Sports

NBA Playoff Observations: Rockets are Gritty, Lakers Still Have Hope and More

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The three playoff series that advanced to game 2 on Wednesday predictably went to the higher seeded home teams adding more meaning to home court advantage before the series shift to the underdog’s venue.

For the coaches, it’s adjustment time. Game 1 is about trying to impose your will and get off to a good start. Game 2 is about the series heating up and trying to make adjustments on the fly or maintain what you’re doing depending on which side of the win-loss column you fell on in the first contest. But game 3 is about full blown strategic adjustments and the battle, and in all three instances we saw on Wednesday, the underdog has a lot of work to do.

ROCKETS

Houston can hold their heads high over the fact that they hung with OKC and were able to watch their star player blow up for the best night he’s had on his old home court all season, but any feelings of joy and comfort will be washed away by the fact that they couldn’t finish off the Thunder.

The Rockets actually overcame a 15 point deficit to take the lead with five minutes left, but OKC battled back turning to Kevin Durant for a big basket to take the lead again. Once again, in crunch time, the Rockets defense failed them. It is this team’s biggest shortcoming and it continues to cost them. While Durant’s shot was from long range, knowing who he is and what he is capable of, you have to at least have a hand in his face, but as the perennial All-Star elevated, Carlos Delfino was far too casual in closing out on Durant. If the Rockets are going to win a game in this series, they have to make those plays.

Defending Durant and Westbrook has to become the priority at this point for Houston. Kevin McHale was forced to go with Patrick Beverly for heavy minutes in game 2 guarding Westbrook thanks Jeremy Lin suffering a chest contusion in the first half, and the result Westbrook blowing up for 29 points. The All-Star duo has combined for 103 points in the first two games and are completely cancelling out any effect James Harden may have, but hope isn’t lost for the Rockets.

McHale made an adjustment to go to a zone defense late in the fourth quarter of game 2 and it stifled OKC’s ability to score. The Rockets went on a 21-2 run and had a four point lead before Serge Ibaka scored a crucial bucket and the Thunder got back on track. If the team can replicate that success again, for longer periods of time in game 3 and rebound and score in the paint the way they did last night, there is a good chance they’ll take a game on their home floor.

LAKERS

Los Angeles fell once again to a defensively superior team. This was always going to be an issue for the Lakers due to the fact that the Spurs can score on them seemingly at will while applying a top 10 defense to pressure the Lakers. But the news wasn’t all bad as Dwight Howard and company prepare to take this thing back to their home floor.

In game 2, the Lakers bench added 24 points to the scoring compared to just 10 in game 1 and that is going to continue to be crucial as their list of starting guards continues to be plagued by injuries. Both Steve Nash and Steve Blake are being monitored due to increased pain surrounding their hamstrings, while Jodie Meeks ruled himself out of game 2 due to the ankle he sprained in game 1. With the Lakers backcourt in peril, the impact of Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace couldn’t be bigger.

Those three will have to carry the Lakers on both ends of the floor which will inspire the Spurs to go at Howard at every turn and get him into foul trouble. To keep the pressure off him on the offensive end, the Lakers will have to get good production from viable offensive threats around the perimeter so Mike D’Antoni will have to make adjustments.

Even if Meeks can play, he won’t be able to start most likely and with the point guard position being handled by committee as Nash and Blake struggle to stay on the floor, the Lakers need a player that the Spurs will have to respect in the backcourt. The best they can do is a shift in personnel.

The Lakers advantage is size, so D’Antoni should look to go big by going with a lineup of Howard, Gasol, Earl Clark or Antawn Jamison at small forward and Metta World Peace playing the two guard. Chris Duhon or Darius Morris will probably have to fill in if neither Nash or Blake can go and while Tony Parker clearly wins any matchup on that front, World Peace could at least make things for difficult for Manu Ginobili when he enters the game.

The team’s new style without Kobe Bryant is inside-out, so surrounding Gasol and Howard with decent shooters is going to be key and MWP and Jamison can knock down shots with effectiveness. Given the Lakers 29-12 home record during the regular season, game 3 promises to be entertaining, but it comes down to how they line up and whether or not the team can manage without Blake and Nash at 100%.

HAWKS

Atlanta has spent games one and two getting pummeled by Indiana thanks to a lack of presence from their primary difference makers in Josh Smith and Al Horford. In two games, the two have a combined 55 points between them with the team deferring to Jeff Teague and Devin Harris to take over as scorers.

The current matchups Atlanta is trying against Paul George aren’t working out too well for the Hawks as George has led the Pacers in scoring in both games at 23 and 27 respectively. Larry Drew should consider replacing Kyle Korver in the starting lineup with DeShawn Stevenson as he is a better defender and can help bottle up George and force David West and Roy Hibbert to have a bigger impact.

The Hawks have beaten Indiana at Phillips Arena the last 11 times out, but while the tables turn in their advantage, don’t expect it to be easy if they can’t get Smith and Horford going and do something about Paul George. If Atlanta can, that’s all they need to make it 12 straight victories on their home court against Indiana this Saturday.