NBA

Lakers' elite defense as powerful as a superstar - Vogel

By Sports Desk September 11, 2020

The Los Angeles Lakers "elite" defense is the team's third superstar, according to head coach Frank Vogel.

Game 4 of the Western Conference semi-final series saw the Lakers seal a 110-100 victory over the Houston Rockets and move into a 3-1 lead.

They restricted the Rockets to 43.1 per cent shooting as a team, with All-Star guard James Harden 2-of-11 from the floor.

The Lakers missed out on free agent Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers last offseason, but Vogel feels their defense makes up for the absence of a third star alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Vogel said of his team's ability to get stops: "That's as powerful a weapon as there is in one of these playoff runs. It's as powerful as a superstar.

"If you have an elite defense, that can be your third star, so to speak.

"When you have the confidence that you can go four, five, six possessions where you're just squeezing the other team's offense, getting stops, and then with our ability to run the floor, with LeBron James being the quarterback of that action and being in attack mode, we have a strong belief in what we can accomplish as a group."

Harden still finished the game with 21 points by making 16 of his 20 free throw attempts, so Vogel acknowledged there is still room for improvement from the Lakers.

"We're happy with what we were doing on the defensive end," Vogel said. "It can always get better.

"Obviously, the fouls [can be cut down]. Plan A with guarding James Harden is don't put him on the free throw line and we gave him 20 free throw attempts. So, we've got to make sure we're doing a better job there, but overall, we're just trying to limit him and make him as uncomfortable as we can.

"He's seen every coverage there is in the world and he knows how to attack it. Like I said all along with this group and with him: We're not going to be comfortable because we know what he's capable of.

"So, we've just got to continue to watch film, get better, strengthen the plan each game that we play and hopefully get better in Game 5."

James contributed 16 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and two steals for the Lakers and explained how difficult it is for the team to defend against Harden.

"James is probably one of the best offensive players that we've ever seen in this league," the Lakers star said.

"I mean, he had 20 free throw attempts and we're trying to not put him to the free throw line. One of our game plans is to not put him to the free throw line and we're trying to not put him to the free throw line, and the guy is just so clever that he was still able to get 20 free throw attempts.

"We're just trying to eliminate anything that we can from him, because he can score from [anywhere]. He gets into the paint with his runners, with his floaters. Obviously, he's got the step-back. He's got the threes in transition. He has his catch-and-shoot threes when he's off the ball. And, like I said, he's very tricky with his moves in the paint, where he gets to the free throw line.

"So we're just trying to take away some things. We can't take away everything, because that's how great he is offensively. We try to follow the game plan and see what happens from there."

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    A unique NBA postseason has thrown up an intriguing Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.

    With the coronavirus pandemic confining the league to a bubble in Orlando, Florida, there has been no home advantage and no shortage of shocks since the playoffs began last month.

    The Lakers - the top seed in the West - have managed to survive with their star power as Anthony Davis helped LeBron James to reach the Finals for a 10th time.

    In the East, meanwhile, the fifth-seeded Heat have also gone all the way, dumping out the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks and MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round.

    LA and Miami each dropped just three games en route to this series, which starts with Game 1 on Wednesday, but they have taken contrasting approaches to get here.

    Using Stats Perform Data, we take a look.
     

    Superstar Lakers

    The Lakers were not alone in headlining their roster with two massive names at the start of the season.

    As they traded for Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, rivals the Los Angeles Clippers put together a mammoth deal to pair Kawhi Leonard with Paul George. Russell Westbrook joined James Harden at the Houston Rockets.

    It would appear clear now the Lakers did the best business as they prepare for the Finals, having eliminated the Rockets in the conference semi-finals.

    Almost everything they have done has gone through James or Davis. Four-time MVP James has a 31.5 per cent usage rate in 35 minutes on the floor in this year's playoffs and is averaging almost a triple-double (26.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists), while his team-mate has a 29.4 per cent usage rate in 35.9 minutes and 28.8 points per game.

    The Rockets rely even more heavily on their stars - Harden has 32.5 per cent of the ball in 37 minutes and Westbrook 31.3 per cent in 33 - but they do not have the same consistency. Against the Lakers, Westbrook shot four-of-15 from the field in Game 2 and four-of-13 in the decisive Game 5.

    The Clippers did not even advance to a highly anticipated meeting with the Lakers as George similarly struggled to set the standard, averaging 20.2 points.

    George's 10 points contributed to a Game 7 defeat to the Denver Nuggets, yet even their in-form pairing of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray could not match James and Davis, the league's outstanding duo.
     

