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Lakers go big again, start JaVale McGee against Nuggets

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The Lakers have finally revealed their starting lineup for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets.

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Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

After starting Markieff Morris over JaVale McGee to shift Anthony Davis to playing center full time in the second round to deal with the threat of the Houston Rockets’ micro-ball lineups, the Los Angeles Lakers have opted to go big again to start the Western Conference Finals, head coach Frank Vogel announced before Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets on Friday.

McGee has reclaimed his spot in the starting lineup, with Morris going back to the bench.

The Lakers’ original starting lineup has actually fared well in the playoffs, a credit to Vogel being willing to go away from it so quickly for something that worked better — and also a numerical reason that doing so was a gutsy call to make at the time. The unit featuring McGee, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has played the most minutes of any five-man unit the team has used (89), and has outscored opponents at a rate that would equal 21.5 points per 100 possessions.

The Lakers’ smaller unit with Morris in place of McGee ended up being even better against Houston, though. That group has played 30 minutes together (the second-most of any five-man unit), and while that’s an exceedingly small sample size, they destroyed the Rockets, outscoring lineups they played against at a rate that would equal 54.9 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. While that level of dominance is probably not sustainable over a larger diet of minutes, it is a testament to how good the decision to use them against the Rockets was.

The Lakers going back to their original, bigger unit makes some sense for this series, because Denver plays more traditional lineups than the Rockets did, and doing so saves Davis from potentially getting in foul trouble by guarding Jokic all game, and also forces the Nuggets star to deal with two or three very different, physical and athletic centers for however many minutes he plays every night. Trying to fatigue him by committee after two long, seven-game series may be the smart call here.

Vogel also revealed pregame that he has plans to use both of his centers — McGee and Dwight Howard — over the course of this series, in addition to playing some small-ball groupings.

“I do intend to play both of them and utilize our size,” Vogel said. “(The Nuggets are) a little bit unique from a standpoint of Jokic doesn’t play offensively like a seven footer. He’s at the 3-point line a ton, so we’ll have a mix of both big lineups and lineups with Anthony at the five. And maybe even Markieff Morris at the five.”

He’s not committed to any one way of playing just yet, though.

“We’ll throw a lot of different looks at Nikola, and just measure how we’re having success with all those lineups throughout the series,” Vogel said.

We’ll see how this first look works when the Lakers and Nuggets tip off at 6:00 p.m. PT, with Game 1 (and the entire series) being televised on TNT.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.