LOS ANGELES — In the first half Friday night, the Lakers were struggling to score against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz. They had 43 points on 36.8 percent shooting as Gobert — tasked with guarding JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard — dropped back in the paint and protected the rim, letting the other long Utah defenders be aggressive on the perimeter.
“Rudy is a problem for any offense going against their defense,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “If you have another center out there where he is rolling to the basket, he can kind of play center field and clog things up.”
Vogel knew what he wanted to do to counter that — play Anthony Davis at center. Something Davis has pushed back against doing full time, but the Lakers needed his ability to pop out and hit a three to pull Gobert out of the paint. Davis was down with it.
“If it makes sense, then obviously I don’t mind doing it,” Davis said postgame. “And it made sense tonight.”
The Lakers had 52 points on 45 percent shooting in the second half, not mind-blowing but good enough to get the win. (Davis at center on defense worked well too, he’s a great shot blocker and was going against a Jazz team still trying to figure out how to fit all its new pieces together.) LeBron James was able to play downhill and attack in the second half and had 23 of his 32 points on the night after the break.
The Lakers are not going to go with Davis at the center full time, Davis doesn’t want to deal with the bumps, bruises, and physicality of getting beat up down there on a night in, night out basis. Davis at the five is going to be situational, and Davis is good with that. Break it out for 10 minutes a game here, or for a half against a team like Utah with a good center they drop way back in the paint (Toronto does that with Marc Gasol, there are others).
It worked, and the Lakers are now 1-1 on the young season heading into a winnable game against Charlotte on Sunday.