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The 1 big adjustment the Los Angeles Lakers 100% needed to make ASAP

Frank Vogel uncharacteristically tooted his own horn after the Los Angeles Lakers rolled to a blowout “road” win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday — sparked by a 40-8 second-half run.

First, in their postgame remarks, Vogel and multiple Lakers players cited his fiery halftime speech as an effective motivator.

Vogel also made a crucial adjustment that helped the Lakers produce another winning third quarter: He replaced DeAndre Jordan with Dwight Howard in the first quarter, despite initially telling Dwight that he wasn’t going to play. He opened the second half with Howard at center.

“Just a coach’s decision,” Vogel explained. “I felt like Dwight was going to give us a boost in this game and I was right. He played terrific. He came in and changed the game with his energy. Him in particular in that third quarter with his pick-and-roll coverage.”

In 35 minutes — his most in 2o appearances this season — Howard scored 12 points and collected 13 rebounds.

“He’s more familiar with what we do, so he came in and just really set a tone with physicality and with effort, communication, and obviously helped us on the boards and his plus/minus is +27, so just a hell of a night for him,” Vogel lauded.

Vogel felt the Lakers needed to sharpen their defense — in transition and pick-and-roll scenarios — and implied that Jordan simply wasn’t getting it done.

Accordingly, on Thursday, Vogel announced that the Lakers will start Howard on Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers — Dwight’s first start of the 2021-22 season. Vogel added that, moving forward, the Lakers will plan to play only one veteran center per game.

“We were trying to play both of those guys in really short minutes, is either one really able to get into a rhythm?. We made the decision to only use one of them (unless, obviously, we have foul trouble). It was DeAndre for a bit. I decided in the middle of the first quarter of last game that I wanted to see what Dwight could do. And it was Dwight for the rest of that game. And I do intend to start Dwight tomorrow against the Clippers. But it will be a situation we just monitor on a game-to-game basis going forward. But with the intention of really just giving those center minutes to just one player, not two. Whether it’s DeAndre or Dwight.”

When a traditional center is off the floor, the Lakers will either deploy AD at the 5 (their best construction) or “centerless” lineups featuring LeBron James in the middle, which have been deeply effective over the past few games.

“Everybody that signed on with us this year understands the bigger picture.” Vogel said about the pivot. “This is a team that is trying to compete for a championship, and sacrifice is going to be required at times.”

Vogel has been tinkering with his center usage all week.

“I will say that Dwight didn’t play tonight. We made a decision that if we’re gonna look at this smaller second unit, that one of our centers will play and not both,” Vogel said after the Lakers win vs. the Detroit Pistons. “It’s not always gonna be DJ, sometimes it will be Dwight. You could see Dwight in the starting lineup with DJ being the third center or whatnot. We’ll continue to evaluate that going forward.”

Earlier in the season, Vogel stated his preference to have Howard come off the bench due to the infusion of energy he brings (his foul rate is pertinent here, too). That isn’t a misguided stance. But, at the season’s quarter pole, Vogel simply had to make this adjustment. Howard is dramatically more impactful than Jordan and has established chemistry with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Plus, Los Angeles needs to rack up wins. The more spacing and less plodding, the better.

Howard and Jordan have both appeared in 20 games. Jordan has started 16. Howard has actually averaged more minutes per game (14.7 to 13.8). Yet, there was no case for both to be in the rotation. Facing the choice, I’m not sure there’s one person who has watched Lakers basketball this season that would advocate for Jordan.

Some data, courtesy of the great Silver Screen and Roll. In a small sample size, the Lakers defense with LeBron, AD, Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, and DJ is statistically elite. However, the Lakers are 11.4 points per 100 possession better on offense when Jordan takes a seat. Individually, Dwight’s net rating is +2, while Jordan’s is 7.5. The Lakers are -44 with Jordan on the court, compared to +9 with Howard.

In terms of the eye test, Howard is far more active. He frequently ignites the Lakers. Jordan, at best, is passable.

 

If the Lakers are going to play a traditional center, Howard is an inarguably superior option. As Vogel tries to cool down his seat and keep the Lakers apace in the standings, tapping Dwight for more minutes should prove beneficial — if he can keep his fouls down — as it was for the bulk of the 2019-20 championship run.

Next, Vogel just has to let Dwight shoot threes.

Buccaneers, Tom Brady



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