Lakers head coach Frank Vogel admitted on Saturday that he was considering moving Dwight Howard into the Lakers’ starting lineup for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, but he will instead stick with the unit he’s used for most of the NBA playoffs: JaVale McGee will remain the starter for at least one more game.
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports broke the news.
Los Angeles Lakers intend to keep JaVale McGee in starting lineup for Game 2 of the WCF against the Denver Nuggets, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) September 20, 2020
Vogel’s decision to consider starting Howard came after the veteran’s awe-inspiring performance against the Denver Nuggets in Game 1. In 16:26 on Friday, Howard recored 13 points on 4-5 shooting from the field to go along with 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. That’s not a bad night for Howard, but to see his real value in Game 1, you have to go beyond the traditional box score.
According to NBA.com, the Lakers only allowed 78.8 points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor in Game 1, which was the highest defensive rating on the team. With Howard off the floor, the Lakers allowed 131.3 points per 100 possessions.
By contrast, the Lakers allowed 145.5 points per 100 possessions in the 11 minutes that McGee was on the floor and 106.5 points per 100 possessions with him off of it. When the point differential is that staggering, it’s not a coincidence, even if it's a small sample size.
McGee has been impactful for the Lakers against other teams this season, but he’s not a good matchup with Nikola Jokic, who makes a living by bullying opposing centers in the post. Howard might not be the brick wall that he was in his prime, but he’s still really strong and has the defensive chops to keep Jokic honest. That would have been the argument for starting him, and it’s why it’s possible the Lakers will still do that moving forward. Instead, Vogel will keep that card up his sleeve for at least one more game.