The Los Angeles Lakers were soundly outplayed by the Denver Nuggets on Monday, during their 129-101 defeat on TNT with a completely youth filled lineup. Luke Walton made the final verdict regarding the outlook for the rest of the season, continuing to make lineup changes for the rest of the season
Wednesday’s 5:00 P.M. PST contest against the Houston Rockets will be another up-tempo kind of game, against the team in the NBA with the most three-point field goals made this season. This marks the third matchup between these two teams in 2017 and the first since December.
The Lakers took the first game with their 120-114 opening night victory, while the Rockets returned the favor in their 134-95 beat down on Dec. 7. Expect both teams to get a lot of shots up, as the contest at Toyota Center has the regular season series on the line.
The usual starting backcourt of the Rockets features two very different players on the court. MVP frontrunner James Harden is the deadly scoring option and newfound triple double machine, while Patrick Beverly is the defensive stopper in the backcourt and brings the same physicality every single game.
With 15 games remaining before the playoffs, Harden is averaging 29.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. The franchise player has the ball in his hands throughout the contest and runs Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense.
Perennial sixth man of the year Eric Gordon remains a deadly shooter on the wing, but has seen a decrease in his role with the arrival of Lou Williams. Magic Johnson pulled the trigger on the trade just before the NBA trade deadline, allowing Williams to play for a playoff contender, while the Lakers received a first-round pick in return.
Williams has played magnificently in his decreased role with the Rockets, providing another shooter on the floor and playmaker when Harden gets double-teamed. The former Laker is averaging 14.0 points in 22.8 minutes per game.
Walton has experimented with different starting lineups of late, but the goal remains the same. The development of the young players is the precedent set, in order to properly evaluate them over the final stretch of the 2017 season.
D’Angelo Russell unexpectedly was moved the bench unit, but still has been playing great since the All-Star break. He should expect a health dose of Beverly when on the court, but will need to start off strong offensively in order to get his teammates going.
Jordan Clarkson recently stated that his mindset isn’t different regardless if he is starting or coming off the bench. However, Walton has decided to give him the start on Wednesday. Clarkson is quick with both his feet and his hands, but needs some more experience on the court to improve his defensive abilities.
The third-year player has the talent to become one of the best two-way guards in the NBA, but also needs to find that balance between scoring and setting up his teammates.
David Nwaba rightfully received another 10-day contract with the Lakers, as his athleticism and defensive I.Q. has led to many defensive stops and steals. The former Los Angeles D-fender is great at filling the wing on fast break opportunities and isn’t afraid to get to the basket.
Tyler Ennis has received an increase in minutes off the bench, as another ball handling option in the offense. While the young core has seen a general increase in minutes, the other players on the court have seen a decrease. Nick Young recently lost his starting role and only saw 10 minutes against the Nuggets, but has been reinserted into the starting lineup alongside Clarkson.
Small forward and former Laker Trevor Ariza is a veteran option in this lineup that is capable of making the right decisions on the court. While his three-point shot spaces out the floor, he also attacks the glass and can finish over the defender in the paint.
Ryan Anderson has been a perfect fit for the Rockets, as a power forward that constantly spends his time on the wing. While he is averaging 4.9 rebounds per game, the Lakers have to constantly pay attention and rotate properly.
Clint Capela and Nene are the strength of the Rockets and represent the paint and rim protection, but also cannot be neglected on offense. Harden does a fantastic job of using pick-and-roll scenarios to set up those two centers for lob dunks.
Brandon Ingram has shown tremendous growth throughout his first NBA season, as his offensive game has developed with the continued action he has received. His versatility on defense and desire to hustle on the court are just the basis of why the Lakers are so how high on the 2016 first-round selection.
Power forward Julius Randle receives another favorable matchup on Wednesday, as he does have both the quickness and power advantage on Anderson in the post. However, Randle does need to pay attention to Anderson drifting on the court and can’t be caught sleeping.
Center Ivica Zubac shined against the Nuggets on Monday, but wasn’t pleased with the results. After the contest, he stated that the young core should be ashamed of their performance and need to come out hungry against the Rockets.
With Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov now shut down for the rest of the season, expect Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black to seamlessly get the bulk of the minutes off the bench. Nance Jr. has shown time and time again how he understands the game of basketball and proper ball movement, while providing a finisher at the rim for the second unit. Black is a constant model of hustle on the court, as he anchors the defense and collects any loose balls he can.
Corey Brewer collected seven points and four rebounds off the bench against the Nuggets, as he also provides another attentive defensive mind in the second unit.
Three Keys To Victory:
Constantly Rotate And Help Each Other Out
The Rockets do a great job of swinging the ball out and filling the wings on fast breaks, making Harden’s job as easy as possible. The Lakers need to make that effort to get back on defense, while also covering each other during switches on transition.
Play For One Another
Zubac’s criticism was harsh, but also fair. Walton recently called him team soft, which can be attributed physically and mentally. The Lakers need to have that strong showing against the Rockets, which also involves playing for each other and creating situations for their teammates to score in.
Play To Your Pace
The Rockets want as up and down game just as much as the young Lakers do, but Walton’s squad needs to do a good job of managing the situation. Facing a deadly shooting team on the road usually translates to a hostile environment, so Russell and Clarkson need to balance their opportunities to push the ball.
Houston Rockets (46-21) Vs. Los Angeles Lakers (20-47)
5:00 P.M. PST, March 15, 2017
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Rockets Starting Lineup:
PG: James Harden
SG: Patrick Beverly
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Ryan Anderson
C: Clint Capela
Key Reserves: Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, Nene, Sam Dekker
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Nick Young
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Ivica Zubac
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Corey Brewer