While being down 0-1 to an explosive offensive team powered by dynamic guard play is a position the Lakers have been in before these playoffs, heading into game 2 vs. the Rockets feels different than what it did in round 1 vs. the Blazers.
For one, the Lakers played well defensively vs. Portland and simply missed a bunch of shots that, if they continued to get them during the rest of the series, they’d be fine. That was not the case vs. the Rockets, who were quicker to closeout on shooters and are a much better defensive team overall. And, two, Houston is better prepared to matchup with these Lakers and offer unique challenges on both sides of the ball that need real solving that go beyond just playing better.
Don’t get me wrong, “playing better” is of chief concern — particularly in being more focused and in making fewer of the self-inflicted mistakes that plagued the Lakers in game 1. That means cutting down on live ball turnovers, being sharper with their own rotations defensively, and working through more variances within their offense via more screens and motion rather than going to iso-heavy attacks early on. These are the things the Lakers can do for themselves without any consideration for how Houston is trying to play.
In terms of other real adjustments the Lakers can make, I do have ideas. They can help LeBron (and, AD, really) by positioning their big men deeper in the dunker’s spot to better occupy the help. I think they can also run more P&R actions to dictate the matchups they want more often, particulary as it relates to AD and LeBron. Further, better off ball actions that involve screens and slipping screens to get Houston to have to make decisions (and, hopefully, mistakes) to get guys moving into open spaces can help loosen things up.
Beyond that, though, the Lakers need to look to penetrate more from all over the floor to get into the teeth of the defense and force help. Houston has quick defenders who rotate well, but getting them into rotation more than once in any given possession is still the goal. Also, directly beating players at the point of attack is a key way to get points in the paint or at least get shots up as the help is rotating — which then opens up offensive rebounding chances. So, I’d like to see Bron and AD drive more, but I’d also like to see more penetration from Caruso, Kuzma, and even KCP. The latter two aren’t the shiftiest of players, but they can threaten the rim when they get downhill and that’s one of ways this Rockets defense can be beaten.
Speaking of Caruso, he needs to play more this game than he did in game 1. I know he had some foul issues and he’ll need to clean that up. But, he’s an important defender who brings smarts, activity, screening, and some penetration ability offensively. He’s a better fit for this series than Rondo and the minutes of both players need to reflect that.
Lastly, the Lakers need to win the non-Harden minutes decisively. In game 1, Harden had a plus/minus of 0 while Westbrook was a +15. Considering Harden and Russ share the floor to start each half and then stagger during the middle portions of the game, this tells me those Rockets units led by Russ were way too effective. That needs to be different this game. The Lakers need to be better defensively during these stints and that either means those guys who got minutes in game 1 need to play with more energy and just plain better or different personnel decisions need to be made by Vogel.
As we’ve seen in the Toronto/Boston series, going down 0-2 isn’t the end of a series by any means. But the Lakers very much need to establish themselves in this series with some force to rebalance the scales of both team’s confidence. Right now, Houston surely thinks they’re the better team. I’d very much like the Lakers to take that belief away from them with a strong showing today.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on ABC.