For the second time since the NBA playoffs began, the Los Angeles Lakers are benching JaVale McGee to make a change in their starting lineup. Against the Houston Rockets, they replaced him with Markieff Morris to go small. Against the Denver Nuggets, however, they’re going more physical, inserting Dwight Howard in place of McGee.
Mike Trudell of Lakers.com was first on the news:
Dwight Howard will start at center tonight, joining LeBron, AD, KCP and Green for Game 4.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 25, 2020
Vogel first considered starting Howard prior to Game 2, but ultimately opted to hold off on making the move until now. It’s also worth noting that this was likely an easier move to make from a locker-room perspective coming off of a loss than it would be coming off of a victory.
This will be Howard’s third start of the season (by far a career low), and his first playoff start for the Lakers since his first stint with the team in 2013.
And as I noted in my game preview, Howard has been really effective against the Nuggets — particularly Nikola Jokic — so matching up their minutes as much as possible makes a lot of sense:
Matchup data from NBA.com isn’t perfect, and does have noise over a three-game sample size. But with those caveats noted, in 19 partial possessions against McGee, Jokic has shot 5-11, turned the ball over once, and the Nuggets have scored 24 total points. That’s fine, but it’s not as well as the Lakers have fared with Howard on him.
In 35.5 partial possessions while facing Howard, Jokic has shot 3-7 from the field and turned the ball over five times while the Nuggets have scored 26 points as a team. That’s essentially the same amount of total points in nearly 20 more possessions, which is pretty great considering that Jokic is averaging 24.3 points on 54.2% shooting in general.
Vogel has admitted, however, that Howard getting himself in foul trouble has been an issue, so we’ll see if that gets exacerbated by this start. Still, this looks like a smart move on its face, and is definitely worth at least giving a one-game shot.