LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers likely watched the Oklahoma City Thunder fail to pull off the upset in Round 1 of the 2020 NBA playoffs.
They fell short by just two points and Chris Paul got sent packing yet again as his window to win an NBA championship continues to get smaller. While the rest of the world was watching an entertaining series, the Lakers were watching to see who would be the next roadblock standing in their way of No. 17.
Not only were they watching to see who their opponent would be, but also what style of basketball they would have to play and defend. While the Thunder play a very traditional style of basketball, the Rockets have implemented a system that has not been tried by many — if any — teams ever before.
Back in February, the Rockets traded Clint Capela in exchange for Robert Covington and took the term ‘small ball’ to an entirely new level. Covington stands at 6’9″ but he is Houston’s tallest rotation player.
PJ Tucker, who is only 6’5″, starts at center for the Rockets on a nightly basis and yet this team has allowed the fourth-lowest field goal percentage to their opponents (43.0 percent) throughout the playoffs.
Now, part of that can be credited to the fact that they were matching up against the Thunder, who do not have the most skilled of big men in Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel. However, it is still an impressive feat considering Adams is a seven-footer and should have theoretically dominated the series.
Some might be wondering, how do the Rockets get away with this super small-ball lineup? Well, they force big men out into the perimeter on defense and take away the opposing team’s best shot blocker out of the paint. Then, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are able to isolate their defenders and take them to the basket at will.
Sure, Adams could have chosen to commit to the paint and sell out on contesting their layups but then Tucker is left wide open in the corner. On the offensive end, when teams decide to feed it to their big men, the Rockets quickly double team and force the ball out of the big’s hands, sometimes forcing a turnover and getting them in transition.
That is where the Lakers come in.
If there was any part about this series that Lakers fans should be worried about, it is that. The Lakers will undoubtedly try to assert their dominance in the paint and force Davis into post-ups, causing the Rockets to double Davis. Throughout the season, Davis has proved time and time again that his decision-making when being doubled is sub-par at best and he often commits reckless turnovers in the process.
However, even with Davis’ weakness of playmaking out of double-teams, the Lakers will still take this series home in six games.
Winning in six does mean the Rockets will take two games off the Lakers, and I am going to go ahead and attempt to predict which games right now.
Game 1: Rockets
Game 2: Lakers
Game 3: Lakers
Game 4: Lakers
Game 5: Rockets
Game 6: Lakers
Remember, Houston is coming off of a grueling seven-game series and has only had two days of rest. While some might think this gives the Lakers the advantage, it does not. The same exact thing happened with the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the first round and history will repeat itself here.
Throughout the playoffs, the Rockets actually allowed the fourth-least points in the paint to their opponents (36.0) and the Lakers scored the most points in the paint on their opponents (50.0). The Lakers will try to dominate in the paint early and often while the Rockets will hoist up as many triples as they can but in the end, the Lake Show will come out on top.
Sometimes series simply come down to who has the best players and in this scenario, the Lakers have the two best players in the entire series and looked dominant as they closed out the Portland series.
They are on a mission and the small-ball Rockets are just another stone they will have to turn over on their path to an NBA championship.