PJ Tucker, starting Center for the Houston Rockets. It feels strange to even say, but it’s something that the Rockets have wholeheartedly committed to until season's end.
And we got the full display of why they put so much confidence into this lineup at Staples Center, as they brushed the Lakers aside en route to a fourth straight victory.
The first 45 minutes were relatively even, before the Rockets showed exactly what this team is about. They began to dial in from distance as well as lock up defensively, which painted a picture of exactly how good this new Rockets defense can be.
One play late in the game in particular highlighted their defensive intensity and ability to perfection.
Houston up 2 with just under 4 minutes remaining, Alex Caruso dumped the ball down to Anthony Davis on the left baseline just outside the key. Davis would slowly begin to post up Tucker, his defender, but PJ refused to budge. After realising he would not be able to get into the lane via post up, AD swiftly floated into the paint with two quick steps before attempting a quick fade-away over Tucker's outstretched arms. As he was about to release the ball, debutant Robert Covington came into the paint and used his long arms to send the shot off course, the ball safely looping to James Harden's awaiting hands.
This play is an embodiment of exactly what the Rockets envisioned their defense to be without any true Centers, showing that they can out strength teams that are bigger than them. It is also something we have seen the Rockets do time and time again without any big guys in the lineup, the forwards just having to put in extra heart and drive.
Unsurprisingly, there were plentiful moments where the Rockets were outplayed in the middle, but that is an issue for all teams against the Lakers, not just them. The fact that they withstood such a tough test in the first game together is a testament to the passion they put into the game, especially guys like Russell Westbrook and Tucker who can inspire the rest of their teammates to be great.
Because of the height disadvantage, they committed to double teams in a lot of the rebounding contests, trying to bully bigger opposition off of the boards rather than outreach or outjump them. This is a tactic they applied flawlessly against Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert in the win without Capela not long ago, which they will have to use for the rest of the season as well.
This Center-less Rockets team will not have many worries in the short-term, the question now revolves around whether they can continue to be banged up inside, or whether all the bumps and bruises will get to them.