As the Rockets edged out a close series against the Thunder, they now face a more challenging task, the Lakers. The strategic plan of the small-ball rotation will finally be tested against the Lakers’ big man. Mike D’Antoni, coach for the Houston Rockets, believes in this lineup against the Lakers. PJ Tucker will be targeted a lot because of size on defense but he stays optimistic going against LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Rockets face tough criticism outside of Houston journalism because of the small ball rotation. Shannon Sharpe believes the Rockets will lose in five because of the height advantage AD has over Tucker and Robert Covington.
“AD will punish Covington. AD will punish Tucker. I am going be disappointed if not at least 35-15. The Lakers will crush them on the boards,” Sharpe said on live TV this morning on
The Rockets were out rebounded by the Thunder 349-303, which is not too bad for the undersized Rockets. They even managed to not lose terribly on the offensive side of rebounding, as the margin was 65-52. On a great rebounding note, Tucker leads the Rockets in rebounds by averaging 7.7 rebounds per game. Tucker is not far off AD’s rebounding stat because he averages 9.4 per game. But Tucker also must manage the other twin towers such as Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Hopefully, Covington and Russell Westbrook will be able to help on the boards.
Rockets’ defense is key
The Rockets best chance to beat the Lakers is defense. Through seven games, the Rockets have the best defense in the NBA with 101.7 defensive rating.
The Rockets have four players inside the top 13 individual defense. James Harden and Westbrook made the top five in individual defense. Harden has been impressive on defense inside this year’s playoffs so no surprises if he matches up with LeBron. Tucker does stand a chance against AD in the playoffs, in a respective manor. When Tucker-AD are matched up together for 10 minutes, AD shoots 2 of 5 from the field with four turnovers. Covington has struggled guarding LeBron and AD but will be a great side defender because of his 7’2 wingspan. He leads this Rockets’ team in blocks with 1.6 per game.
Another factor that would help the Rockets beat the Lakers is offense. The Rockets are not strangers at being good on offensive. Their offensive rating is 108.3 inside the playoffs, which is the one of the best ratings out of 15 teams.
Eric Gordon struggled earlier in the playoffs with his shooting. Today in the press conference, Gordon said it took awhile because of the time he missed during season with injuries. Gordon’s shot came alive against the Thunder by shooting 5 of 9 from three in game 7 on Wednesday night. Covington also struggled offensively in the start of the playoffs but came alive in the last four games by shooting 50 percent from three. After missing four games in the playoffs, Westbrook struggled in his first two games with scoring and having turnovers. Westbrook had seven points off 3 of 13 shooting in game 5 and seven turnovers in game 6. But on Wednesday night, things changed for Westbrook by having 20 points, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers in game 7.
The Rockets seem to have their starting five in offensive rhythm again, which is important against the Lakers. But the biggest factor is Harden cannot have no more poor performances offensively like Wednesday night, if they want to beat the Lakers. Harden is the Rockets best player and leading scorer with 29.7 points per game. He must demand the ball in tough situations because Harden did have a slight disappearance in game 6 with three minutes to go. Hopefully, Harden puts the end of game 6 and 7 behind him so he can carry this team to the third round of the playoffs.
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