The Lakers’ NBA title proved that the Houston Rockets need much more than a superstar duo to get where they need to be as a team.
The Los Angeles Lakers wrapped up their series with the Miami Heat Sunday evening to claim their 17th overall NBA title and third since 2009. On their way to the championship, they handled the Houston Rockets with relative ease, only needing five games to knock them out despite dropping Game 1.
So what made the Lakers so dominant on the NBA campus? Well, having the best player in the world didn’t hurt. In fact, when you can reasonably debate which guy on their team I’m talking about, you know the Lakers were in good hands.
The Houston Rockets’ superstar duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook didn’t have the storybook ending they were hoping for this postseason. I can sit here thinking of things that went against the Rockets that caused them to fall short. Things like the untimely injury to Westbrook or Danuel House’s reckless behavior come to mind.
But the reality of the matter is these Houston Rockets weren’t going to win an NBA championship. Are Harden and Westbrook capable of leading a team to an NBA title? It’s possible. It won’t happen without drastic changes to how the team approaches the game, however.
The Biggest change the Houston Rockets must make
The run the Los Angeles Lakers had to win the NBA title made one thing perfectly clear: you have to be adaptable to succeed in the playoffs. In their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers started JaVale McGee in every game, playing him and Dwight Howard for a combined average of 16.1 minutes per game.
The strategy of playing big paid off for the Lakers, who outrebounded Portland by 5.6 rebounds per game in their gentlemen’s sweep of the Blazers. In the second round against the Rockets, it quickly became apparent that having too much size on the court was detrimental to the Lakers’ defense.
Los Angeles didn’t have the lateral quickness to keep up with Harden or Westbrook, and P.J. Tucker’s interior defense wasn’t allowing them to punish Houston as they expected to on the offensive end. As a result, the Lakers inserted Markieff Morris into the starting lineup for Games 4 and 5. They also limited the minutes of Howard and McGee to a combined average of just 7.8 minutes.
When you look at the Rockets’ makeup, it’s hard to see them being able to adapt their style of play as the Lakers have done throughout the playoffs. Once Clint Capela was sent away for Robert Covington, options became limited. The Houston Rockets can only succeed in one way — by going small.
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The problem lies when other teams can beat you at your own game. Using a slightly bigger version of small ball with guys like Kyle Kuzma and Morris playing more minutes, the Lakers were able to keep up with Houston’s speed while also making them pay on the boards.
On the other hand, the Rockets were stuck trotting out the same lineups and facing the same results in four straight games after taking Game 1.
Frankly put, Houston is far too one-dimensional to make a deep run in the postseason. By being locked into a singular style of play, the amount of adjustments that can be made by the coaching staff is limited.
Still, Mike D’Antoni would have been wise to develop an alternative approach to the game during the regular season when micro ball wasn’t cutting it. That would have given him more options once an adjustment-heavy coach like Frank Vogel had his team figured out in a seven-game series.
Going forward, it’s clear that micro ball isn’t a sustainable postseason strategy on its own. Can it be used on occasion or against particular teams? Sure. But being so one-dimensional just won’t get it done.
With a new head coach, likely some new guys on the roster, and a year under their duo’s belt, the Rockets have a chance to make some changes next year that can help them succeed in the playoffs. If not, they’ll be back where they ended up again, wondering what went wrong.