NBA playoffs: Lakers embrace D’Antoni’s vision, out-small ball Rockets

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There are some quotes that follow a coach his whole career, or at least long enough to become profoundly ironic.

When Mike D’Antoni took over as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 and was asked how he planned to use likely future Hall of Fame big men Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, he shrugged and called a straight post-up possession “one of the least efficient plays in basketball.” At the time, that stance was heretical for a franchise that had been led by some of the best bigs in cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

But D’Antoni’s vision has aged well. So well, in fact, that the Lakers have now fully embraced a small-ball lineup in their second-round playoff series against D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets, and in a cruel bit of irony, beaten D’Antoni at his own game.

It started in Game 3, when Lakers coach Frank Vogel sent 6-foot-8 forward Markieff Morris out to start the second half, effectively using him and 6-foot-10 forward Anthony Davis as centers against a Rockets team that doesn’t even bother with a traditional center anymore.8

Horton-Tucker, a second-round draft pick from Iowa State who spent most of this season in the G League, had played in only six Lakers games all season. But sources within the organization told ESPN that he’d impressed his teammates and the coaching staff when the Lakers reconvened for training camp after the four-month hiatus, especially in the four seeding games in which he played.

On Thursday, Horton-Tucker was a key part of a stretch in which the Lakers broke the game open in the second quarter. The rookie had five points and two steals in his eight minutes, as the Lakers extended their lead from four points to 13. Overall, the Lakers went on a 27-12 second quarter run that left the Rockets in a double-digit deficit for most of the rest of the game.

“We’re trying to play a little bit the way Houston does,” Vogel said afterward.

But the Lakers’ version of small ball has proved to be more effective than Houston’s, because while they’re playing a smaller lineup, they’re not exactly small.

“I don’t look at it as small,” LeBron James said. “You’ve got [Davis] at 6-11, [Morris] at 6-10, I’m 6-9, Danny [Green] is 6-7, [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] is 6-6 and a half, 6-7. And we all have this wingspan, and we play hard. When you have that type of length and athleticism throughout five guys, it definitely helps. Clean glass, defend, be able to rotate, be in communication where if something breaks down you have guys that can fly around to help. It’s a good lineup for us.”

It has been so good, James was able to rest a bit more than usual in Game 4, playing only 34 minutes but nearly finishing with another triple-double (16 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists).

That’s important due to the growing possibility of a Western Conference finals series against the LA Clippers, who took a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.

Earlier in the series, it seemed the 35-year-old James would have to carry the Lakers past the Rockets, as Houston exploited its advantages in style and offensive substance. But the Lakers have not only adjusted to the ways in which D’Antoni’s Rockets make opponents uncomfortable, they’ve completely flipped the script.

The Lakers outscored Houston 19-2 in fast-break points in Game 4. For the series, Los Angeles is dominating in transition, 91-50.

Inside, the discrepancy is even more stark. The Lakers outscored the Rockets in the paint 62-24 in Game 4, and are shooting an absurd 69.7% in the paint for the series. That’s on pace to be the highest by any team in a series since 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.