Houston, we have a problem! Can the Los Angeles Lakers solve it?

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets present a potential problem to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Game 1, the Houston Rockets outworked the listless Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers tried much harder with a bounce-back Game 2 victory. But is Houston just a bad matchup for them? Can they do anything to stop Houston’s offense? 

In the immortal words of Lake Show Life regular Corky Carroll, try harder. Corky’s insight summed up what the Los Angeles Lakers needed to do in Game 2 to beat Houston.

If the Lakers did not play harder, nothing I say matters. Many predictions on this website said the Lakers would win this series. I echoed these sentiments quietly.

Effort was assumed. Understandably so.

The Lakers earned the benefit of the doubt. They played very hard and smart in the opening series against the Portland Trailblazers.

The Lakers’ defense is what won the series in such dominating fashion. Damian Lillard was simply not allowed to beat them. Dame entered the series in the same stratosphere as MJ and Kobe, and exited the series (and the bubble) prematurely due to a knee injury.

Their effort against the Portland Trailblazers was fantastic. Dame was unable to replicate his amazing shooting performances due to the Lakers’ tremendous on-ball defense.

On the other end, the Lakers’ offense utterly dominated Portland’s anemic defense. Portland’s wounded front line stood no chance against LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Lakers tried harder. See below.

The Lakers can easily dominate Houston on offense. They just need to continue to push the pace and engineer ways to pound the ball inside and aggressively crash the offensive glass.

Great shooting from the bench is an added bonus! Markeiff Morris earned himself a starting spot with his outstanding performance. Rajon Rondo was Playoff Rondo once again. Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma stepped up big time!

Offense is not the problem; defense is.

Contrast the effort against Portland with Game 1. The Houston Rockets were almost mad they only shot 38 threes. Probably because they were this wide open all night long.

Eric Gordon looked like he was playing pop-a-shot over at the local Chuck-E-Cheeses.

Try harder, Lakers’ defense. They did in Game 2.

It almost still did not matter. Houston shot 22-53 from three-point range, about 41.5% (44.9% overall). The effort to close out on shooters was there. Houston’s offense was just better.


The Lakers shot 56.6% from the field. Had Markeiff Morris gone 1-5 from three-point range (as opposed to 4-5), the Lakers would be down 2-0.

What a cataclysmic turn of events!

Assuming they do, there is still a problem: can the Lakers’ defense stop Houston’s offense?

Short answer: yes, but they have to concede a lot of three-pointers. No individual defender can effectively guard either James Harden or Russell Westbrook.

Help defenders cannot both cut off Harden and Westbrook’s drives to the basket while simultaneously closing out on shooters in the corner. Westbrook has been struggling mightily in this playoffs. The Lakers need to assume he will eventually have a monster night.

Even if the Los Angeles Lakers’ defense tries hard, I am not so sure this can be stopped.

Or this.


Houston’s offense is a terrible matchup for the Los Angeles  Lakers’ defense. The Lakers’ strengths, rim protection and help defense, are minimized. Their weaknesses, on-ball and transition defense, are magnified.

No one on the Lakers (or really anyone) stands a chance guarding James Harden 1 on 1. The Lakers’ coaching staff wisely focused on stopping Harden first in Game 2. Wise decision. Sure, Harden had 27 points and 7 assists… but it is better he has a 30 & 10 type night as opposed to scoring 50 points.

Another point: Houston only shoots so many threes because defenses collapse on James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Houston’s offensive ecosystem is designed around Harden and Westbrook beating their man off the dribble. Houston’s historic three-point shooting barrage is merely an ancillary effect.

So attack Houston’s offense at its source! Get the ball out of Harden’s hands quickly!

Like this.

This is what the Los Angeles Lakers need to do defensively. Help defense is far more helpful in this series when cutting off drives as opposed to staying home on three-point shooters. Game 2 has already proven that the Lakers can withstand Houston’s three-point shooting barrage and still win the game.

Again, try harder.

The Lakers did not always do this in Game 2. Case in point: letting PJ Tucker dominate the offensive glass. Tucker just wanted it more than anyone else on the court.


Or failing to stop Eric Gordon’s coast-to-coast drive to the basket.


Failing to stop the ball and giving up offensive rebounds are two major red flags defensively, especially for the Lakers. The Lakers are already dead last in fast-break points allowed. They cannot afford to give up any offensive rebounds.

If the Los Angeles Lakers will lose this series, it will be because they get beat in the margins: poor defensive rebounding, transition defense, and fouling on shooters… each component has – and will – decide key playoff games.

Houston, we have a problem. How can the Lakers’ defense solve the problem?

It starts by trying harder. It continues with taking the ball out of Harden’s hands. It ends by winning the mini-games within a game.

Next. Surprise, surprise, playoff Rondo has arrived. dark

On to Game 3!