as Kobe is a better defender when he plays against better players and guys that he respects. Putting Kobe on Battier may be a recipe for trouble as his gambling could lead to too many open jumpers (especially the wing/corner three that Shane loves). As for Artest, I think we need to play him to his left hand, contest his jumpshot, and show him the help early to make him pass.

The one Rockets player I think will have a big series is former Laker Von Wafer. He shot 58% against the Lakers in the regular season, 50% from three and averaged 16.7 points per game — more than Yao. The bottom line is he is the one Rockets player who can create his own shot off the dribble and finish at the rim (Brooks can create but will struggle to finish at the rim against the longer, taller Lakers). Sasha and ShanWOW need to have a big defensive series on him.

Kwame a. will sum up for us (even if he and I differ on how big Scola will be in this series):

On Defense: 1) Double as little as possible-Houston has limited one-on-one threats, if the Lakers can defend without leaving shooters it will ensure Houston can’t score enough to win. 2) Don’t let Brooks get off early. 3) Make Artest feel disrespected. Giving Ron a little Brewer treatment may send him into nova mode and that would help the Lakers. 4) Respect Scola’s skills- A lot of the focus on Scola is centered on his savvy, but that dude has game. He can hit the face-up mid-range J, he can post up, he can finish with either hand, yet time after time he left open like he his Reggie Evans. The Lakers have to be aware of him, and that’s not even referring to his ability to collect o-boards.

Reader Interactions


  1. I think this is a series where Derek Fisher will have an enormous impact on double teams off Yao. If there’s anything that Yao has trouble with, it’s a small doubling, whether it’s off a cutter, off the entry pass, or on the baseline from the weakside. We saw it last year against Utah, when Yao repeatedly got the ball taken from him by Williams and Brewer. The fact that Houston plays so slowly that every turnover for them is extremely costly, and I expect many of them to come from the quick hands of Derek Fisher. I remember last year I suggested Yao should run a drill where he has to dribble the ball in the post with a flock of 5th graders trying to steal the ball from him. He’s so tall, so there’s a lot more time, relatively, between when the ball leaves his hand, hits the floor, and returns to his hand.


  2. One other point that I made to Kurt (though not as thought out or explained as well as I could have) was another point about defending Yao.

    When he gets the ball, and he’s not at the elbow/pinch post, he really seems to go to the left block. This makes sense because he can put the ball on the floor to the middle with his strong hand or he can turn over his right shoulder to shoot his deadly fade away jumper. I think most people would like for Yao to shoot his turn around J because that is a shot that is less deadly then him shooting his higher % hook shot. However, I’d rather us overplay him to shoot his turnaround jumper and entice him to put the ball on the floor to the middle of the floor. To me, this gives us better help options from the top of the key with a guard and it leads him to our help with a PF. Plus, when Yao is putting the ball on the floor, we have a better opportunity to steal the ball from him and disrupt his rhythm when shooting. Plus, if we show him our SSZ look and he’s coming at us with his dribble, it increases our ability to get deflections, steal the ball, and get easier baskets. The big key though, is trying to establish our defensive position rather than letting Yao dictate where he catches the ball.

    Also, since we rarely do front the post, I’d like to see us side front more and use our length to discourage entry passes and to make catches more difficult if/when entry passes are attempted. As Reed pointed out, we want Houston to use clock in order to put the ball in the hands of their less efficient scorers when the clock is running down. If we’re doing the little things to take the easy entry pass away, we’ll go a long way in accomplishing this goal.


  3. Denver with a very impressive win. They are playing intense, crip defense and finally taking advantage of their athleticism like nothing I’ve seen before. It is a little bit worrying.


  4. Good report guys!

    A couple of thoughts:

    The Lakers need to front Yao often to make things easier on themselves. That slow double will not work the way it used to. Yao is much much quicker making his reads, and has finally figured out that putting the ball on the floor does not usually bring a good outcome. If he makes his move quickly and decisively there is nobody on your team that can effectively double him, and he can shoot over either Pau or Bynum. The object should be to keep the ball out of his hands, and fronting is the only way that teams have been effective doing that.

    I also agree with Kwame that Scola is not just going to be taken advantage of in this series, especially against Odom. Scola is a professional and always show up in big games to make a difference. His toughness and griding style will take Odom out of his game.

    Dead-on correct about the majority of Rockets not being able to create their own shots, but they are a pretty good 3 point shooting team if allowed to get to their spots. The Lakers had better close out on those shooters if they don’t want his series to be extended.

    The key for the Rockets is not trying to outscore the Lakers, but to limit their FG% and control the defensive glass to keep the score down in the range where the Rockets succeed.


  5. I should add about Scola, I really love him as a player. I think he’d thrive in the triangle. I’d gladly have him on my team. That said, we’ll see how big an impact he has this series.


  6. I think Scola will have problems with Odom. odom is too quick for him and just as long. Scola is bigger and could post Odom, but Odom is an underrated defender and I think he can do a good job defending Scola. If Odom plays anywhere near how he played against Utah (I think he was the best player in that series) he will be a huge advantage or the Lakers.

    Denver looked good, but they took advantage of their better athleticism and size in the middle. They will not have that advantage against the Lakers though (particularly the size advantage). So though I think they are a really good team, I do not think they can beat the Lakers.


  7. I wonder how many times I’ll have to scream “Put a body on Scola!” during this series, referring to boxing out.

    Excellent preview, but I think a big key missing is that Harlan/Collins will be calling Game 1 in LA. Huge all-around plus for everyone involved.

