For most NBA teams, the Houston Rockets present a problem. With the tallest player being 6’7″ and multiple players that can shoot the three, the question becomes…how do you defend the Rockets? For one, if the Rockets are not shooting the ball that well, this question becomes a moot point. However, if the Rockets are shooting above their season average of 35% from behind the arc, this could mean an embarrassing evening for their opponents.
If you choose to closeout the Rockets on the perimeter, which the Lakers have tried to do multiple times during the series, the likes of Russel Westbrook, James Harden, and Eric Gordon are able to get around the defender which opens up the entire offense for the Rockets. Now, the ballhandler is loaded with options. They can drive to the basket which will lead to an uncontested layup, or if the defense rotates, the ballhandler simply kicks out to the open man for an open shot. As an example, the Rockets only took 30 three point shots in Game 3; however, when you are able to get to the rim like they were in the first half, there is no reason to fire up threes.
For the Lakers, when they have shown success defensively, they have gone to double teaming Harden. By forcing him to wings and double teaming, this limits his ability to break down the defense with the dribble. With this containment, the Lakers are forcing someone else on the Rockets to initiate the drive and dish, at the same time. limiting Harden’s ability to get an open three. In Game 2, he only took 4 three point shots in the second half. In Game 3, he only took three. This now puts the pressure on the rest of the Rockets to score. Add that to the fact that the Lakers were able to hold Westbrook to 10 points from the field in Game 3, now you know why the Lakers were able to outscore Houston, 51-38 in the second half.
Undoubtedly, the Rockets are going to be looking for ways to make those changes in the second half and get their two superstars more offensive opportunities. But it looks like the Lakers might have a way to slow the Rockets offensive juggernaut. Provided of course, that the Lakers continue to get offensive production from a third player the rest of the series. In Game 2, it was Markieff Morris with 16 and Kyle Kuzma with 13. In Game 3, Rajon Rondo added 21 and Kyle Kuzma added 14.
Stick to what has worked in Games 2 and 3, and the Lakers will win the series. Without a third offensive scoring output and an inability to limit the damage done by Harden and Westbrook, the Lakers will not get their shot at the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals.