Welcome to our new post series: "So...how did the Lakers manage to win last night?" For every Lakers win this season—and admittedly, there may not be as many as we're quite used to around these parts—we'll examine just how the undermanned Lake Show managed to add to their lonely win column for the 2014-2015 season. Here we go!
Let's give credit for last night's win to an unlikely hero - Wes Johnson. With the Rockets forced into some unusually small lineups in the absence of Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard (we're talking a frontcourt of Tarik Black and Kostas Papanikolaou), the Lakers were free to use Johnson - arguably their best wing defender - on James Harden and not suffer defensively in the fourth quarter, even with Nick Young nominally playing power forward. Harden wasn't able to control the game as effectively with Johnson draped all over him, only making two baskets and assisting on one other in the fourth, in addition to giving the ball up four times. Johnson also made the play of the game when he stripped the ball from Harden at the Houston 3-point line with just under a minute remaining, and went coast-to-coast for the fast-break lay-up and-one, putting the Lakers up 94-92. Admittedly, Kobe Bryant and Young had excellent showings on offense, but L.A. won the game because the Rockets only scored 17 points in the final period, in large part because Johnson helped bottle up the one guy who always gives the Lakers trouble.
The Lakers won their last two games because a blinding flash of Swag ascended from the heavens and formed into Nick Young. The Swaggy (MV)P has surprisingly (over 2 games) made a larger impact statistically, with the Lakers posting a sterling and entirely unsustainable DefRtg of 93 over the minutes that Young has played. That is not to credit this outlier entirely to anything Young is doing, but that figure does demonstrate how poorly the Lakers' last two opponents have shot against them, with both below 50% from the floor.
The (literal) biggest reason the Lakers won last night against the Rockets was the absence of beloved former Laker Dwight Howard, who missed the game with a sore knee. This lowered the amount of easy shots that Houston was able to generate, and is partially responsible for the Rockets shooting 40.5% from the field, as his replacement Tarik Black went 2-6 from the floor with only 2 free throws, well below the amount of freebies that Howard can normally create for his squad by getting the other team in the penalty early. But one has to give the Lakers some credit for going out and winning the game. In a close game in the 4th quarter, the Lakers were able to make more plays down the stretch while also taking advantage of some of Houston's mental lapses.
Long live the Swaggy P era.
It's nice and all for everyone to be attaching a lot of importance to Nick Young's return, particularly how he makes watching an otherwise miserable team far, far more enjoyable, but Houston without Dwight Howard simply isn't a good team. Without Omer Asik, their frontcourt depth is super limited, hence the reason that Tarik Black, an undrafted free agent and generally a rather unheralded prospect, was starting. As a result, Houston not only had practically no inside game -- something that the Lakers, to their credit, gradually adjusted to and began staying on the Rockets' perimeter shooters -- their rim protection was similarly nonexistent, opening up an entire dimension of offense to the Lakers that otherwise would not have been available. Once any Laker managed to beat their initial defender, they usually had a clear path towards the rim, and needless to say, Howard's presence completely shuts this down.
I've seen quite a bit of talk that the Lakers are turning things around, but it is important to note the quality of the teams that they've faced. Atlanta simply isn't a good team, going into the Lakers game ranked 16th and 22nd in offensive and defensive efficiency respectively, and as noted above, Houston without Howard is probably a lottery squad. For you tanking enthusiasts, worry not: more than enough losses are forthcoming to satisfy your needs.
Only days after the SS&R staff adjusted our Lakers expectations to "darkest timeline" setting, the Lakers pulled together their first back-to-back wins of the season. While the first one came against a decidedly mediocre Atlanta squad, last night's victory saw the Lakers take out the star-driven Houston Rockets. How did it go down? It was a tale of two halves.
In the first half, the Lakers relied on their veteran star power, with Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer setting the tone with efficient scoring outbursts to keep the game close, Both guys cooled down dramatically in the second half, where Kobe continued to shoot, but also set up his teammates for easy buckets and registered a season high 7 assists. Despite a flurry of Houston threes (15 on the night) and transition buckets, the Lakers stayed in the game as a team, grinding out possessions and winning the battle on the boards. It was obvious that Houston missed Dwight on both ends, but you have to give this one to the Lakers because of their execution down the stretch. Despite several Houston bursts, the Lakers stayed within striking distance and ended the game on a 7-1 run of their own. The last two minutes saw Wesley Johnson save the day with a huge steal and several Lakers coolly sinking clutch free throws.