The Clint Capela trade looked like a moment of madness, but Mike D’Antoni and the Houston Rockets may have made a masterstroke after the small-ball Houston Rockets took down the Los Angeles Lakers in convincing fashion on Thursday night.
The 121-111 victory saw the Rockets triumph over LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Lakers while fielding a starting lineup with nobody taller than 6-foot-6. With PJ Tucker playing at center, Houston still managed to triumph behind a dominant performance by Russell Westbrook and key contributions from newcomer Robert Covington, the main acquisition in the Capela trade.
D’Antoni is certainly happy with the result because it helps sell this wild experiment to everybody in the locker room, per Rachel Nichols of ESPN:
Houston Coach Mike D’Antoni says beating the Lakers on the Rockets’ first night with their super-smallball lineup helps sell this experiment even within the locker room. Said if they had gone out and gotten “spanked” tonight it would have deflated everyone.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) February 7, 2020
The biggest fear Rockets fans had about the trade was the lack of interior defense that Capela provided. However, they made up with speed what they lacked in interior defense. Since the lineup is a lot smaller, this allowed the team to push the tempo even further.
This may seem crazy to the weary Houston fan, but this is just D’Antoni being his usual self. After all, he is the progenitor of the pace-and-space movement that the NBA is currently in with his mid-2000s Phoenix teams. He has just taken things a bit further by not fielding an actual center for much of the game.
The experiment is working so far, so it’s very unlikely that they will veer away from this tactic any time soon. If it does backfire on them, they have Tyson Chandler or perhaps an upcoming acquisition to fall back on. This all-out commitment to small ball may suit this Rockets team the best, and their risk would be justified by a championship at season’s end. We’ll see how this bold strategy plays out.