Lakers go small to close out Rockets!
Why going small with LeBron at the five could be the key to the Lakers rediscovering their top-ten defense and closing games
With 6:33 left in the third quarter last night and the Lakers trailing 79–62, Luke Walton made a bold decision to go small that not only turned the game around but just might have saved the Lakers’ season and their playoff hopes.
Over the rest of the third quarter and the fourth, Josh Hart replaced JaVale McGee and the Lakers’ small ball lineup with LeBron at center outscored the Houston Rockets 49- 27, turning a 17-point deficit into a 5-point clutch win. Subbing Hart for McGee and moving LeBron to center not only opened up the floor for James and Ingram to attack offensively, it also enabled the Lakers to rediscover the top-ten defense they had before James and Ball went down.
Just how good was the Lakers’ defense after going small last night? Their team defensive rating for the fourth quarter alone was an astounding 66.7, which lowered their defensive rating for the entire game to an elite 102.9. Luke not only made the right move in going small, he also stuck with it to close out the game and limited his fourth quarter rotation last night to just seven players — LeBron, Bullock, Ingram, Kuzma, Hart, Rondo, and KCP.
The Lakers’ best 5-man lineup for last night’s game was James, Bullock, Ingram, Kuzma, and Hart, who played 7 minutes and posted an offensive rating of 146.7, defensive rating of 114.3, for a terrific net rating of 32.4. While Josh Hart only posed 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist, there was no question he was the key catalyst in elevating the team’s defensive intensity the moment he checked into the game with 6:33 left in the third quarter.
If there’s a big takeaway from last night’s win over the Rockets, it’s that the Lakers may have suddenly rediscovered how to get back to being a top ten defensive team without having to wait for Lonzo Ball to return from injury. It’s ironic but being forced to go into playoff mode with 25 games remaining may end up being the silver lining the Lakers needed as it’s forced Luke and LeBron to finally turn to a small ball lineup with LeBron playing stretch five.
LeBron’s still not 100% but smart coaching and great play from their young stars Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart have the Lakers heading in the right direction with a statement win over the Houston Rockets last night. The Lakers not only won a game they had to win but also rediscovered how to play top-ten defense and how to close games as shown by LeBron’s drive into the paint and dish to Reggie Bullock for a game clinching killer corner three.
Luke Walton deserves kudos for making a great call to go small in the third when the team fell behind by 19 points. Going small saved the game and just might be exactly what the Lakers need to save their season and playoff hopes.