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Lakers reserves know their role against the Rockets

Lakers' LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo celebrate.
Lakers’ LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, rear, and Rajon Rondo (9) celebrate during the second half against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

They all have a role to play for the Lakers, and in this second-round playoff series against the small-ball centric Houston Rockets, that role could evolve from game to game or even quarter to quarter.

Knowing this, there haven’t been any complaints about how they are being used. Instead, centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard are cheering on their teammates and staying prepared for whenever their moment might arrive.

Backup forward Markieff Morris has been productive with increased playing time. Reserve guard JR Smith has seen limited time, but he has stayed locked into the games.

All of them are veterans just looking to do their part to help the Lakers work toward the franchise’s 17th NBA championship.

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“Role acceptance is a huge part in any successful team and our guys have really excelled with that throughout the year,” coach Frank Vogel said to reporters on a videoconference call Wednesday. “They know we have high aspirations about what our group can accomplish. It’s not about the individual in anything we do. Particularly in the playoffs, there are certain series where one player’s skill set may make them more meaningful than it will in a different series. So, we have the flexibility, versatility to do those types of things, adjust from one half to another, from one game to another and our guys have been wonderful about just playing their part and doing whatever is asked of them.”

As the Lakers head into Thursday night’s Game 4 of the best-of-seven series with a 2-1 lead, Vogel constantly communicates with his players so they are aware of the circumstances.

McGee has started all three games, but he didn’t play in the second half of Game 3. Howard played just 11 minutes in Game 1 and hasn’t played since. Morris started the second half against the Rockets in Game 3 when the Lakers decided to downsize to matchup better with Houston’s small team. Smith played just three minutes in Game 3 after not having played at all in the first two games

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“I always try to overcommunicate with all of our players, make sure they know exactly what their role is on a given game or a given series and why,” Vogel said. “And just make sure they feel appreciated and they still stay ready because I do believe those guys have a place in this series. They’ve just got to understand that and continue to stay ready. They’re playing right now, four-on-four (in practice) or five-on-five to make sure they’re staying ready. With anything, I think it’s very important to make sure you’re communicating with guys and staying honest and setting an expectation.”

LeBron James blocked a shot by Rockets guard Eric Gordon to spark a defensive stand in the third quarter that lifted the Lakers to a Game 3 victory over Houston.

Morris has flourished in his increased role against the Rockets, averaging 18.3 minutes per game, 6.0 points and 3.0 rebounds. He had an outburst in Game 2, scoring 12 points in the first quarter on four-for-four shooting from three-point range.

“Toughness and versatility,” was how Vogel described Morris. “He has the ability to give us a physical presence inside. Honestly, he’s just a good basketball player. He has the ability to post. He can knock down threes from the top like you saw in [Game 2], with him hitting four threes in a quarter. And he’s just got a great feel for the game. He understands defensive coverages. And like I said, we want to be the most physical team in the league and that’s right up his alley. He has great toughness and really elevates that part of our team.”

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Turner reported from Los Angeles.


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