Lakers/Rockets: When Houston Has The Ball

Kurt —  May 3, 2009

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.