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Lakers draft blueprint for beating Rockets: Five takeaways from Game 2

Lakers forward Anthony Davis extends his arm to protect the ball from Rockets guard James Harden during Game 2 on Sunday.
Anthony Davis, left, and the Lakers were able to hold off James Harden and the Rockets for a 117-109 victory in Game 2 of their playoff series Sunday night.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

LeBron James takes his kids almost everywhere he goes, and before heading to the NBA’s bubble, the longest period of time he’d gone without seeing them was the month it takes to play in the Olympics.

But when given the opportunity to bring them into the NBA’s bubble, James decided not to do it. His only guest is his wife. I asked why he didn’t bring his kids after the Lakers evened their second-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets with a win Sunday night.

“Because there’s nothing for them to do,” James said. “I mean, I got a 16-year-old. He’s gonna sit in the bubble and do what? I got a 13-year-old. He’s gonna do what? And then my 5-year-old girl, there’s nothing for her to do here. The park is not open. I mean, there’s only so many times she can go to the pool. My kids are too adventurous and they love to do so much stuff, it makes no sense for them to be here. You go outside, come back in. Go outside, come back in.

“They can stay in L.A. and they’re great. This is not a kid-friendly place, to be honest.”

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The Disney World parks are actually open, but they aren’t part of the bubble. Because of that, families that join players don’t have access to it. The NBA has done its best to create activities for the players and is working on creating more activities for their families. But that doesn’t change the restrictiveness of the bubble environment.

James, fellow star Anthony Davis and the Lakers were able to even the series by getting some big contributions from players they hadn’t seen that from in the bubble. In particular, Markieff Morris came off the bench to make four three-pointers in the first quarter and contributed 16 points in 22 minutes of play.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis showed why the Lakers have a sizable advantage moving forward during their win over the Houston Rockets in Game 2.

While it wasn’t perfect for the Lakers, it gave them a good blueprint for how to handle the Rockets the rest of this series.

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Here are five takeaways from their 117-109 victory in Game 2:

1. Once again, we saw what Davis can mean to the Lakers when he plays aggressively. Davis opened the game by making three of four shots and fighting for rebounds more forcefully than he had in the past. He also was tasked with playing center for a large portion of the game as the Lakers went to their smaller lineups. “We tried to get the ball to him more on the move and that allowed him to catch and go, got going a little bit,” coach Frank Vogel said. “And defensively, he just has the ability for us to stay home. Where he can play 1s and we don’t have to double as much when he’s matched up on some of those guys on the perimeter. So, just a great two-way performance.”

2. Rajon Rondo had an eye-popping statistic — his plus/minus rating for the game was plus 28. He only scored 10 points but his impact was measured in other ways. Rondo, playing in his second game in the bubble since returning from thumb surgery, did not address reporters after the game, but James had some kind words about his performance. “He was just extremely aggressive, not only offensively, but defensively — taking the challenge on James [Harden], taking the challenge on whoever he was guarding,” James said. “Just trying to lead. I mean, that’s what ’Do is. He’s a leader. And for us to have him back in the postseason, it’s a key for our team.”

3. The Lakers knew the Rockets were going to make their share of three-pointers, and they did. But Sunday marked the first time this season that the Rockets made more than 40% of their threes (41.5%) and lost a game. They are now 16-1 in such situations. “We can’t get down if they make shots,” Davis said. “They’re a great three-point shooting team. They shoot a ton of threes, they’re going to make some. Our job is to get it off the rim and push. When we do that, I think we had a couple plays where they made a shot, we got it out, pushed it ahead and one play Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] got a dunk. Our job is to keep pushing the tempo miss or make.”

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4. Turnovers were a big problem for the Lakers in their Game 1 loss, more because of their response to them than the sheer number. The Lakers committed 17 turnovers total on Friday night and those turned into 27 points for the Houston Rockets. On Sunday they committed 16 turnovers but only allowed 18 points off them. James had a particularly high number with seven.

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5. Even though the Lakers played small for most of the game, they did not shift their starting lineup. JaVale McGee still started at center. He played eight minutes and didn’t score, but had one blocked shot, a turnover and two rebounds. Dwight Howard, meanwhile, did not play at all after getting 11 minutes in the first game. Vogel insisted after the game that the centers will have a role in this series. “I’ve been working with those guys in terms of how to play against this team, which is unique,” the coach said. “But we went on a heck of a run towards the end of the third with Markieff at the five, I’m sorry, the end of the first. With Markieff playing, we wanted to just stay with that group. And it’s just how the game played out. Sometimes you gotta ride that hot hand or the hot lineup.”


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