The Lakers trailed the Houston Rockets by only six points at the start of the fourth quarter when they tried a lineup that had never played together in a game.
Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, LeBron James, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard took the court together.
Against that lineup, the Rockets quickly increased their lead to 12 before the Lakers made substitutions. Houston ultimately put together a 16-3 run to start the quarter on the way to winning Game 1 of their second-round playoff series, with the Lakers’ only points coming from a three-pointer by Rondo, who was playing his first game in the bubble after having surgery on a broken thumb.
“It’s super tough,” Morris said when asked about the difficulties of learning a new lineup during the playoffs. “But in the playoffs anything can happen, you’ve just gotta be ready to play when your number’s called. Coach trusts us, that’s why he put us out there. We’ve just gotta be better. If we can’t score the ball, we at least gotta be able to get stops … be physical.”
Howard played the first 2:53 of the quarter as the Lakers’ deficit grew to 15 by the time he left the court. Both Howard and Rondo declined to speak with reporters.
At the end of that run, the Rockets had a 19-point lead. The Lakers' inexperience together, though, was not something they chose to emphasize.
“Whoever is on the floor, we got to do a better job of executing,” James said. “And EG [Eric Gordon] came in in the fourth quarter and sparked them on the offensive end. Getting to the line. Getting into the paint. Making shots. And we didn’t get any to fall for us. So we got to do a better job of that.”
Morris managing priorities
For Morris, the bubble has had a family atmosphere. His twin brother Marcus plays for the Clippers, and the two have spent time together the last two months.
Now, their kids are here too.
“It’s great, man,” Morris said. “My daughter and my nephew get to spend some time together. Obviously we’ve been here enough, we’ve spent some time together. Whenever we can get together it’s always a great feeling. We live right around the corner from each other anyway, so we spend a lot of time together anyway. Just to be here and come here and spend some time, it’s good for all of us.”
There were about 16 guests of Lakers players at Friday night’s game. They included players’ children, their wives or partners and even some parents..
But as a team, the Lakers haven’t held family gatherings.
“Probably eventually,” Morris said. “Seeing our families is one of the most important things, but we’ve gotta keep the task at hand and that’s coming here to win a championship.”
Rebounding as rebounders
One unexpected deficiency of the Lakers in Game 1 was their rebounding. Despite being bigger than the Rockets, the Lakers did not have an edge on the boards, with each team grabbing 41.
Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made an effort to explain what happened.
“We shoot a lot of threes and like mid-range twos and they bouncing all over the court and they pretty much sandwich rebounding our bigs,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Most of the time we only got one big in there trying to rebound and for us, like just with the guards, we’re not trying to help get some of the rebounds, help out, but we know they’re going to double team them on the glass because they are small. As guards and as other players, we gotta get in there and try to get some of the rebounds.”