The Los Angeles Lakers must punish the small-ball Rockets down low while defending the trigger-happy Houston players from the Land of Plenty.
I understand coach Frank Vogel is hesitant in starting Anthony Davis at the 5, but watching Javale McGee or Dwight Howard (without a C this time) trying to defend either P.J. Tucker or Robert Covington in the perimeter is just like my wife stopping me from taking seconds and thirds in the buffet line—it’s just a losing proposition.
There’s no need to panic yet if you’re LeBron James and company, though. They also lost Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Like The King said, they’re still trying to feel themselves in the series. But LA’s supporting cast should show more of a backbone to win Game 2 this morning. Like the Beatles were not just about John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Lakers should stop relying only on LeBron and AD.
Kyle Kuzma should be better than his 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist in Game 1. Heck, the Bald Mamba, Alex Caruso, fared better than him in that game with 14 points and 4 assists. While Kuz can play the part of George Harrison, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope must be Ringgo Starr in this Hollywood version of the Fab Four. I get it, he’s just an emergency starter with Avery Bradley opting out of the bubble, but he should be more involved not only in defense but on offense as well to relieve pressure on LA’s Top 2 stars.
It’s frightening to think that the Lakers were blown out in a game where neither James Harden nor Russel Westbrook didn’t really go supernova on them. The two Rockets MVPs are capable of going north of 40 points in any given game and outside of former super-sub, Eric Gordon’s 23 points, no other Houston starter or player off the bench really did damage against the Purple and Gold.
When the smoke of the Game 2 battle clears this morning, I expect the Lakers to tie the series at 1-1. Having been a lifelong Lakers fan, I’m still rooting for LA and that’s despite LeBron taking over the marquee at the Staples Center or in the case of the Orlando bubble, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort.
And when the Rockets fall against the Lakers in Game 2, three of the four conference semifinals will now be even-steven. After saving their season with an OG Anunoby triple off a perfect pass from Kyle Lowry, the defending champion Toronto Raptors have equalized their series against the Boston Celtics at 2-2 with a masterful victory yesterday, this time with Pascal Siakam finally showing up. Not bad for a team given up as extinct after going down 0-2 against Beantown.
And the Denver Nuggets proved to all and sundry that they’re not just happy to have prevailed in their grueling seven-game opening round series against the Utah Jazz by holding off the Paper Clips in Game 2 in the other conference semifinals yesterday. Coach Mike Malone’s team blew up my playoff bracket by beating Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in the first round and looked like zombies in their 23-point beatdown against the “Other LA team” in Game 1.
The remaining conference semifinal game today pits the Miami Heat and the NBA playoffs overall No. 1 seed, the Milwaukee Bucks. I have a lot of things to say about this No. 1 vs. No. 5 matchup, but I plead the fifth as not to jinx my other favorite team (right, Jon Perez?). Jimmy Buckets and company have raced to a 3-0 lead in the series and no other team in professional sports in North America has overcome such odds to advance to the next round. In the Association, the record of teams going down 0-3 and winning the series is 0-139. I’ll just leave it at that.