While the Lakers’ coaching staff and players say all the team needs to do to solve their current dilemma is start hitting their shots, they’re running out of time to fix their offensive woes with just four games before the playoffs.
Adding urgency to the situation, the frigid shooting Lakers have to take on the three-ball crazy Houston Rockets tonight without superstar LeBron James, who’s taking a load management night off to rest a strained groin. Tonight’s game will be a major challenge for the poor 3-point shooting Lakers as they are going to have to make a reasonable number of threes just to keep pace with Rockets and have any chance of winning the game.
The good news is LeBron’s night off should give head coach Frank Vogel the opportunity to start Kyle Kuzma, the only Laker who is shooting the three-ball well, having made 11 of 22 threes during the first four games for 50%. Kuzma’s hot hand from three could be the boost the Lakers’ starting lineup needs and could pave the way for head coach Vogel to finally make the decision to start Anthony Davis at the five to win the championship.
JaVale McGee has been a major bubble bust. He has a team worst -19.6 net rating the first four games and has seen his points, rebounds, steals, and blocks decrease while his minutes, personal fouls, and turnovers increased. There’s a case to be made that starting McGee against the small ball Rockets would be unwise even if he were playing well. Imagining a struggling McGee trying to defend one of Houston’s stretch fours is totally ludicrous.
While Frank Vogel’s still likely to start McGee, this could be the first step towards a new lineup for the playoffs. It could even have been a way for the coach to tinker more with a Davis at the five and Kuzma at the four offense? Vogel may have hinted at that yesterday when he was asked if Lakers were considering a possible lineup change. The frustrated coach responded: “We’ll see. We’re looking at everything, but it’s bigger than that.”
Moving Kuzma into the starting lineup could be the spark that jumpstarts the Lakers’ starting lineup’s shooting woes and ignites the fire to move Anthony Davis into the starting center role as the team starts the playoffs. While Vogel’s been hesitant to change his starting lineup, Kuzma’s hot shooting and greatly improved defense could force him to make the move. It’s a smart move that could make the Lakers a more dangerous team.
I’m looking for the Lakers to shoot lights out tonight. While 3-point shooting has never been their strength, they’re certainly a better shooting team than they’ve showed so far in the bubble. Law of averages should rule here. Meanwhile, the defensive matchups are going to force Frank Vogel to play Anthony Davis at center more than usual because neither McGee or Howard are comfortable or effective guarding players beyond the 3-point line.
This game against the Rockets could be a harbinger of what’s to come for the Lakers. They need to come out hungry and poised and play and shoot well. Hopefully, Kuzma and AD will excel and show Vogel the path forward.
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