    Deep Heat

    Miami will not look to put their own top performers up against James and Davis in the same way. It is the depth of this Heat team that saw them through the East.

    They remarkably have six regulars - Goran Dragic, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Jae Crowder and Duncan Robinson - averaging 11.0 points or more. Miami are the only team to reach the Finals with such a wealth of scoring options in the past 25 years.

    It should come as little surprise to see this production, though, as the Heat - in direct contrast to the Lakers - share the ball around. Of their nine players to make 10 or more playoff appearances this year, seven have a usage rate above 16 per cent. Six have played 27 minutes per game or more.

    That provides plenty of opportunity for the fourth or fifth man to steal the show, with Robinson top-scoring in a win against the Indiana Pacers while Herro poured in 37 points in a victory over the Boston Celtics.

    Herro's efforts saw him break Dwyane Wade's rookie franchise playoff record - set in a first-round 2004 game - by a whole 10 points. Wade was the team's leading scorer in that postseason; Herro is merely fourth this time.
     

    How they match up

    So, which approach will come out on top? Well, there are also drawbacks on both sides.

    Having bet the house on James and Davis - comfortably their top two earners - the Lakers lack an obvious third option to throw at Miami.

    Only Kyle Kuzma (10.5) is averaging more than 10.0 points in the playoffs elsewhere on the roster, while each of the eight players besides James and Davis to play at least 10 games this postseason have a usage rate between 12 and 20 per cent.

    Meanwhile, the Heat have the third largest total salary in the league this season, operating above the luxury tax level, but do not possess a superstar comparable to LA's pair to take the entire series by the scruff of the neck.

    Even Butler has a marginally lower points per game (20.9 to 20.7) and usage rate (27.3 per cent to 24.7) than team-mate Dragic. Neither man might at this stage be ranked alongside those big names in the West.

    They will need help from Adebayo, Herro and the rest, while Frank Vogel has to hope James and Davis alone have enough to secure silverware.

    Regardless of their flaws, the outcome of this matchup will validate more than a year's worth of work for one of these teams.

  • Lakers' Davis ready to cap 'crazy year' with NBA championship Lakers' Davis ready to cap 'crazy year' with NBA championship

    Anthony Davis wants to finish a crazy year with victory in the NBA Finals as he hailed the resilience of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    The Lakers and Miami Heat will go head-to-head in the Finals, with Game 1 scheduled for Wednesday at Walt Disney World Resort.

    It has been a difficult season for the Lakers, who mourned the death of legendary guard and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant following a helicopter crash in January.

    The top-seeded Lakers, like rival teams, have also dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the league to be suspended in March before resuming inside the Orlando bubble in July.

    Preparing for his maiden Finals appearance in his first season with the Lakers following a blockbuster trade from the New Orleans Pelicans, All-Star Davis told reporters on Tuesday: "It's special.

    "It's been a crazy year. For us to continue to be a step closer to our dreams, to reach our goals, it's special.

    "I think our team has been through the most this year, and we just kept on pushing, kept on fighting. With everything that's been going on, I kind of think the hiatus was actually good for us. It kind of just let us regroup because we had such a crazy year. The Lakers had such a crazy year.

    "Now we want to make sure that we finish this thing off right. Our team is a team that handled adversity this year.

    "We've been resilient. And now we feel like it's our jobs to finish the season off the way we wanted to start it, the same way we wanted to start it. We're four wins away from that, and it seems like it's all just come full circle."

    It will be a reunion for LeBron James and the Heat in the Finals after the superstar won two championships in 2012 and 2013 during his time in Miami.

    James – who also celebrated glory with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 – has the chance to claim a fourth NBA title and Davis said: "He's a guy who obviously when he played against his former teams, he wants to win very bad, very badly, just like everyone else does.

    "But to be back in the Finals against Miami I think means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else. I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.

    "I think this one is going to be a tough one. People said it's going to be the toughest championship in NBA history from a mental standpoint just because of the circumstances. But it's been fun to watch him. He goes to the Finals every year. Win or lose, he always comes back the next year. And to finally get back after last year and go against his former team, I'm pretty sure he's going to have a competitive series."

    Lakers head coach Frank Vogel also hailed James, adding: "He's the best leader I've ever been around, simplest way to put it, in terms of players. We've dealt with a lot, a lot of heavy emotional types of adversity that we've gone through, and he sets a great tone with his example.

    "But he is also a great leader from a communicative standpoint, talking to guys, talking to the group about the right mindset to have, to be in certain situations, being the leading voice when things occur where we're all not really sure how to deal with it or what to say. You know, he's been a leading voice in those situations. Just an integral part of our success this year."

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