The Lakers went small for the Houston Rockets series, but size will be important against the Denver Nuggets.
JaVale McGee’s playing time was significantly reduced during the Western Conference semifinals, but the former Nevada player is likely to get his time back when the Los Angeles Lakers play the Denver Nuggets.
McGee played two seasons with the Wolf Pack before becoming the No. 18 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, and he is currently the starting center for the Lakers. His role on the team has been interesting lately, but his contribution has still been valuable.
McGee is the Lakers’ starter averaging the least amount of minutes, and his playing time has seen a significant decrease lately. He averaged 16.6 minutes per game during the regular season but that playing time was cut to 7.5 minutes per game against the Houston Rockets. Power Forward Markieff Morris took over his starting spot during Game 4 and Game 5.
The change wasn’t because head coach Frank Vogel was unhappy with McGee. The decision came from the Lakers’ need to go smaller in order to match up better against the Rockets, who are known for small ball. Dwight Howard, another center, also saw less of the court during that series.
After Game 4, teammate Anthony Davis said not getting a lot of minutes can be upsetting for a lot of people, but that he thought Howard and McGee handled it in a way that was beneficial for the entire team.
“Those guys said at the start of the season they wanted to be here and do whatever to help the team win, and you see it,” Davis said. “They’re the loudest guys on our bench, cheering for our guys, talking to us during the games, talking to us during timeouts. That’s what we need.”
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Vogel agreed with Davis and said that with no fans in the stands, an enthusiastic bench and positive attitude were more important than ever.
“Their role acceptance in a matchup-oriented series like this is everything and it’s a big reason why we’re winning,” the coach said. “If they’re unhappy or disgruntled or anything like that, it pulls away from what we’re trying to do. Those guys deserve a lot of credit for their approach and handling the role that’s been given to them for this series.”
The next series will require more size, which should allow the big men to get more playing time.
Denver made it into the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7. Four Nuggets are scoring in double digits during the playoffs, but Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are averaging over 25 points per game.
The Clippers didn’t do a great job stopping them, Murray even put up 40 points during Game 7 with a 20-point second quarter.
However, the Lakers were more or less effective defending them during the regular season. Jokic averaged 16.3 points against them, which is below his regular season average of 19.9 points. Murray averaged 18.5 points, the same as his regular season average.
Jokic is versatile so guarding him will be an interesting task. The rotation for defending him will likely include McGee, Howard and Davis. While Davis could do a decent job, using the centers will be important to help keep Davis out of foul trouble and also make sure his offense doesn’t suffer.
On Wednesday, Vogel wasn’t going to give away his game plan but he did say the Lakers will return to more of their usual look to compete against the Nuggets.
“It does make this series a little different — a lot different, actually — than last series, in terms of how much we’ll use our centers,” the coach said. “I don’t want to get too much into detail, but obviously we’re gonna be the L.A. Lakers, who we’ve been all year. We adjusted to a small-ball team last series, but I would expect us to return to form.”
Game 1 of the Lakers vs Nuggets series is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 18 at 9pm ET.