The Lakers are coming off yet another extremely disappointing loss, giving up 40 points in the fourth quarter to the Orlando Magic and losing 113-103 to Dwight Howard’s former team. While coach Mike D’Antoni can take some blame for the loss for trying out some new substitution patterns and Howard for his 9-21 performance from the free throw line, the Lakers’ effort on the defensive end gets the most blame. The Lakers’ showed poor communication with regards to their rotations, and the Magic shot the ball well as a result.
The Lakers will be facing the Houston Rockets tonight for the second time this season, and they match up favorably with them on paper. The Rockets’ best player, James Harden, plays the same position as Kobe Bryant. Kobe still holds an advantage on him despite Harden’s outstanding production so far this season. Harden came over in a blockbuster deal to Houston from the Oklahoma City Thunder just before the start of the season in a deal that came as a huge surprise throughout the league. The Lakers won the first match up between the teams, 119-108, in a game that saw the Lakers score 68 points in the first half. Expect another high-scoring affair in this one, as the Rockets rank third in the league in scoring while the Lakers rank seventh. Now, let’s take a look at the match-ups.
Frontcourt: Many were surprised this past off-season when the Rockets signed center Omer Asik to a 3-year, $25 million deal. Asik played only 14 minutes a game as a reserve on the Chicago Bulls last season, but so far has had a very effective season. He comes in averaging a double-double at 11 points and 12.3 rebounds per night, and is one of the better defensive centers in the NBA. Though he has the bulk to keep Dwight Howard from establishing position on the block, Asik will have a hard time moving his feet to stay in front of Howard when Howard faces him up to attack the basket.
Small forward Chandler Parsons, in his second season, has established himself as one of the best role players in the NBA. He comes in averaging nearly 16 points a night, brings great versatility and length on the defensive end, and is shooting at a 43 percent clip from behind the three-point line. He has the ability on the defensive end to disrupt Kobe Bryant on the perimeter, and Kobe has shown tremendous respect for him in the past. Parsons has a very bright future in the league.
Backcourt: James Harden got his wish this past off-season to become the number one option on a team. Last season’s Sixth Man of the Year has had an excellent season to this point and will likely earn his first all-star selection. He is an outstanding playmaker out of the pick and roll and comes in averaging a career high 24.1 points per game to go with 5.4 assists per night. He will be the focus of the Laker defense, as he averages 29.4 points per game in Rocket wins compared with 18.9 points per game in losses. The Rockets go as he goes. Harden’s efficiency has taken a hit this season, however, as his shooting percentages are down across the board and he averages 4 turnovers a night. The Lakers’ pick and roll defense on Harden will be a key in this game, as keeping him out of the paint and forcing him into contested jumpers will be essential to securing a win. Expect Metta World Peace to start on Harden.
Jeremy Lin, fresh off his breakout season for the New York Knicks, was another addition to this re-made Houston roster this summer. While he will almost certainly never attain the statistics he put up during his “Linsanity” streak again, Lin has demonstrated that he’s a solid NBA point guard. He is a good distributor (6.6 assists per game) and has cut his turnovers down this season. Additionally, while he struggled mightily with his jump shot early in the season, he has started to regain the accuracy in his shot the past several games. Lin and Harden form a backcourt that creates lots of opportunities for the rest of the Rocket players when they are on the court together.
Keys to Victory:
Bench Scoring: While the Rockets have a strong starting five, their bench is one of the weakest in the league. Statistically speaking, they still average more points a night than the Lakers bench over the course of the entire season, but in this present moment the Lakers have the advantage off their bench thanks to the recently strong play of Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. Bench players typically play better at home, which helps the Rockets in this case, but if the Laker reserves outscore Houston’s than they will likely get the victory. While Meeks only played nine minutes last game against the Magic, expect Coach D’Antoni to increase his minutes as he now seen that Meeks is more effective than the other Laker guards off the bench.
Limit Houston’s Fast Break Points: While Houston only has one go-to scorer in Harden, they still manage to average 103 points a night, good for third in the league. They are also a solid, but not spectacular three point shooting team at 36 percent from beyond the arc. One of the reasons for their offensive output is the fact that they are fifth in the league in fast break points per night. The Lakers must limit Houston’s opportunities by keeping their turnovers down as well as using good shot selection in their half court sets.
Houston Rockets (8-8) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (8-9)
5:00 PM PST, December 4, 2012 Toyota Center, Houston, TX
CA TV: TWC Sports Network
Pacers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Jeremy Lin SG: James Harden SF Chandler Parsons: PF: Patrick Patterson C: Omer Asik
Key Reserves: G Toney Douglas, F Marcus Morris , G Carlos Delfino