No matter how low one is on the Lakers after a disappointing Game 1 of their series against the Houston Rockets to start the second round of the NBA playoffs, it’s hard not to think they at the very least can play better moving forward.
The Lakers shot 28.9% from three in their series-opening loss, and even as disappointing as they’ve been as shooters at times this year, they’ll likely manage to at least shoot closer to league average from distance at some point. They also played Rajon Rondo 25 minutes because Alex Caruso was in foul trouble, something that weakened their defense and led to several more turnovers and missed shots. The Lakers also tied with the Rockets in rebounds and got outscored in the paint despite playing a far bigger lineup across the board.
Will all of that happen again in Game 2? It could, but probably not, and with a few other adjustments — like the Lakers getting Anthony Davis the ball on the move and in the air more as a vertical threat offensively, just to name one — the second game of this series could be a different story than the first.
But with that said, the Rockets also didn’t play the best game they were capable of, something their head coach, Mike D’Antoni, discussed with Sam Amick of The Athletic:
“Oh we can replicate what we did (in Game 1),” D’Antoni said. “I don’t doubt that. I don’t know if they’ll let us replicate it, but (James’ comment) is a nice compliment. (But) we didn’t play very fast last night, to be honest with you. Defensively, we did. We were flying around. But offensively, we can up our speed a lot more. And we’ll need to do that. You know, again, take the compliment. It’s great. But he’ll be coming at us like a freight train tomorrow and we’ve got to be ready to roll.”
D’Antoni’s comments were made in response to James comparing the Rockets to the old “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams teams of the NFL, and how the Lakers had talked about how fast they were both in pace and with their hands, gumming up passing lanes, but it was a different thing to actually play against it.
The thing is, though, D’Antoni has a point. While the Rockets were complete pests on defense, they only played at a pace of 98 possessions on Friday, which is lower than their playoff average (100.32 per game) and regular season norms (104.4). That may not seem like a lot, but it’s the difference between the second-fastest team in the league (which they were in the regular season) and the fourth-slowest. It gives them more opportunities to get easy threes, and for back-breaking momentum swings.
The Rockets also only shot 35.9% from three. That’s a little higher than their regular season average (34.5%) and exactly the same as their playoff average, but it’s not like they exploded for 40-plus percent shooting to blow the Lakers off the floor and stretch their defense beyond all recognition. This was the definition of a mediocre shooting night for them, especially when considering the Lakers held them to 12 less attempts from distance than they were averaging heading into this series.
So yes, it’s true that the Lakers didn’t play their best game in the first matchup between these two teams, especially offensively. They’ll probably be better on that end in Game 2. But their defense was actually pretty decent in Game 1, albeit not perfect, or as good as they’re capable of being. They’ll just need to make sure that any offensive improvement doesn’t come at the expense of energy on the other end, because if they let the Rockets really get going, things could get ugly quick.