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Why LeBron James loves playing with Rajon Rondo, and five other takeaways from Game 3

Houston Rockets' James Harden looks to pass Tuesday against the Lakers' LeBron James (23) and Rajon Rondo.
Houston Rockets’ James Harden looks to pass against the Lakers’ LeBron James (23) and Rajon Rondo during an NBA playoff game Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

For two years LeBron James has been telling us how much he loves playing with Rajon Rondo because of the way the guard sees and thinks about the game.

Tuesday night’s game showed why that matters. James spoke extensively about the difficulty of making adjustments quickly, during a game, rather than waiting until the next day to dissect what happened.

“It’s easy to be, like let’s say a Monday morning quarterback,” James said. “It’s easy to go and watch the film on Monday after you play Sunday and be able to look at the defender playing over the top and say, ‘I shouldn’t have passed it there.’ Or the linebacker dropping back in zone and say, ‘I shouldn’t have thrown the comeback route.’ Things of that nature. It’s easy to kind of do that. That’s needed, though. You definitely need that.

“But being able to make adjustments on the fly and being able to see how defenses are playing and being able to see how the game is being played and being able to see how the flow of the game is being played — there’s not many guys that can do that in our league and in the postseason, it’s gigantic. And having ‘Do on your side definitely helps.”

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The script has been similar so far for the Lakers in the second round to what it was in the first. Lose Game 1 after a long layoff, then little by little wear out your opponent.

With each series that gets a little bit harder. The Rockets are a more talented and complete team than the Portland Trail Blazers were, which is preventing the Lakers from really pulling away.

Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ Game 3 win over Houston.

1. The Lakers shot 55.1% from the field, which made it the fifth time they’ve shot 50% or better during the playoffs. They have never lost when they shoot that well. And if you narrow your view to the four most productive players — Anthony Davis, James, Kyle Kuzma and Rondo — you’ll get a group who shot 64.9%. There are nights when that kind of productivity isn’t the case for each of them, but Tuesday night they got what they needed.

2. The Rockets said multiple times after the game that they were tired. A similar phenomenon happened in the first round when the Portland Trail Blazers rode the momentum of their entry into the playoffs to a Game 1 win, but quickly wore down. The Rockets played a seven-game series in the first round and had only one day to prepare for the Lakers. At the time, Lakers coach Frank Vogel warned that a team coming off an emotional Game 7 victory would be dangerous, and they were. But after that emotion wears off, that weariness is something the Lakers can exploit.

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.

3. Lakers star Davis took a beating physically and said afterward he felt fine. Davis said he was prepared to handle the physicality of playing Houston. “Got a day to recover,” Davis said. “It’s a physical game. Especially in the playoffs, intensity goes up, physicality goes up and especially with this team being smaller than you they try to use their physicality a lot more. But we want to be physical back but at the end of the day I’m fine, body’s fine, get a day tomorrow to recover and get ready for whatever — Thursday, Friday? One of them days. But I’m fine.”

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4. Days are meaningless in the bubble, except there’s only one day off between games. Rondo had a moment after the game when he made a comment that highlighted his absence until this series. “We came out on the floor with the every-other-day schedule,” Rondo said. “Hopefully the NBA will give us a break sometime. They’re running us to the ground.” The schedule is unforgiving, but the Lakers have had more rest than most. Their playoffs began five days after their last seeding game while they waited for the eighth seed to be determined, and their second round began six days after their first round ended as they waited for the Rockets to wrap up their series against the Thunder.

5. It was another game when the Lakers did not use their centers very much. JaVale McGee played less than seven minutes and Dwight Howard didn’t play at all, with Lakers coach Frank Vogel opting to go with Markieff Morris instead. He was asked after the game if that will be his plan going forward. “Well, we’ll see,” Vogel said. “Every game is different. I think Dwight can give us a different dynamic if we decide to do that because they’re putting Harden on our center to start the game, on JaVale McGee. That is something we can look at. Our centers can still be effective in this series.”


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