Early in the fourth quarter, when Houston was starting to pull away from the L.A. Lakers, there was a possession where LeBron James got the ball out top, drove into a crowded paint — four Rockets and two Lakers — then, in frustration, gestured and yelled to his teammates “there’s no spacing.”
The Lakers offense was gummed much of Game 1 against the Rockets, the lane felt clogged, Anthony Davis and others could not post up (harder to do against the Rockets defenders than many realize), and the Lakers 28.9% shooting from three did not make Houston pay for collapsing. LeBron is right, the Lakers need more spacing.
Just don’t assume playing Anthony Davis more at center is the easy answer.
Fans and media jumped on the idea that the Lakers were simply better — and better suited for this series — with more Davis at the five and less JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. Anyone who has watched the Lakers closely all season will tell you AD at the five has not been a simple answer all season — and it is not now.
While the Lakers had good lineups with Davis at the five, overall they were not better. That carried over to Game 1. Here are some stats, via the fantastic John Schuhmann of NBA.com.
LeBron was on the court with Davis at the five for 15.7 minutes in Game 1, the Lakers were -10 in those minutes.
• This is not a new trend. During the regular season, Davis played the five for 40% of his minutes and the Lakers offense was worse but the defense was better.
• Again via Schuhmann, the Lakers shot 37.6% from three with Davis at the four, and 30.7% when he was at center this season. That may be random statistical noise, but it’s lasted all season and into the playoffs.
Frank Vogel and his all-star lineup of assistants need to figure out what was execution problems in Game 1 — 17 turnovers, 13 live ball, leading to 27 Rockets’ points — and what are matchup issues that need adjustment. Far less Rajon Rondo would be an excellent place to start (Vogel leaning heavily on him and having LeBron off-ball more for Game 1 was a massive blunder).
Everything is connected. Having Davis at center will not matter if Laker perimeter defenders are playing matador as James Harden and Russell Westbrook drive into the lane (and there was a lot of that in Game 1). The Lakers cannot send Harden to the line 11 times in the first half alone, as they did in Game 1.
None of this will matter if the Lakers also don’t knock down their threes. The Lakers are an outstanding transition team, but the Rockets got defenders back and formed a wall in front of LeBron (or whoever was the ball handler) and that left kick-outs for wide-open threes. That the Lakers missed. The Lakers are not a great shooting team, but they can’t be shooting under 30% from three and win this series. The Lakers cannot just trade twos for threes and win.
Davis at center can be a good thing for the Lakers, but it doesn’t solve their shooting problem (as noted above, they were worse from three with him at the five) and it doesn’t get their perimeter defenders moving their feet. That is just execution.
The Lakers lacked execution and lost Game 1 to the Trail Blazers, then bounced back and looked as good as anyone in the bubble the next few games. It was a team turnaround. It has to be again for the Lakers to bounce back.
Just moving Anthony Davis to center is no silver bullet.