Three Things to Know 20200908

Lakers vs. Rockets, Game 3: Three Things to Know (9/8/20)

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers bounced back from a Game 1 loss by beating Houston 117-109 in Game 2 thanks to a decisive fourth quarter in which the Rockets managed only 18 points to L.A.’s 27. Below is a look ahead at the three things you need to know before Tuesday’s Game 3.

WHAT HAVE LAL FIGURED OUT ON DEFENSE?
After the Lakers gave up 63 first half points to the Rockets in Game 1, they held them to 22 points in the third quarter, and 27 in the fourth. In Game 2, L.A.’s defense held James Harden and Co. to 20 points in the first quarter, and 31 in the second towards a 67-51 lead.

“I really loved the energy of our defense,” said coach Frank Vogel after Monday’s practice when asked about Game 2. “The guys really bought into what our plan was, and the way we mixed our pitches.”

‘Mixing pitches’ has been Vogel’s way of describing the different looks the Lakers give Houston on defense, from zone looks, to man-to-man groups that stay home, to man-to-man groups that trap, and so on and so forth.

But then came the third quarter, in which Houston exploded for 41 points, before L.A. re-doubled their focus and limited the Rockets to their lowest scoring quarter of the series with just 18 points.

“We came out in the third quarter and we gave up back-to-back-to-back threes off straight breakdowns,” added LeBron, describing plays in which the Lakers twice left Eric Gordon for two of his six triples. “Once you allow a team like that to get going, it’s hard to reel them back in. We had an opportunity to catch our breath, and we were able to turn the ship, make the adjustments and be positive in the fourth.”

The attention to detail did indeed change in the fourth, and LeBron’s bursts to the rim on the other end didn’t hurt either, as he dunked twice in the first two minutes to change the momentum of the game and lead L.A. to a win.

PACE OF THE GAME
The sample size for the playoffs is too small to take much out of from an analytics perspective with regards to pace, especially because it depends upon one’s first round opponent. As such, LAL currently being 7th, and Houston 10th, in pace among playoff teams doesn’t say a ton. But we do know from watching the games and listening to the players that both the Lakers and Rockets have an extra gear they kick into in transition.

“Gotta be in shape,” said Davis. “We’re running, they’re running. We know how we gotta play, with a high motor and a high pace, and that’s fun basketball. When you’re getting up and down and you have to get stops towards the end and make big plays.”

One of the biggest advantages the Lakers have is their ability to still be long while they’re fast, thanks in large part to both Davis and LeBron. The two stars can protect L.A.’s rim – LeBron has had a number of emphatic swats of Russell Westbrook in the first two games – and then burst into transition in the other direction. The Rockets don’t really have an answer for that two-way play, though Westbrook is terrific at pushing the pace when Houston gets a stop and kicks it his way.

Fastbreak points were a major factor in Game 2, with LAL running out to 20 points to Houston’s six, on 12 opportunities (eight made field goals) to just three for the Rockets. The Lakers won that category in Game 1 as well, outscoring Houston 18-9, so even though LeBron spoke about HOU’s team speed, clearly they have some of their own.

THREE-POINT DIFFERENTIAL
While the Lakers have outscored the Rockets in transition and in the paint (54-26 in Game 2), Houston has the expected edge from three, hitting a ridiculous-for-most-teams 22 of their 53 attempts (41.5 percent) in Game 2, including six makes from Eric Gordon, four apiece from James Harden, Robert Covington and PJ Tucker, and three from Danuel House. The Lakers countered with a respectable 12 makes in 27 attempts (44.4 percent) thanks in large part to Markieff Morris scorching his way to 4 of 4 triples in the 1st Q.

The difference in Game 1 was less pronounced, with Houston making 14 and LAL 11, the Rockets attempting only one more (39 to 38).

Expect the attempts to mirror Game 2 more closely than Game 1. That’s how the Rockets play. Where L.A. want and need to improve is the number of makes allowed. There’s a good chance that they will get better there, because many of the Game 2 Rockets made threes were way too open, and L.A. can adjust its coverages to make sure that it’s not continuing to leave the wrong players open.

As covered earlier, L.A. left Gordon twice on the 3-point line to start the 3rd Q, choosing instead to double team off him towards Harden or Westbrook. That’s an easy adjustment that can be made for Game 3. They also continued to leave Tucker open in the corner, from where he hit more 3’s than any other NBA player, another thing the can clean up. If Harden hits a step-back three over contested defense, it’s one thing; the Lakers don’t need to be conceding wide-open looks to good players.

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