How the Los Angeles Lakers can exploit the Rockets’ tendencies

Los Angeles Lakers(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

The second-round matchup is set: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets.

It’s no secret that the Houston Rockets play a strange, divisive brand of basketball. Some laud their ingenuity while many others condemn their wholesale upending of established NBA conventions. But love them or hate them, one fact remains clear: the Rockets — through a dogged insistence on their idiosyncratic tendencies — present a unique challenge for any team, yes, including the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tendency Number One: Houston’s small-ball style

For most every NBA team, a simple glance at the roster’s measurements reveals very little of the team’s playstyle, but for Houston, a perusal of the players’ respective heights is extraordinarily telling. Only one player, the seldom-used Tyson Chandler, is over 6’9”, and the 6’7” Robert Covington is the tallest of the squad’s regulars.

Contrast this lineup construction with that of the Lakers, and the differences are incredibly stark. With JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, and Markieff Morris, Los Angeles plays six players taller than either of Houston’s “centers.”

What does this height disparity mean? Well, let’s just say that Davis and James should live at the rim.

Contrary to popular sentiment, the Rockets rank as one of the best defensive teams in the playoffs. According to, Houston’s defense surrenders just 104.3 points per game, ranking the unit 3rd among postseason participants.

But, as suggested by the team’s collective height (or lack thereof), this defensive proficiency results more from energetic, handsy perimeter play than from anything resembling stalwart rim protection.

In evidence of this fact, Houston ranks 2nd in deflections among playoff teams and just 15th among “Bubble” teams in defensive field goal percentage in the 8 seeding games preceding the postseason. To be fair, that latter number improved drastically in the Thunder series, but much of that improvement can be attributed to Oklahoma City’s dearth of interior offensive forces.

Against a team such as the Lakers, Houston’s small-ball approach should be exploited each and every possession.

No single defender, not Covington nor P.J. Tucker, can check James or Davis one-on-one. The Lakers’ star duo demands instant help rotations from the weak side. But the Rockets, due to their makeup, are perhaps the team least equipped to offer such support.

Once James inevitably gets his shoulders past the first man and rumbles downhill, who will be there to meet him at the rim? James Harden? Russell Westbrook? Danuel House? Tucker?

None of those players could possibly hope to offer a reasonable shot contest. At best, they could foul to prevent the layup. At worst, the Lakers’ All-Stars will be dunking the ball all series long.