Following 2 dismal games by Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell and facing a key 5-game stretch that could determine playoff seeding, should the Lakers be considering reinstating Marc Gasol as their starting center?
On the surface, it looks like the league may have figured out that packing the paint and forcing Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell to go against two or three defenders is the smartest strategy to shut down the Lakers’ centers. The Knicks and Hornets not only held Drummond and Harrell to 3.5 and 3.0 points per game respectively but also outrebounded the Lakers 47–33 and 45–38 and dominated them in points in the paint 54–38 and 50–32.
The defensive tactics exposed a major weakness in both Drummond’s and Harrell’s games in that both struggle to score when surrounding by multiple defenders. That resulted in the Lakers being totally dominated in the paint. The Lakers return home to a critical 5-game stretch that starts with a single game against the Celtics, following by a pair of 2-game back-to-back series against the Jazz and Mavs that could determine their playoff seeding.
Realistically, the Lakers need to split their 2-game series with Utah and Dallas. Sweeping the Jazz or Mavs is unlikely without LeBron James or Anthony Davis but getting swept could dump them into the play-in tourney. The Lakers are 5th in the West, 1 loss behind the 4th place Nuggets and 3 behind the 3rd place Clippers but only 2 ahead of the 6th place Blazers, 3 ahead of the 7th place Mavs, and 4 ahead of the 8th place Grizzlies.
With just 17 games left in the season, the next 5 games could determine the Lakers’ playoff seeding and there’s a good argument that Marc Gasol could be a better fit because he can pull opposing centers out to the 3-point line. The NBA is a copy cat league and Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Jazz coach Quin Snider, and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle saw what Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau and Hornets coach James Borrego did to shut down the Lakers.
Starting Gasol could enable the Lakers to pull opposing centers out of the paint and create space for Schroder and Horton-Tucker to get to the rim. Gasol is also a better passer and playmaker than Drummond and Harrell. Over the 7-game road trip, Gasol’s 97.0 defensive rating was best on the Lakers and his 4.8 net rating the best of the team’s centers. He averaged 8.0 points, 5.5 boards, and 3.5 assists in 19.7 minutes shooting 60% from three.
While Vogel’s notoriously reluctant to change his starting lineup, the Lakers are at a point where starting Gasol instead of Drummond could be their best option to survive the next five games and remain in the top 6 in the West.
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