Despite a dismal showing in the bubble and first playoff game and calls from pundits and fans to change the Lakers’ starting lineup, Frank Vogel elected to stay with the players who got him to the dance and it paid off.
In their four straight playoff wins over the Blazers, the Lakers’ starting lineup of James, Davis, McGee, Green, and Caldwell-Pope had a 5-player offensive rating of 147.1, defensive rating of 97.1, and net rating of 50.0. They outscored the Blazers by 50 points when on the court while shooting 60.4% from the field and 55.0% from deep while holding Portland to 44.6% from the field and 25.0% from deep, best for any Lakers’ lineups.
The individual stats for the Lakers’ starters during the four-game win steak also confirmed Vogel’s trust and confidence as all five, along with Kuzma and Caruso, posted positive net ratings and positive plus/minus ratings. Vogel’s likely to continue to rely on and give major minutes to this 7-player rotation featuring starters James, Davis, McGee, Green, and Caldwell-Pope and reserves Kuzma and Caruso as the Lakers advance in the playoffs.
While they haven’t played as well as those in the core rotation, three other players who will get minutes depending on the opponent and matchups are Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, and Rajon Rondo, now back from injury. The biggest lineup challenges Vogel will face is what to do with McGee and Howard if the Lakers have to play teams like the Rockets, Nuggets, Bucks, Raptors, or Heat, who all have centers who are capable 3-point shooters.
While the Lakers have thrived all season playing big when opposing teams go small, the playoffs present a different challenge and game-to-game adjustments become more important the deeper teams go into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see what Vogel does with McGee and Howard should the Lakers face the Rockets in the second round. Javale has played well while Dwight has struggled but neither is good as a perimeter defender.
The Lakers best lineups are when they go small ball with Davis or Morris at the five and McGee and Howard on the bench, which they did just 26% of the time in the regular season and only 33% of the time in the playoffs. Going forward, the Lakers are likely to play small close to half of the time, like they did back in March when they swept the Bucks and Clippers in back-to-back game with Davis or Morris playing center 48% of the time.
Overall, Vogel’s done an exemplary job managing the Lakers’ rotations when you consider the varying playing time he’s given McGee and Howard and the challenge of integrating late additions Morris, Waiters, and Smith. While he’s been hesitant to change his starting lineups, he’s embraced playing small with Davis or Morris at the five when matchups demanded it and done a good job doling out minutes to allow everybody to contribute.
Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel should be congratulated for staying with the players who got him to the dance and not listening to the critics who demanded changes. Hopefully, he’ll continue to make the right calls.