Los Angeles Lakers: Frank Vogel’s defensive adjustments in the WCF

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

Frank Vogel keeps making changes in his defensive plan to give the Los Angeles Lakers the best chance to reach the NBA Finals.

As the Los Angeles Lakers entered the Western Conference Finals, they knew would not have been an easy series to plan strategically on the defensive end due to the Denver Nuggets’ duo composed of white-hot guard Jamal Murray and versatile center Nikola Jokic. Most of the expedients used in the previous series would not have been effective against the Nuggets.

The Lakers made fairly well thanks to their intensity and commitment in the first games, but inevitably, as the series goes on, adjustments would become necessary, with the opponents adapting and making adjustments on the run to find a way in their defense. So, Frank Vogel, in order to maintain control of the series, had to find cues and make his own adjustments.

After a reassuring 2-0 lead, on the verge of a blowout loss, down by 20 in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Vogel threw in a zone (rather improvised for the series) that allowed the Lakers to come back, getting to a possession of difference.

Although they eventually lost the game, it proved that, in desperate cases, such a defense could help eat some ground and cut a deficit in a relatively short amount of time. However, with a big man like Jokic on the floor, it remains a risky strategy that could end up turning on the Lakers.

As the main objective remains to limit the Joker and trying to not let him have an impact on the game, Vogel flirted with the idea of starting Dwight Howard in place of JaVale McGee, given the outstanding job he made in the first games.

However, as long as they kept winning, he decided to stick with his usual five. Soon after they suffered the first loss, though, Howard was moved into the starting lineup for Game 4 and the change paid off.

Through the whole 22 minutes he was on the floor, the Serbian centered scored just six points, and only two when he was guarded by Dwight. Superman was huge, scoring 12 points and 11 rebounds with six offensive boards, crucial considering the Lakers had only 25 rebounds in Game 3.

On the other end of the axis, there is Jamal Murray, the best and hottest point guard of these playoffs. Vogel drew from what he had learned in the previous series facing the other top point guards of the league and implemented a constant rotation of defenders on Murray.

It also looks like he traps him in the pick and roll, but not too hard, considering the presence of Jokic as the second playmaker on the floor. The intensity of the double team would increase with the Joker on the bench.

It is hard to slow down such a hot and performing player, and in the final five minutes of Game 4, with the Nuggets threatening another comeback, LeBron James asked Vogel directly for the assignment on Murray, basically shutting him down. He went scoreless for the rest of the game.

An immense showing of LeBron James’ greatness even on the defensive end, where he mostly doubted over the past few years, and a proof of sage judgment by Vogel trusting him with the assignment. Although, after all, who would answer ‘no’ to the greatest player on the planet?

Anyway, in the entire fourth quarter, the Lakers head coach decided to go with a versatile defensive lineup, playing Markieff Morris and Anthony Davis the whole period in the frontcourt, always having at least one between Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo on the floor, and alternating Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green on the wing.

In the end, it worked and Los Angeles escaped with a victory going up 3-1.

dark. Next. The Lakers must close the series in five games

Once more Frank Vogel and his staff proved their competence in breaking down games and opponents, exposing their weaknesses and finding a way to counter their strengths. Their adjustments will have to go on through the series, hopefully helping the Lakers to close it as soon as possible.