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NBA

Five teams that can replicate the Houston Rockets' all-in mentality

The Houston Rockets have never been a franchise to settle for half-measures, but this season they've gone further than ever before.

By essentially swapping Clint Capela for Robert Covington, Houston went all-in on small ball and will play the rest of this season as one of the most uniquely constructed teams in NBA history.

The time for system-altering trades has passed for the rest of the league but teams can still replicate Houston's mentality of embracing what makes them special.

Here are five teams in particular that can do just that.

Los Angeles Lakers - Play Even Bigger

Starting a traditional centre alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis has already made the Lakers one of the biggest teams in the NBA. They still have one step further to go, however, by playing more minutes with LeBron as their true point guard.

James already leads the league in assists and acts as their de facto point guard, so playing another point guard alongside him is often superfluous on offence and potentially damaging on defence - with the notable exception of Alex Caruso.

Possibly their greatest untapped weapon is the towering lineup of James, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Davis and Dwight Howard. That group has been dominant in their tiny - and largely inconclusive - three-minute sample size together but has the ability to be unstoppable.

Traditional lineups remain necessary during the regular season, but in the playoffs, holding onto normalcy may put a cap on the Lakers' potential. LA may already be title favorites but embracing their size is the key to dominance.

Philadelphia 76ers - Start Matisse Thybulle

Philadelphia's enduring struggles have forced Brett Brown to make a change. He chose to move Al Horford to the bench before Ben Simmons' injury, but so far Brown hasn't landed on a clear replacement.

While Glen Robinson III, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz may be more traditional fits, Thybulle is the highest-upside move.

His preternatural defensive instincts have been as advertised. He leads all rookies in steals and is fourth in the entire league in deflections per 36 minutes. Starting him next to Simmons and Josh Richardson with Joel Embiid patrolling the paint gives Philly a unit capable of rivaling Milwaukee's historically great defence.

Questions arise about Thybulle's fit on the offensive end, but in many ways he's just the player they need in that role. His 11.2 percent usage is perfect for an offence designed to run through Simmons, Embiid and Tobias Harris, and Thybulle has maintained a consistent enough 36.7 percent from deep to force defences to respect him as a catch-and-shoot threat.

He might not be enough to single-handedly right the ship for the Sixers but putting Thybulle in the starting lineup is the perfect way to cement Philly's identity and help them reemerge as true threats to Milwaukee in the East.

Oklahoma City Thunder - Embrace Small Ball

Going the opposite way as the giants in Philly and Los Angeles, OKC's strength lies in playing their three-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The offensive fit has been predictably great with more than enough playmaking, one-on-one ability and shooting between the three, but Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander's ability to guard up a position (or two) is what has turned the trio from a one-sided threat to a legitimately dominant lineup.

Despite playing together for under 10 percent of OKC's total minutes this season, the trio has an incredible +29.7 net rating when on the floor together - the second-highest of any three-man lineup in the league. They have also become a staple of Billy Donovan's closing lineups, a big reason why the Thunder have been the best clutch team in the league all season long.

Boston Celtics - Play Jayson Tatum at Centre

Tatum isn't a centre. Playing him there isn't proposing that he is, rather, going small with Tatum at the five is the best way for Boston to help their stars succeed offensively.

Both the blessing and curse of the Celtics core is that they all have overlapping skill sets. Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Tatum can all thrive as both offensive hubs and off-ball spacers and cutters. Going that one step further and replacing Daniel Theis or Enes Kanter with another floor-spacer like Marcus Smart gives Boston's four stars even more freedom to trample defences.

Brad Stevens went to Tatum at centre towards the end of their game against the Lakers last Sunday, and that lineup had real success. The Lakers didn't have a counter for Tatum all night, leading to a career-high 41 points. Instead of shifting either James or Davis onto Tatum, L.A. kept Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as his primary defender, which forced the All-Star forwards to chase smaller Celtics instead of protecting the paint.

Tatum has played 12 percent of his minutes at centre this season, according to Basketball Reference, so these lineups are more of a situational tool than a catch-all solution. The traditional lineups Boston uses are already successful but having the ability to go small in clutch situations is a fantastic counter for some of the league's most dangerous teams.

Toronto Raptors - Explore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with Starters

A never-ending slew of injuries has forced Nick Nurse to be creative with lineups all season, but he landed on a fascinating combination right before the All-Star break.

Against Minnesota, Nurse broke out a never before used lineup featuring Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Hollis-Jefferson and Pascal Siakam. That lineup played 21 minutes together and ran the new-look Timberwolves off the floor with a net rating of +25.3.

At first glance, that group doesn't appear particularly unique. What they do have, though, is a complete lack of weaknesses. Every player knows his role. They don't turn the ball over or allow offensive rebounds and all five players are great individual defenders.

Most of the lineups on this list are about forcing mismatches, but the beauty of this group is that it's a perfect counter. The offence will hold steady but they have the versatility to hold up defensively against the Lakers size or Celtics spacing. It's a fantastic tool for Nurse to explore down the stretch and may become a key to Toronto's playoff run.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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