The Houston Rockets’ Game 1 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers will force adjustments. Here’s how the Rockets can be prepared for the Lakers’ counters.
The Lakers of Game 2 won’t be the same team the Houston Rockets beat in Game 1. The Lakers know they need to make adjustments if they want to reassert themselves as championship favorites. The Rockets, in turn, will need to counter each adjustment the Lakers make.
The Lakers have watched the Bucks flop due to tactical stubbornness and won’t make the same mistake. These are the adjustments the Rockets will need to be prepared for from the Lakers and how to counter them.
It took one game for the Lakers to realize what the entire NBA already knows: you can’t play a traditional center against the Rockets. Javale McGee and Dwight Howard only played 23:48 minutes in Game 1, and that number is likely to shrink with each passing game. McGee and Howard falling out of the rotation will cause Anthony Davis to become the Lakers de-facto center.
The Rockets need to be prepared for what Davis has to offer on the low block as an All-NBA big man. The Rockets did an admirable job slowing Davis down in Game 1, but they’ll need a little help from their friends if the Rockets want to prevent Davis from averaging 40 points a game.
When a traditional center is on the court, Davis gets the ball outside of the paint and looks to take his man one on one to the rack. The Rockets’ guards were able to hold their position consistently, but due to the massive height difference, Davis was easily able to shoot over them. Forcing Davis to settle for jumpers is only great if he is missing them.
While Houston was able to make life challenging for Davis, they hardly shut him down. Davis posted a ridiculously efficient 25 points on 62.5 percent shooting. Without a true center on the court, Davis will get more opportunities to get post positioning and set up shop in the paint.
The Rockets will need to collapse on Davis whenever he gets the ball down low and force him to either pass out of a double team or play the game of his life. The Rockets don’t have a natural answer for Davis, but they need to make life difficult for him, so he thinks twice before setting up shop in the post.
New Lakers Starting lineup?
If Davis moves to a full-time center for the Lakers, then that opens up a spot in the Lakers’ starting lineup. Who the Lakers decide to play will show where their priorities lie in Game 2. If the Lakers decide to move Kyle Kuzma into the starting lineup, the Lakers are looking to focus on reigniting their offense.
Kuzma has not been the third option that the Lakers had hoped he’d be, but his height and ability to score will make him a tough matchup for the Rockets, who won’t be able to put P.J. Tucker or Robert Covington on him.
The scariest part of Kuzma’s game is how lethal he is from the corners. During the regular season, Kuzma hit 54 percent of his corner threes. If he gets hot and channels his inner Tucker and roots himself in the corners, he could single-handedly change the series for the Lakers.
If the Lakers feel that their offense was fine in Game 1 outside of poor shooting performances and want to bolster their defense, they’ll likely look to bring Alex Caruso into the starting fold.
Alex Caruso is sneakily athletic, even if his hairline makes him look more like a middle school science teacher and less like an All-Defensive Team candidate. The Lakers will likely turn to Caruso to try and limit the Rockets’ potency on offense.
With the emergence of Eric Gordon in Game 1, the Rockets’ starting lineup will feature three guards who can get to any spot they want. Caruso is a tough defender but can also initiate the offense to spell LeBron James without having to remove him from the game. It’s more likely Caruso will get the starting nod if the Lakers drop McGee because of how limited their bench units’ offense would be without Kuzma.
Game 2 adjustments for the Houston Rockets
Will the real Westbrook please stand up?
Game 1 went about as well as the Rockets could have hoped for, but they still have another gear to find. Russell Westbrook still hasn’t found his footing since returning from a quad injury, and his shooting splits in Game 1 weren’t pretty.
He went 10-of-24 from the field, 1-of-5 from three, and 3-of-6 from the free-throw line. Westbrook was brought in to take the Rockets higher, but performances like that could sink the Rockets’ title aspirations.
Fortunately, the Rockets won Game 1, but they cannot wait forever for Westbrook to round into form. What was most concerning was that Westbrook’s struggles seemed to spill over into his effort and intensity.
One of the plays of the game, for the Lakers, was a LeBron chase-down block of Russell that then saw LeBron go coast to coast for an and-one. LeBron is one of the best in history at this, but Westbrook was far too slow to get back and essentially gave the Lakers a four on five.
That lack of focus and hustle is unacceptable in the playoffs and highlights another area the Rockets need to clean up.
The Rockets coughed up the ball 16 times in Game 1 but only allowed 12 points from those turnovers. The Lakers won’t be that inefficient at scoring off of turnovers throughout the series, however, if the Rockets limit their turnovers from now on, the Lakers cannot generate points from them.
The Rockets and Lakers have been one and two in points from turnovers in the playoffs at 20.9 points and 19.7 points per game. Game 1 saw the Rockets win that battle 27 to 12, but they only won the turnover battle 16 to 17. If the Rockets can protect the ball better, they’ll be able to mute one of the Lakers’ best sources of offense. If they don’t, they’re asking for serious trouble in Game 2.
The Rockets played great in Game 1, but they cannot rest on their laurels. The Lakers will make the necessary adjustments, and the Rockets need to be prepared. Their microball lineup played the Lakers’ centers off the court, which minimizes an advantage the Lakers thought they had.
However, even a downsized Lakers will have height and length on the Rockets. Game 2 will be more competitive, but if the Rockets can make the necessary adjustments, they have a great chance to go up 2-0 because when James Harden is cooking, there is nothing that can stop him.