Controlling pace will be critical
The Lakers did not lose often this season, but when they did, the game slowed down. The average pace of all the Lakers’ pre-restart losses was 98.3 possessions a game. That is a drop of 2.6 possessions from the pace the Lakers averaged for the season.
While this may seem a small difference, the results were quite large. In these games, the Lakers’ average margin of defeat was 11.5 points. Their opponents did not shoot the lights out either, as they, on average, saw their effective field-goal percentage drop by 1.94 percent. The slower the pace, the fewer possessions for LeBron and Davis.
So the Rockets, known for pushing the pace, will need to pump the brakes and play at a more deliberate pace. Sometimes it is forgotten, but the best defense is offense. Your opponent can’t score when you have the ball. The Rockets, like a mid-90s football team, need to be hell-bent on controlling the pace and winning the time of possession battle.
One reason a slower pace hurts the Lakers so much is because of how much their offense relies on transition for points. The Lakers were the third most efficient scoring team and scored the sixth-most points a game in transition. The driving forces behind their transition dominance were their defense and LeBron James.
The first part is easy. If the Rockets get back after misses and protect the rock, they will limit the number of defensively created transition opportunities. However, stopping LeBron, long one of the NBA’s most dangerous transition players, is an entirely different task.
When LeBron wants to barrel up the court in transition, there is not much that can stop him, but that does not mean he is flawless. LeBron’s Achilles heel in transition is he is apt to turn the ball over.
For players that averaged over three transition opportunities a game, LeBron led the league in turnover-percentage with a 22.2 percent mark. When LeBron comes storming up the court, the Rockets will need to, as Stan Van Gundy politely put it, “form a f***ing wall,” and dare him to pass or risk an offensive foul.
LeBron will surely get the best of the Rockets on some of these plays, but if the Rockets can steal one or two transition possessions a game, one of the Lakers’ greatest offensive strengths will become much more ordinary.
Next: The Rebounding Battle