Lakers prove height matters
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has a theory.
In an interview with ESPN 710's Steve Mason and John Ireland on Tuesday, Morey said he thinks height is overrated.
This is basketball we're talking about, right Daryl?
A sport in which the 7-foot-7 Kenny George could get a scholarship to a Division I school without being able to run a wind sprint without his knees swelling up the size of balloons; in which men spend hours educating their players about the finer aspects of team defense but just shrug their shoulders when a post player reaches to the heavens for a put-back dunk ("You can't teach height"); in which 30 out of the past 40 No. 1 picks in the NBA draft play either power forward or center.
Does Morey still think height is overrated after the Los Angeles Lakers simply outsized the Rockets to win 88-79 on Tuesday?
Los Angeles held a 50-36 advantage on the boards and a 48-36 control of points in the paint.
"They're a good team," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "They're big, they're long, they're smart."
Even on a night when the Lakers were missing their 7-foot starting power forward, Pau Gasol, because of a left hamstring strain, L.A. was able to plug in the 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom and his 7-foot wingspan in Gasol's place.
Odom, playing with flu-like symptoms after visiting the doctor to check up on some gastrointestinal discomfort, had his finest game of the season. Racking up 17 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists, he teamed with Andrew Bynum (24 points, eight rebounds) to not only score inside but stop Houston from doing the same.
"It's hard to get to the basket against them. ... You get to the basket and there's people there," Adelman said after L.A. held his team to 40.3 percent shooting from the field. "It's hard to finish."
While Odom was the Lakers' best player on Tuesday, the 7-foot Bynum was responsible for the sequence to seal the game -- first flipping in a hook shot in the paint with 2:11 left to put L.A. up by seven and then using his lengthy reach to steal a ball from Luis Scola in the paint with Houston down five and threatening to cut it to a one-possession game.
Morey's team starts a 6-foot-6 center in Chuck Hayes, who is the same height as Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, and a 6-foot point guard in Aaron Brooks, who is barely taller than Lakers equipment manager Rudy Garcidueñas.
For Morey, it's not the size of your five but the motion of your offense.
"They play a real good brand of team ball," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They play together, use their strengths, hide their weaknesses. & They don't have a big guy, but they got really good positional players and role players."
Jackson's right. Houston is staying in the playoff hunt by relying on two "h" words it does have -- hustle and hardwork.
But that can only get you so far against a team like the Lakers that has it all.
David might have beaten Goliath and Jack might have chopped down the beanstalk to kill the giant, but there was also the time Reagan won in a landslide fashion over Mondale. Sometimes the favorite is the favorite for a reason.
The underdog wins when the champion is complacent. Hard work trumps talent only when the talented fails to work hard.
"When you get the ball down to underneath the basket, we're a pretty good team," Odom said.
Jackson agrees, saying that feeding Bynum was "probably the best thing that we did over the course of the night," ranking it above the two left-handed floaters that Bryant got to fall after hustling to keep the ball alive on broken plays.
Having 7-footers just makes everything easier. Jackson's been around the game long enough to know.
"The league goes through these phases occasionally," Jackson said about Houston's style of play.
He remembered a time when the 7-foot-1 Wilt Chamberlain and the 6-foot-11 Nate Thurmond were starting together for the San Francisco Warriors in the mid-1960s, only to be supplanted by the 6-foot-7 Wes Unseld and the 6-foot-9 Elvin Hayes in Baltimore as the league's prototypical frontline by the end of the decade.
It's a formula that can work, but there's nothing as tried and true in hoops as having a guy who can plant his butt in the paint, hold the ball above his head, turn around and get you a layup.
There's a scene in the movie "Liar Liar" in which the son of Jim Carrey's character tells him that his teacher says that real beauty is on the inside. Carrey, forbidden from fibbing, responds, "That's just something ugly people say."
Give Morey credit for spinning his team's current situation -- missing the 7-foot-6 Yao Ming all season because of a broken foot -- as best as he can, but the truth is that height counts in basketball.
The Lakers have it and a whole lot more.
Dave McMenamin is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.