September 13, 2020, 2:28 am
Only one game on the card with the Lakers taking care of the Rockets to advance to their first Conference Finals since 2010. The slate is thinning out as more and more teams are eliminated from the bubble and NBA news is certainly on the decline. For the Lakers, they will face either the Clippers or the Nuggets, while the Rockets will end the season under a cloud of disappointment once again.
Lakers dominate, sending Rockets back to the Drawing Board
Despite all the talk, the Rockets barely put up a fight on Saturday, tumbling out of the playoffs to the tune of 23 points. Trailing by as much as 30 points during the third quarter, the Rockets certainly saved their worst for last and the future in Houston is going to be a hot topic over the coming months. It was well documented that the Rockets would be going all-in with the small-ball lineup and that was particularly evident towards the pointy end of the season and throughout the playoffs. Playing without a center was a bold move and while it could be viewed as a somewhat successful gameplan, results would perhaps indicate otherwise.
Losing to the Lakers is no real surprise; however, the fact they barely scraped by the Thunder in the first-round does raise a few questions. Arguably the biggest question to come out of the season is whether the acquisition of Russell Westbrook was a positive move. Westbrook is an elite scorer and one of the most dynamic players in the league. However, he lacks a reliable 3-point shot, and while active on the defensive end, it is certainly not something he can hang his hat on. Despite the individual accolades, Westbrook is yet to prove himself on the big stage and it could be said that he struggles to play ‘winning’ basketball.
If the Rockets hope to take the next step, it could be time to shift away from their current thinking. Center’s around the league are developing into consistent perimeter threats and the level of athleticism is on the rise. For that reason, more and more teams are able to run with the Rockets while not having to go to a true small-ball lineup themselves. This was clearly evident during the series loss to the Lakers who were able to run Anthony Davis at the center position. Davis has the speed and agility to be able to deal with a smaller player on the defensive end while using his size advantage to dominate on offense. P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington are fantastic defenders in their own right but simply cannot handle a player like Davis.
As part of the small-ball philosophy, the Rockets are heavily reliant on their perimeter game. This also seems like a bit of an outdated idea when you consider basically every other team in the league has the ability to crack on from the 3-point line. It is rare to find a team that doesn’t have the ability to play a five-out lineup and that in itself negates some of the Rockets’ advantage. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has stated that he would like to run it back next season but it remains to be seen whether he will be given that opportunity. No matter the decision, it would seem as though the Rockets will need to shift their focus if they are to hang with the elite teams in the league.
For the Lakers, they will now get a few days off before facing either the Clippers or the Nuggets. No matter the opponent, the question going forward is whether their depth can hold up. The ability of both Davis and LeBron James is unquestioned and in certain situations, that is enough to carve out a victory. However, it is unlikely to be enough in a best-of-seven series against either opponent. The likes of Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris and Rajon Rondo are going to need to be consistent threats on the offensive end of the floor. To this point, there have been flashes of upside but nothing to suggest they can do it on a nightly basis.
With only one game to be played on Sunday, DFS options are limited once again. Here are a couple of players worth considering, outside of the obvious choices.
Lou Williams – Clippers
Over the first five games of the series, Williams is averaging only 9.8 points per game despite attempting 57 field goals. History would indicate that he is due for a bounceback game at some point and Sunday could be just the stage he needs to turn things around. As well as scoring, Williams can be a sneaky source of assists, especially given the fact that Pat Beverley is not at his best.
Michael Porter Jr. – Nuggets
MPJ presents as a bit of a boom or bust option based on what we have seen over the past six weeks. During the series, Porter’s minutes have ranged from 16 to 34, highlighting how unpredictable he can be. He won’t typically offer a lot of upside on the defensive end but he can put up points and boards in a hurry when given the opportunity.