No one expected the Rockets to sweep the Lakers. In truth, some didn't think they would win a single game. But after a massive comeback in Game 2, only to fall short, and a series tied at one game apiece, it's pretty clear this is going to be a longer and better contested series than predicted.
Like good teams do, the Lakers adjusted to the Rockets in Game 2. They used their size to their advantage and threw some old school zone defense against James Harden and crew, forcing some bad shots and too many turnovers. Harden says he and backcourt mate Russell Westbrook watched the game tape and say they are ready. Here are four thoughts.
Go zone busting.
The Lakers decided to make the Rockets prove they could hit shots from the outside by packing the paint and playing a 3-2 zone. It worked as they racked up a big lead early. Houston clearly was not ready for that wrinkle even though they seemed to adjust later in the game. Keeping a guy like Westbrook on the perimeter is exactly what the Rockets don't want. They say they have seen their mistakes and will fix them in Game 3. If they don't, the Lakers will have found the magic solution to the Rockets offense.
Getting to the basket will be key.
What made the Rockets so tough in Game 1 is their ability to balance their outside shooting with getting to the rim. Both Harden and Westbrook found seams in the defense and exploited them by both getting to the basket and driving and dishing to open teammates. The zone seemed to cut down on their ability to do that, but no doubt they will make a more concerted effort to get back to what they do best.
Energy is the key.
When the Rockets win, they are playing with high energy. Coach Mike D'Antoni calls it "spirit." In Game 1, that energy was on full display. In Game 2, they came out a bit lethargic and the Lakers pounced. And while they bounced back in the second half, they weren't able to maintain a lead. They need to be ready out of the gate and not let up until the final buzzer. The Rockets need every ounce of energy they can muster against a bigger and more talented team in LA.
Defense, defense, defense.
The Rockets are the best defensive team in the playoffs and they must show it in their next game. While their offense sputtered, it was their lack of transition D and ability to protect the paint that got them in the most trouble. With better energy and a renewed commitment to defense, they should be able to right the ship in the first "home" game of the series.