With the season on the line, the Lakers (44-37) should have the advantage over the Houston Rockets (45-36) at power forward with 7-foot Pau Gasol. After a dismal shooting night (3 for 17) in a Lakers victory over the San Antonio Spurs, Gasol needs a comeback night offensively against the Rockets. The difficult part for the Lakers will be guarding Houston’s outside shooters in a game that might be their last of the season if the lose.
Power forward — probable starters: Pau Gasol vs. Greg Smith.
The Rockets are relatively undersized, which can work as an advantage and a disadvantage for the Lakers.
Outside of the difficult night against San Antonio, Gasol has averaged 17.4 points on 59.5% shooting from the field over nine appearances. Over the last 10 games, he’s averaged 9.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
This is the Gasol the Lakers need against the Rockets on Wednesday night.
During the regular season, the Lakers’ forward-center only played a single game against Houston — a 119-108 Lakers’ victory. Gasol contributed 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting in the win.
Smith (6-10) just become a starter for the Rockets on March 30, averaging 8.9 points on 56.6% shooting with 5.1 rebounds a game (in nine starts).
He’s been a difficult cover for the Lakers, scoring 10 points a game on 70.6% shooting from the field.
While Smith isn’t a primary option in the Rockets’ offense, he’s another opportunistic player who can cause problems for the Lakers.
The difficulty for Gasol is covering a lot of ground defensively given his size and relative lack of speed. The Houston forwards scramble well for loose balls and often win a game’s hustle points.
Bench: Antawn Jamison, Earl Clark, Metta World Peace vs. Donatas Motiejunas, Carlos Delfino, Terrence Jones, Thomas Robinson, Tim Ohlbrecht.
The Lakers try to stretch the floor at power forward with Jamison and Clark. Jamison is a crafty scorer who plays well without the ball, cutting to the basket.
Clark is younger, more athletic and naturally a better defender than Jamison. World Peace played power forward when the Lakers were injured up front. He can bully his way to the basket against almost anyone — although it’s rarely graceful to watch.
Motiejunas is still developing but showed flashes this season. He didn’t get much of a chance to play against the Lakers during the season.
Instead, the Rockets may go smaller with Delfino behind Smith, whose accurate outside shot can be a problem. Gasol would have a significant advantage over the 6-6 Delfino but in select moments for Houston, the Lakers may have matchup issues defensively against the Rockets’ speed.
Rookie Jones has gotten minutes recently. In one appearance against the Lakers he scored eight points in 20 minutes on 4-of-7 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and two steals. If he can duplicate that effort, the Lakers have another player to worry about.
Athletic rookie Robinson hasn’t carved out a significant role for the Rockets. Neither has Ohlbrecht.
For the Lakers to have success against the Rockets, Gasol needs to have a strong game. The team’s reserves need to out-hustle Houston’s power-forward-by-committee.
If Delfino is stretching the floor, the Lakers need to take advantage inside while making that extra effort to close out on Houston’s perimeter shooters.