Lakers

Vogel Propels Lakers to 3-1 Lead Over Rockets

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Lakers fans long awaited for their commander in chief to make a change to the starting lineup against Houston. It took until Game 4 for that change to happen. But it happened.

Frank Vogel finally matched the Rockets’ small ball philosophy by shifting Markieff Morris into the power forward slot. Anthony Davis moved to center and JaVale McGee to the bench. And the Lakers — they won 110-100 and are now one win from their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 2010.

Davis, who finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, noted some of the benefits of a smaller lineup after the win.

“We were able to rotate faster. We can switch a lot…When they do drive and get by one of us, our guys are able to rotate and cover up for our mistakes.”

LeBron James continued his elite play recording 16 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists. He commented on the lineup change postgame as well.

“Being able to have the luxury of being able to start Keef (Markieff) at the five, and having that versatility, having more speed out on the floor allowed us to stay home a lot on their three-point shooters for the majority of the game. So it worked well for us.”

McGee and backup center Dwight Howard were both inactive Thursday night and have seen little time this series overall. Howard hasn’t played since Game 1, and McGee has only played 28 minutes in four games.

This isn’t a knock on the two Lakers bigs. They’ve each, respectively, been instrumental to the Lakers’ success this season. Both McGee and Howard were utilized a lot in the first round against Portland, which also played two bigs in Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside.

Should the Lakers advance to the WCF, however, Vogel will likely insert McGee back into his starting role. In the mean time, he and Howard continue to support their teammates from the sideline.

But as the saying goes: it’s chess, not checkers. Vogel showed that by making the lineup change and also by throwing rookie Talen Horton-Tucker into the game in the second quarter.

THT played seven minutes, tallying five points, two rebounds and two steals while simultaneously providing LeBron James with extended rest. Whether we’ll see the first-year guard again remains to be seen. Vogel said starting Morris meant a reserve guard would play more.

That was supposed to be Dion Waiters, but since he was out with an injury, Vogel gave the nod to the rookie and he didn’t disappoint.

“I was proud of Talen Horton-Tucker for coming in in his first playoff minutes and playing really well,” Vogel said. “He’s got a bright future ahead. He’s a talented kid.”

Rajon Rondo aka “Playoff ‘Do” stayed hot in Game 4, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Lakers led by as much as 23 in the second half before a late Rockets surge in the final minutes made things interesting. Point guard Alex Caruso put the finishing touches on the win with this dagger from the corner.

Caruso logged 30 minutes Thursday night, scoring 16 points to go a long with a couple blocks. After the game, he was asked how much confidence it gives him when LeBron passed the ball to him with the clock winding down.

“Obviously, LeBron is the best player I’ve ever played with and probably will ever play with, and having him on my side obviously brings a lot of confidence,” Caruso said. “But I got here because I’m confident in myself, man….And it’s not to the point of arrogance. But when I’m in the game, I’m there for a reason.”

LAL will have to play a full 48 minutes to avoid going to a potential Game 6. But if they can defend the way they did for three-and-a-half quarters of Game 4, they’ll be fine.

After all, they did hold James Harden to 21 points on 2-of-11 shooting. Although, he made a killing at the line, converting 16-of-20 attempts. The Rockets shot 30-of-39 as a team compared to the Lakers which shot 15-of-16. A noticeable disparity.

Game 5 is Saturday at 5pm PST.

Follow us on Twitter @LakersLead for the latest Lakers news and insight.

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