LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Houston Rockets overwhelmed the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night with their speed in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series, so now it’s time to see if the Lakers will attempt to speed up and perhaps go to a small-ball lineup themselves.
Lakers big man JaVale McGee got the usual start at center, but only played 12 minutes in the Rockets’ dominant 112-97 victory. And backup center Dwight Howard registered only 11 minutes, meaning a true center accounted for playing less than half the game.
And that still might be too many center minutes in this series with the Rockets trotting out 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker as their five man. Lakers star Anthony Davis is not fond of playing center, but he wouldn’t be going up against a traditional big in this matchup.
Davis is willing to slide up from power forward in this series, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
“We’ll look at the tape and we’ll see what approach we’re going to have for Game 2 and we’ll go from there,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Friday night.
James Harden scored a game-high 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting, and Russell Westbrook added 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists for a box plus/minus of +15.
LeBron James, who went scoreless in the fourth quarter and finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, raved about how fast the small-ball Rockets played and called Game 1 a feeling-out contest.
“It’s like in the early 2000s, when the St. Louis Rams were The Greatest Show on Turf,” James said. “People would always say how they’d scout them, and scout them, and scout them. Until they got on the field, and they’d see Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk and Az Hakim, and all those guys. And they were like, ‘We need to play them again.’ Because there’s no way you can simulate that speed. Getting out on the floor and having a Game 1 will give you a good feel for it.”
The Rockets forced 17 turnovers, resulting in 27 points.
“We can’t turn the ball over against this team,” Anthony Davis said after a 25-point, 14-rebound night.
Davis said the Lakers have to use their size as an advantage and place more emphasis on attacking the offensive glass. The star forward only pulled down two boards on the offensive end.
Hitting the offensive glass could prove to be beneficial for the Lakers, but Harden doesn’t believe the Rockets can be easily moved.
“I don’t know why people keep saying we’re small,” he said. “I don’t care if you're 7-feet. If you don’t have heart, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have dog in you, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got guys that are able to switch and play different positions and guard different guys on the court. So it doesn’t matter how tall you are. If you have the heart and you’re a competitor, you’re going to be out there on the court.”
Danny Green continues to struggle with his shooting and finding a consistent rhythm . He shot 4-of-12 and 2-of-7 from 3-point range in Game 1. During a dead ball in the fourth quarter, Green attempted to get up some shots and Westbrook wasn’t having it.
“[I’m telling] them that we’re here,” Westbrook said of the message he was sending. “We’re not [giving] no extra shots. He can shoot those shots tomorrow before the game. At least me personally, my guys know that I don’t want to give no advantage, no nothing. Let him know that we’re here and every time he shoots the ball, we’re going to be right there.”
There wasn’t panic after the game among the Lakers, who are +310 to win it all at BetMGM. James and Davis were cool-tempered. They lost the first game of the Portland series in the opening round and then went on to win the next four. They’re confident that matters can be cleaned up.
With only a day in between games, they’ll have to hurry to find some solutions for Game 2.
“[One day off has] been very challenging, just like everything else has been challenging here,” James said. “And it is what it is. There's no excuses. Obviously the body takes a toll, but I get right to work right after the game. Win, lose or draw, I started my treatment already in the locker and when I get back to the hotel, I’ll do some more. I’ll be up pretty late tonight and hopefully I can get some rest tomorrow during the day after our session. But I just start to prepare for Game 2.”
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