Swaggy P is back and he helped provide a scoring boost for the Lakers as they defeated the Hawks last night. It was just the Lakers second win of the season but they will not get to savor it as they have a back-to-back game tonight. Next up is a rematch against the Houston Rockets, who defeated the Lakers 108-90 on opening night. The Rockets were dominated in their last game, suffering a 119-93 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Frontcourt: With Terrence Jones sidelined due to a leg injury, Donatas Motiejunas has filled in as the team’s starting power forward. The seven-footer has chipped in 5.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game thus far as he has struggled to effectively shoot the ball, compiling a measly percentage of 35.8. Motiejunas is capable of stepping out and knocking down perimeter shots, although it isn’t a strong component of his game. He will attempt to use his size to rebound inside against a smaller Laker frontcourt, meaning the latter will need to establish inside position whenever a shot goes up.
Former Laker Trevor Ariza has been a valuable asset for the Rockets in his second stint with the team. The knock on Ariza heading into this season was that he only performs well in contract years, but the 29-year-old has laid that claim to rest … to this point. As a premiere athlete, defender and spot up three-point shooter, Ariza can be effective on both sides of the ball, which is often problematic for opposing teams.
Manning the middle is the ever familiar Dwight Howard, who got into a scuffle with Kobe Bryant late in the first meeting between the two since Howard’s departure from Los Angeles via free agency. The big man looks the healthiest he’s been in years, as he seems to have some extra bounce and mobility this season. In nine games played this season, Howard has tallied 19.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game while anchoring the Houston defense with 2.6 blocks. Performances aside, the obvious storyline heading into this matchup is whether or not we see round two of Bryant versus Howard. The former teammates clearly aren’t fond of one another, so as Nick Young recently stated, “Get your popcorn ready.”
Backcourt: Patrick Beverley is far from a typical point guard, but he fills his role with the Rockets extremely well. He’s scored 10.6 points per contest on a surprisingly efficient 51.4 percent shooting, including 45.8 from three, but his impact is much more significant on defense. Beverley brings a level of toughness and physicality that most players don’t. He flat out refuses to back down from anyone, making him a thorn in the side of opponents on a nightly basis.
Beverley is one of several teammates often picking up the defensive slack left behind by James Harden, who can frequently be seen losing sight of his man off the ball. Despite being a liability on the defensive end, Harden is the star for Houston and primary option on offense. He has averaged 23.7 points, 6.9 assists and 6.5 rebounds in the early going, but has struggled with his efficiency, hitting just 37.2 percent of his shots from the field. Harden is coming off his worst game of the season, so expect him to be aggressive from the start as he looks to bounce back at home.
Keys to Victory:
Defend Without Fouling: Harden is notorious for drawing contact and earning free throws when he attacks the basket. He averages 10 free throw attempts per game, but had 16 of his team’s 50 on opening night at the Staples Center. Howard’s 16 attempts from the charity stripe in the first meeting are less worrisome, considering his horrendous career percentage from the line. However, the Lakers still need to trim down the number of times they give the Rockets a trip to the foul line, especially when it comes to those that capitalize at a higher rate like Harden.
Limit Open Houston Threes: A major part of the Rockets’ offensive attack is to space the floor and shoot threes. They lead the league in both three-point makes and attempts, and connected on 12 of their 29 tries back on October 28 in Los Angeles. After allowing the Warriors to go 14-28 from deep two games ago, the Lakers will need to be better in that area. With Houston possessing a multitude of shooters, it will be crucial that they limit open looks on the perimeter.
Balanced Offensive Attack: Everyone knows about the high usage rate on offense that Kobe has inherited this year, leading to him taking a substantial amount of shots. The other four Lakers on the floor need to be aggressive and look for their own scoring opportunities instead of always deferring back to number 24. The Lakers are at their best when Bryant gets his teammates involved without abandoning his ability as a scorer. The purple and gold will need contributions from everyone if they hope to keep up with this high-scoring Rockets team.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 12-point underdogs against the Rockets according to Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (2-9) at Houston Rockets (9-2)
6:30 PM PST, November 19, 2014
Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Rockets Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Donatas Motiejunas
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: PG: Isaiah Canaan, SG: Jason Terry, SF: Kostas Papanikolaou
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
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