HOUSTON – In hopes of preventing Dwight Howard from fully taking out any pent up aggression on his former team, the Lakers will add more size to their starting lineup by starting Chris Kaman at power forward over Shawne Williams.
Kaman will join Pau Gasol to match up against the Rockets’ frontcourt, including Howard and 7-footer Omer Asik. But Lakers coach Mike D’ANtoni suggested the lineup switch reflected a want to accommodate players’ wants than pursuing matchups.
“Just to make sure guys don’t have excuses not to play hard,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think it’s a lineup change. It’s getting guys in the right frame of mind to be able to compete for 48 minutes. We haven’t been doing that. Everybody is talking. It’s definitely not Shawne Williams. He plays the first five minutes and we’re fairly close and then we get beat by 30. It’s not that. It’s getting guys to be able to consistently have the energy to play.”
Williams has struggled so far with the Lakers, averaging 3.2 points on 35.2 percent shooting in 13.6 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Kaman has averaged nine points on 61.1 percent shooting and 5.6 rebounds in 16.1 minutes despite missing the tail end of training camp because of a stomach virus. Jordan Hill will remain an energetic presence off the bench, though he showed some rare marksmanship following morning shootaround by making a three-pointer while sitting in his seat.
Earlier this week, Kaman had openly expressed playing more alongside Gasol after the two showed consistent offensive chemistry during training camp.
“Just the way that he’s unselfish and he makes it easy for everybody,” Kaman said of Gasol. “Not just for myself, but for everybody. He’s a willing passer, playmaker. He’s also one of the most skilled big man in the league for the past 10 years. Maybe more. You don’t see a lot of guys like him. He’s a unique player. All the guards like it too because hes’ looking for guys over the top. He makes it easy.”
But D’Antoni remains reluctant the big lineup could solve the Lakers’ defensive lapses. Without Howard’s presence, the Lakers rank among the league’s worst in defense, allowing 109 points per game (29th overall out of 30 NBA teams) on 47.98 percent shooting (27th)
“In spots it looked good. In other spots it didn’t look good,” D’Antoni said about the Gasol-Kaman tandem. “We have to make sure we have ball movement. But it comes down to defense. Do we have enough speed to be able to guard or are we concentrating enough to do it?”
Kaman showed that lapse of concentration by playing “Deer Hunter” on his cell phone while talking with reporters.
“I’m trying to kill animals right now,” Kaman deadpanned.
Kaman is an avid hunter so it’s hardly surprising he played Nintendo’s “Duck Hunt” when he was younger. he took the game so seriously that he refused to aim the Nintendo gun close to the screen to maximize his marksmanship.
“I took it as far back as I could because I’m a nice shot,” Kaman said.
Now that Kaman has a shot to play with Gasol again, D’Antoni said he’s adopting a wait-and-see approach on whether he will stick with this lineup long term.
“DO youu mind if i see what it looks like?” D’Antoni said, laughing. “We’ll look at it. If it’s good, we’re going to stay. If it’s not good, we’ll probably try something else.”
This marks D’Antoni’s second lineup change through five games. He replaced Xavier Henry at small forward over Nick Young after three games. Lakers guard Steve Nash also said it’s likely he will sit out Friday against New Orleans as part of D’Antoni’s season-long plan to preserve him on the second night of back-to-backs.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org