The Los Angeles Lakers have lost five straight games, but their eight game road trip comes to an end tonight in Houston. A hot D’Angelo Russell will lead the Lakers against a struggling Houston Rockets team and the Lakers will look to end their road trip with a win.
Jordan Clarkson is questionable to make a return to the floor after he sat out last night against the San Antonio Spurs with an ankle injury.
Kobe Bryant and D’Angelo Russell were the bright spot in their blowout loss to the Spurs, and Russell continues to show signs of improved confidence. Julius Randle had a rough night against the Spurs big men, so he will be eager to redeem himself against the Rockets. The Lakers longest road trip of the season has finally come to an end, and they hope to end it on a positive note.
The Lakers will face a familiar foe down low when they visit Houston. Dwight Howard is the starting center for the Rockets and he is probably still the most hated former Laker, after he bolted for Houston in 2013. Howard has not been the player he once was for the Orlando Magic; he is only averaging 12 points and 12 rebounds per game this season. He may not be the player that he once was, but the Lakers need to keep him off the glass.
Another familiar face that the Lakers will see is Trevor Ariza, who won a championship with Los Angeles in 2009. Ariza has had a decent career since leaving the Lakers and has improved his three-point shot over the years. Ariza is still a shutdown defender and can cause problems for the Lakers on the offensive end if they lose track of him.
One of the premiere guards in the league, James Harden, is the captain and the undisputed leader of the Rockets. Harden is the best player on the team and he is averaging 29 points with seven assists on the year. Harden can fill up the stat sheet and he is a maestro at getting to the free throw line.
Starting alongside Harden is Patrick Beverley, who is a pest on the defensive end. Beverley was drafted by the Lakers in 2009 with the No. 42 overall pick, but was dealt to the Miami Heat in exchange for a future draft pick. Beverley does not do anything great, but he is a decent role player who can knock down the occasional open jumper.
Keys to Victory:
Pound the Paint: Tonight will be a great night for Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert to attack the paint and try to get Dwight Howard in foul trouble. Both big men need to play physical with Howard because he gets frustrated easily and will pick up silly fouls by swinging his elbows high. If the Lakers can frustrate Howard and get him in foul trouble, they should be able to have their way in the paint against the frontcourt of the Rockets.
Play Through Russell: Head coach Byron Scott has seemingly given D’Angelo Russell free reign on offense and he has been more assertive and more productive overall. With Russell running the show, the Lakers have moved the ball better and have shot a better field goal percentage. Scott must continue to trust Russell down the stretch and this will eventually lead to more wins for the Lakers.
Help Defense: James Harden is an expert at beating his defender off the dribble, so the Lakers are going to have to help each other out on defense. If a big steps up to help stop Harden, the weak side defender needs to help the helper. In other words, if Hibbert helps off of Howard, somebody needs to rotate to Howard defensively to prevent an easy dunk. If the Lakers can do this, they will have a good chance of beating the struggling Rockets.
Los Angeles Lakers (3-20) vs. Houston Rockets (11-12)
5:00 P.M. PST, December 12, 2015
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 (Spanish)
Rockets Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Clint Capela
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: PG: Jason Terry, SF: Corey Brewer, PF: Terrence Jones
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Lou Williams
SF: Kobe Bryant
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: PF: Julius Randle, SG: Nick Young, PG: Marcelo Huertas