With Kobe Bryant likely out for the rest of the year, head coach Byron Scott needs to turn his attention towards developing young guys who are likely to be in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform next year and evaluating those who may not be. With that being said, the Lakers are now losers of seven straight, and a win to start off a three game homestand would do wonders for team morale. That will be easier said than done as the last time these teams met at Staples Center, the Lakers were blown out by 18 in a lopsided season opener.
Frontcourt: Despite acquiring Josh Smith off of waivers, the Houston Rockets continue to start Donatas Motiejunas at power forward. Unlike Smith, he has the ability to space the floor and is naturally a better fit playing next to Dwight Howard. He has range out to the three-point line, but isn’t a gunner from there by any means, averaging just 1.5 attempts a game on the season. He has seen his minutes fluctuate, but has posted respectable averages of 10.9 points and 6.0 boards thus far.
A former Laker in Trevor Ariza starts at small forward for the Rockets. He is a fantastic defensive player that can be a bit inconsistent on the offensive end. Ariza has struggled mightily with his shot this season, averaging a miserable 37.4 percent from the field, but is fourth in the league in steals per game at 2.0. The other former Laker that typically starts with Ariza is Dwight Howard. However, Joey Dorsey is expected to start in his place tonight after Howard suffered an ankle injury against the Kings. Dorsey is a bull in the paint and can more than hold his own defensively against most centers. But he is undersized for his position and is a fringe NBA player at best. He is incredibly limited offensively and is going to do very little beyond putting back the offensive rebounds he grabs.
Josh Smith will backup both forward spots, but has really struggled with his shooting from the field. He is at just a shade above 40 percent from the field and he hasn’t recovered much from his disastrous start with the Pistons. He figures to get somewhere in the ballpark of 25 minutes tonight and the Lakers have to be thrilled if he continues to jack up jump shots at his atrocious percentages.
Backcourt: Like so many of his frontcourt teammates, Patrick Beverley makes his money on the defensive end. Back when Jeremy Lin was on the Rockets, Beverley won the starting job on the back of his superior defense. Since then, he has taken significant strides on the offensive end, evolving into an archetypal “three and d” type specialist. He is hitting a career best 39.8 percent of his three point shots and making a whopping 2.4 triples a game.
James Harden is a truly offensive-minded player who rounds out the Rockets’ starting lineup. James Harden has flourished since the trade that sent him to Houston and has not only developed into a bona fide franchise player, but into the best shooting guard in the game. He is the league’s leading scorer at 27.2 points and he also boasts averages of 5.5 boards and 6.8 dimes. Defensively, Harden still has room for improvement, but it’s tough to tell from his stats as he is, like teammate Trevor Ariza, in the top five in steals at 1.9, and is also a top shot blocking guard with 0.9 a game.
Keys to Victory:
Limit Threes and Drives: The Rockets are the most trigger happy team from beyond the arc by a wide margin. They lead the league in three-pointers attempted at a whopping 33.3 a game, which is nearly six more than the next team. This is all in line with GM Daryl Morey’s analytics basketball, which values the three ball very highly. The Rockets very much want to limit their mid range jump shots as they are focused on taking valuable three-pointers or getting into the paint for easy layups, so the Lakers will need to take those two areas away from them and force them into long mid range shots to keep them out of their comfort zones.
Minimize Harden’s Trips to the Line: James Harden is the league leader in free throws attempted a game at a ludicrous 9.2. He has been able to salvage several poor shooting nights with trips to the charity stripe and the Lakers will have to shut down this part of his game if they are to slow him down at all. With Dwight Howard likely sitting out, there will be extra weight on Harden offensively, so forcing him into a poor shooting night without putting him at the line should go far in crippling the Rockets’ offense.
Get Dorsey Into Foul Trouble: While Joey Dorsey is a respectable defender, he is undersized for his position and is prone to fouling to make up for this shortcoming. He has averaged more than 2 fouls in 10.9 minutes a game this season, which is an alarming rate. Already without Howard, the Rockets are thin at center and forcing Kevin McHale to bench Dorsey will open up the paint for the Lakers offensively.
Los Angeles Lakers (12-32) vs. Houston Rockets (30-14)
6:30 PM PST, January 25, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Rockets Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Donatas Motiejunas
C: Joey Dorsey
Key Reserves: SG: Corey Brewer, PF: Josh Smith
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Jordan Hill
C: Robert Sacre
Lakers Kobe Bryant Tears Rotator Cuff