With Anthony Davis out with a bum knee, the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled what could be one of their key strategies for the upcoming NBA playoffs by clearing one side and isolating LeBron James one-on-one to attack the rim.
With nine minutes left and the Pels leading 101–100, the Lakers cleared the right side of the court and isolated LeBron on the left wing, daring the Pelicans to play him one-on-one or risk wide-open threes by doubling him. James quickly backed Hart down before spinning and driving for an easy layup to give the Lakers the lead. Next time down, the Lakers cleared the left side and isolated LeBron, who blew by Hart again for an easy layup.
From that point on, the Lakers relentlessly cleared one side of the court and isolated LeBron one-on-one against his defender, which resulted in layups by James or wide-open threes by his teammates as Lakers won 122–114. Unfortunately, the Pelicans lacked defenders who could handle LeBron one-on-one and when they doubled, James showed why he is the game’s best passer by hitting wide-open shooters for easy catch-and-shoot threes.
The strategy enables the Lakers to keep JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard in the game for their value as rim protectors without them clogging up the middle and making it easy for teams to double LeBron James on offense. Clearing one side of the floor makes it very difficult for opposing teams to double team LeBron since the double would have to come from the players defending the shooter at the top of the key or center in the dunker spot.
While this strategy won’t work as well against teams like the Clippers who have an elite defender like Kawhi Leonard who is more capable of guarding LeBron one-on-one, it could result in the getting Leonard in foul trouble. Additionally, it could force defenders like Leonard or Antetokounmpo to use up a lot of energy defensively which could easily translate into their not having as big an impact on the offensive end, especially late in the game.
In many ways, the clear one side and isolate LeBron strategy is exactly what the Lakers need to finish close games because it makes it easier for LeBron to attack the basket rather than settling for step back fadeaways or threes. Going forward, I expect this strategy to become one of the staples in the Lakers’ repertoire to close out games because it’s almost guaranteed to get LeBron a layup, dunk, or free throws or a teammate a wide open three.
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