In a game without Brook Lopez (right ankle sprain) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (court-ordered travel restriction), the Los Angeles Lakers ripped off a hot start and stopped the streaking Houston Rockets with a 122-116 win.
Kyle Kuzma, inserted into the starting lineup alongside Andrew Bogut and Brandon Ingram in the front court, led the Lakers with a career-high 38 points. It marked a fifth consecutive game in which Kuzma scored in double-figures, and his third straight with at least 20 points.
He scored 16 of his points in the first quarter, behind 6-of-6 shooting to help L.A. to an early lead. Kuzma’s 16 points in a quarter matched an individual high this season, which he previously set on Dec. 3, also against the Rockets.
Moreover, Kuzma made his first nine shots, including six 3-pointers. He joined Donovan Mitchell (twice) as the only rookies with six shots made from behind the arc in a game this season.
Kuzma then became the first rookie this season with seven 3-pointers made when he knocked one down from distance in the third.
In somewhat of an oddity, Julius Randle didn’t check in until the second quarter. He often found himself guarding James Harden because of defensive switches, which proved futile for Randle and the Lakers.
The Rockets’ deficit grew to as many as 22 points in the second quarter but Harden single-handedly nearly erased it. He scored 24 of his 30 first-half points in the quarter, pulling the Rockets to within four points by halftime.
Houston opened the third with a 6-1 spurt to take a lead, but the Lakers reclaimed the lead behind Kuzma’s strong play and Brandon Ingram’s contributions. Unstoppable as Harden was in the first half, he managed 21 over the final two quarters.
Some of that can be credited to Corey Brewer, who entered off the bench and hounded the MVP candidate. Along with forcing Harden to work for his offense, Brewer led all Lakers reserves and was second on the team with 21 points.
After the Rockets tied the game at 100, the Lakers responded with an 18-6 run to pull away late and hang on. Their snapped a three-game losing streak and ended Houston’s 14-game winning streak.
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