    Darius makes a great point. Kobe on Battier is a recipe for disaster. That guy will consistently hit the open corner 3, and Kobe will consistently leave his man.

    Scola’s crafty. It’s a tough call. I do think his impact will be hushed a bit overall in this series, but I can see a Scola double-double in at least 1 or 2 games. He’s got all that intangible goodness you love to have on your team. That said, guarding Odom should give him more problems than almost any other 4.

    What a difference a year and 1 pickup (and 1 important subtraction) makes. Denver looks top-notch. We’re still a bad matchup for them, but you can’t take anything away from the Nugs.

    Mark Warkentien: Executive of the Year. All I will say is that is a very, very fickle award.


  8. Good write up.

    As outlined, everything will start and end with Yao for the Rockets on offense., and in the regular season, he got off to quick starts in just about every game. But towards the 4th quarter, he did practically nothing (then we saw Ron and the bench players shoot themselves out the game). This happened for two reasons; 1.) We effectively sent an extra man when Yao made his move, and stole the ball. 2.) He got tired.

    These two things led to his teammates not even looking to him or Rick Adelman taking him off the floor. This must continue, since the Rockets have no consistency without Yao. We must push the pace early.

    Does anyone expect to see Mbenga in this series?


  9. Looking ahead a bit, which I think is fine as a fan, I really hope we draw Denver in the Conference Semis.

    Denver has a mix of athletic ability and savvy which would make for a protentially very entertaining series.


  10. That is one freakin funny picture. Looks like Fish was on his way to 2nd base with the chairman.


  11. Looks like PJ is going with Bynum to start. This could be a mistake. But I hope he plays solid D on Yao instead of trying to do too much. Or go one-on-one on offense.

    “Jackson said he has made up his mind on the starting lineup, claiming that there was a ’90 percent chance’ that Andrew Bynum would return to the first unit in place of Lamar Odom after being relegated to the bench in Games 4 and 5 of the Utah series. ”


  12. lol—the article photo should be a no-no come playoff time. the lakers should come up out the gates like a manny pacquiao was against ricky hatton the other day. man, that’s some sick domination…just what the lakers can do to any good to very good team. odom can defend scola i think better than scola can defend odom at his capable self. yao (not even tmac) lacks the killer edge or aura of our main man kobe, that to me is a significant difference. he can prove me wrong though.

    the celts-magic series also interests me. do the celtics have that much in the gas tank? can they contain howard?

    re: picking up denver. well why not dallas which we also beat up more this season? oh well. i also wish hawks present more of a trouble, them being an athletic team, against the cavs. they should run-run-run! smith on lebron looks nice on paper.



  13. I really don’t think that Odom has a mismatch against Scola. Odom has always performed poorly against players who are crafty. I am worried, we are going to see several instances this series where Odom leaves Scola to double on Brooks or Artest and then Scola shoots an open 17-footer. More importantly, I am worried that Odom is not going to consistently box-out Scola which is going to result in zany offensive rebounds for Houston.

    I hope I am wrong, but I have been a Laker fan for too long to pin my hopes on perceived mismatches for Lamar Odom.


  14. I am so tired about people mentioning that the Lakers let a 13pt lead against Utah get away in the 3rd game with Utah. Yeah, it is technically true, but were they watching the game?? The Lakers were awful and behind all night, except a stretch in the 3rd qtr where we put it together for a little while and got a 13pt lead. We then reverted to form, for that game, and fell down again.

    The way the ‘talking heads’ are putting it, we would appear to have dominated that game, only to lose a 13pt lead.


  15. any word on le ankles de walton y ariza? any opportunity for more farmar this series?


  16. I heard Ariza’s ankle is a non-issue and that Luke will be back on the bench for tonight’s game.


  17. LeBron deserved it this year, just like Kobe deserved it last year. Kudos to him. This was a year with many deserving candidates, so to earn it says a lot of where his game is going.

    As far as the Rockets, I am very much looking forward to this series. My biggest concern is whether Bynum will demonstrate maturity by staying away from easy fouls and foul trouble. I hope he understands that, for this series, the Lakers don’t need an ounce of scoring from him, rather, they need him to be so glued to Yao that Yao begins to think he has a siamese twin.


  18. New Story Up.

    I could make a case for Kobe as MVP, but there is no way you can say LBJ is undeserving. This is not Steve Nash.


  19. Kurt, I would like to hear your case of why Kobe should be MVP if you have the time for the story.


  20. Haven’t read this blog often, but I’m a rockets fan who has seen close to all of their games this season, and I would say you seem to have summed them up as a team very well. Like most rational people I think the Lakers should win this series without looking too uncomfortable, but I’m very happy to hear Andrew will be starting tonight. I think he’ll try and play Yao straight up to begin and Yao will eat him up for supper. That will be followed by Phil sending those sneaky double teams that confused the hell out of Yao in the regular season, hopefully he’s reviewed the tape and will deal with it a little bit better. But as you mentioned he can be very turnover prone under pressure.

    Also props for acknowledging Yao as the best center in the NBA. I love Dwight but he’s not nearly as polished an offensive player as Yao


  21. Ranbir, I think people get awed by Dwight Howard’s highlights, but miss the fact he doesn’t display a solid back-to-basket game. I know Ewing works with him, but his game still seems very raw from that perspective, unlike Yao.


  22. I know this is a little late, but I was poking around after game 1 when I found this. As a Rockets fan, I was *very* impressed by how thorough and accurate your evaluation was. Just wanted to give you your rightful props.