In the NBA playoffs, coaches are usually loathe to reveal very much, if anything, of their plans for a series. For an example of this, go no further than Lakers head coach Frank Vogel refusing to even admit who his starters would be for Game 1 against the Houston Rockets, or even if he’d considered changing them at all.
Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni, for better — and as Lakers fans know, sometimes worse — has always been a bit more candid with the media than most head coaches. He’s fairly open about his intentions, confident that even if his opponent knows what’s coming, it doesn’t mean they can stop it if his team does it right.
That’s why it’s not surprising that he was willing to admit something that was probably obvious after the Rockets played a seven-game series to finish the first round two days ago, and are heading into a second-round matchup that the Lakers have had nearly a week off to rest up for: He’s planning to play a few more players to counter the effects of any possible fatigue from his team.
Mike D’Antoni says the rotation will expand a bit against the Lakers, at least initially in the series.— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) September 3, 2020
Vogel has said in the past — and mostly lived up to so far in the playoffs — that his preference is to play 10 or 11 guys. D’Antoni, by contrast, has mostly played and 8-man rotation so far in the postseason. He played eight guys in the Rockets’ Game 7 win against the Thunder, and only played more than eight players in three of the seven games vs. Oklahoma City, mostly for spot minutes.
D’Antoni has always been a coach that prefers shorter rotations, so again, none of this is entirely shocking, but given the fatigue of a seven-game series, it’s also not a complete upset that he’s planning to expand things against the Lakers (at least to start) to offset some tired legs on Houston’s side.
As far as schematic adjustments, Houston didn’t necessarily give the whole book away at their final practice before facing the Lakers, but P.J. Tucker did reveal part of their plan to deal with LeBron James.
P.J. Tucker says Houston will have to show walls on LeBron at times, given the difficult task of guarding him 1-on-1 and in transition.— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) September 3, 2020
This is not some brand new defensive adjustment invented in 2020, but it has been en vogue to stop star wings in the second round. Most notably, it’s part of how the Miami Heat have managed to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo:
Miami’s defense on Giannis has been excellent pic.twitter.com/UNZ0nLaVBk— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) September 3, 2020
Given how much the Lakers like to get in transition, this might be something Houston has to go to in order to try and stop LeBron from getting to the rim at will on the break, but at the same time, it’s hardly guaranteed to work with how much the Lakers like to run, and how LeBron is arguably the best player at finding open shooters and picking apart help defense that the NBA has ever seen. That said, if the Lakers’ shooters are off, this is a much better strategy than just letting LeBron bowling ball his way to the bucket.
We’ll see what other tactics the Rockets will employ over the course of this series, because they surely didn’t give the whole game away before Game 1. Still, with as much as we focus on what the Lakers want to and will do at this site, sometimes it’s good to take a look at what other teams are saying, and how they plan to deal with the purple and gold, too.