Lakers vs. Rockets - Asymmetric basketball warfare

Raptors survive via buzzer beater, Nuggets buried in LA; and the Rockets vs. Lakers series begins

The funny thing about basketball playoffs is that the razor thin margins are all dialed back into a binary result. Yes, the Houston Rockets beat the Thunder to advance, saving Harden from years of online ridicule; and yes, the Raptors managed to pull out a win to avoid going down 0-3… but the actual margins for those two games are paper thin.

Look how similar this situation is to the one that the Thunder found themselves in just one day earlier. Holding the ball, with a potential game-winning final possession, trying to inbound after a timeout.

Crazy.

So, the Raptors narrowly avoid going into an essentially insurmountable deficit (no NBA team has come back from an 0-3 start in a 7 game series). But it’s striking to see, just one day after the Thunder came up short in nearly the exact same scenario.

These series may get boiled down to the binary win-loss record, but never forget how wildly close some of these game outcomes are.

Nuggets get rolled

The Los Angeles Clippers are my pick to come out of the West, and I have been extremely dubious about the Nuggets as a top tier team in this league. Welp, as expected, Denver’s lack of defense and struggles specifically defending against dribble penetration into the post led to an easy win for the Clippers.

Here’s the Warriors’ Draymond Green standing in for Kenny “the jet” Smith on TNT, ruthlessly breaking down the failures of Denver’s interior defense. Jokic is an extremely talented player, but the Nuggets are going to need him to work harder at covering some of the defensive gaps in his game if they hope to push any deeper into the playoffs.

Draymond is excellent at this, by the way. His no nonsense approach and deep insight into the nuts and bolts of the game is well-suited to any sort of media/analyst role. I hope we get to see a whole lot more of this from him.

Lakers vs. Rockets - Asymmetric basketball warfare

Asymmetric warfare “can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and, in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other's characteristic weaknesses.”

Such is the case with this series, where two powerhouse teams with distinctly different play style and personnel are set to face each other.

The Lakers are a large, physical team powered by LeBron James, and Anthony Davis, two of the most potent offensive bigs to ever play the game. The Rockets are perimeter-oriented frequently initiating off the dribble as Harden and Westbrook take turns dribbling the life out of the basketball while looking for mismatches.

The discrepancy in styles goes well beyond the personnel (or maybe it’s just all related) - however you slice it, the Lakers are a more traditional offense that will attack the post, and the Rockets are a newfangled advance stats darling that only wants three pointers or layups. During the playoffs so far, the Lakers lead in percentage of points from 2-point baskets (52.6% of their scoring); and the Rockets from share of points from threes in the postseason (49.7%). 

My money is on the Lakers in this one. no team that struggled against the Thunder like Houston just did engenders my confidence; and just from historic inertia in the playoffs, it would seem like James is far more likely to survive a close series.

Key factors for the Lakers are going to be keeping their big lineup out there (we’ll see if Dwight Howard has a place in these games soon enough), and how well LeBron James can punish Houston’s defensive rotations.

For the Rockets, their chances in this series will hinge on the wide posterior of PJ Tucker. If the Tuckwagon can manage any sort of meaningful post defense, it’s a matchup win. Though fantastically undersized vertically, his wide base could make it difficult for Davis to get into his post game. Also, it goes without saying that Harden and Westbrook will need to shoulder the bulk of this team’s scoring. Harden shot poorly in the first round, against a vastly superior Lakers team, that’s not going to cut it.