Los Angeles Lakers: Frank Vogel’s defensive genius at it again

Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Game 4 of the Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets Conference Semifinals featured another tactical exploit by Frank Vogel’s imaginative mind.

The head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Frank Vogel, does not want to give the Houston Rockets any reference point to study and be able to set their game plan to. He keeps adapting his strategy on the defensive end.

We already took a deep look at his arrangements following Game 1 loss, but after two convincing wins, he decided to shuffle cards and look for an even more effective approach.

This time around he opted to start Markieff Morris and move Anthony Davis to the center in order to counter Houston’s small-ball lineup. But as LeBron James‘ pointed out, it is not a “small” lineup. At least not as we mean it today. They still have Anthony Davis standing at 6’10”. LeBron himself and Morris at 6’8″. This adds more to their versatility on the floor.

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Even more surprising and brilliant, Vogel opted to put Anthony Davis on Russell Westbrook, the only non-shooter for D’Antoni, allowing his big man to remain closer to the area and anchor the defense while containing Westbrook’s penetrations.

At this point, we are not surprised to acknowledge that Frank’s idea worked. Russell scored just 25 points in over 40 minutes on the floor, shooting 3-for-8 from three, irrelevant as a playmaker, and finishing with another bad -10 plus/minus.

No more zone in transition defense, the Lakers returned to trapping Harden with double teams from the beginning, holding him to 21 points on 1-for-6 from three. They also trapped the other dangerous player who could give Houston a spark when Harden was on the bench, Eric Gordon.

This approach, combined with Dion Waiters‘ groin injury, made Vogel dig deeper in the rotations, putting even rookie Talen Horton-Tucker on the floor, who, by the way, had a very good game scoring also five in points in seven minutes.

But not all the credit goes to Vogel. LA had terrific intensity, bringing their defensive rotation to another level. They did not just react, but anticipated ball movement, especially in the first quarter, when they were fresh, resulting in nine steals for the game.

The Rockets looked dead. They were a demoralized team without any drive. With their weaknesses exposed by the Lakers, they realized they are not the unstoppable force they thought to be, losing all the self-confidence that had led them there with the best offense and defense of the league.

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One step away from the Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers must close the deal fast. We will see what new plan Frank Vogel will come to Game 5 with in order to make sure the Rockets find themselves once more without an effective answer and do not experience a late resurgence.