Lakers: How to fix the regular-season issues with the Houston Rockets

Los Angles Lakers (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Los Angles Lakers (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

How can the Los Angeles Lakers be better against the Houston Rockets?

The Houston Rockets pulled off a thrilling 104-102 Game 7 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. Now, the Rockets will face LeBron James and a Los Angeles Lakers team that cruised to a first-round series victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

During the regular season, LA had a losing record against the Rockets, going 1-2. Today, we attempt to see what went wrong in both losses and what it means for the series.

The Lakers won the first game 124-115 in spite of the fact that Anthony Davis did not play in that game. However, LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma stepped up to lead the team in scoring.

James, in particular, had a strong game posting 31 points and 12 assists and the Lakers overall enjoyed an excellent shooting night hitting 48% from the field with an effective field-goal percentage of 54.3% (Houston shot 44%).

In the end, I won’t dwell too much on this game because a) Anthony Davis did not play, and b) this Rockets team looks much different right now than it did back then due to its roster makeover.

What about the Los Angeles Lakers’ losses?

Let’s focus on the losses now because this is where the problems begin. On February 6, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Rockets for the first time since the Clint Capela trade. Anthony Davis feasted on the size advantage that he has over this Houston team and went to work.

The Brow finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds while shooting a crisp 66.6% from the floor. LeBron had a nice game on the surface (18 points, 15 assists, and 9 rebounds), but he shot 8-19 from the field and finished the game with a true shooting percentage of 46.3% (Davis had a TS% of 69%).

Danny Green and Avery Bradley both contributed as well. The starting backcourt combo chipped in with 15 points apiece. Green was extremely efficient (He had a ridiculous TS% of 95.2%).

Offensively, despite LeBron’s struggles, Los Angeles was alright.  My main concern on this side of the ball is the fact that Houston has many wing defenders to throw at LeBron like PJ Tucker and Robert Covington. Still, I think that The King will be fine as he has never truly been shut down in a playoff series.

However, the real issues revolved around the Lakers’ defense. Westbrook torched them for 41 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. He was also really efficient, as he had a TS% of 65%.

In that February game, Houston made 19 three-pointers (LA made 9). If you can’t make threes at a consistent rate against the Rockets and you can’t stop them on the other side, Houston will burn you (seems pretty obvious but I think it should be pointed out).

In fact, in both of their wins against LA this season, Houston made 19 and 21 three-pointers respectively. Furthermore, since the Clint Capela trade the Rockets had a record of 3-7 on games in which they made 15 three-pointers or less.

If we change it up to games in which the Rockets made 15 three-pointers or more, that record improves to 10-5. Los Angeles was one of the 10 best teams defending the three-pointer allowing only 11.6 made threes per game.

The Lakers need to improve their own three-point shooting. The purple and gold averaged 11 three-pointers made per game during the regular season which put them in the bottom third of the league, ranking 23rd.

If LA can make at least 10 a game then they can still succeed. The Rockets know that Anthony Davis and LeBron James will attack the paint due to Houston’s lack of a traditional rim protector. In turn, the three-point shot will be open most of the time.

This is where Danny Green, KCP and the rest of the Lakers need to step up. In games in which the Lakers made 10 three-pointers or more, they had a record of 35-11. In games in which they made 10 or less, that record drops to 20-11 — which is still a good record and it indicates that the Lakers can beat you whether the three drops for them or not.

For context, the Rockets lost both games in which they made 10 threes or less (both games were in March). What I’m trying to say here is that the Lakers can beat the Rockets in a variety of ways. The Rockets don’ have that luxury as their success mostly depends on whether their threes go in or not.

dark. Next. Advantages the Lakers have over Houston

I think the Los Angeles Lakers win in 5. The Rockets didn’t look very good against OKC and the Lakers seem to have finally found their stride inside the bubble. This series will feature a very quirky matchup between an analytically built team vs a squad built around a more traditional playing style. The NBA Bubble playoffs have been exceptional, I don’t expect this series to be the exception.