Friday proved to be somewhat of a let down amidst recent events for this young Los Angeles Lakers team, falling to the L.A. Clippers after a disastrous first quarter. The return of Blake Griffin, mixed with a team playing with emotions, combined for a deficit Luke Walton’s team could not overcome.
The Lakers held a heart-to-heart meeting with the intentions of clearing the air. While it may help build some more team chemistry, it won’t necessarily translate to better results on the court.
With that being said, the NBA season continues to provide an opportunity for quick turnarounds. Such is the case on New Year’s Eve not only for the Lakers, but the Houston Rockets as well.
Houston and Los Angeles had their names linked together over the past two seasons, including the two separate trade deadline acquisitions. However, the outlook for each franchise is drastically different, with the Rockets in position for their best championship run since the days of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.
Their franchise pillars include James Harden and Chris Paul, two electric ball-handlers that have each provided problems for the Lakers. Harden stands as an MVP candidate this season, averaging a career-high 32.1 points, along with 5.1 rebounds, 9.0 assists, and 1.8 steals.
Paul returned to action on Friday after missing three consecutive games due to a groin injury. His absence coincided with the Rockets’ current five-game losing streak that equals that of the Lakers.
The Lakers offense is in a huge rut, as they look to remain afloat without Lonzo Ball. He suffered a left shoulder sprain and did not join the team on their two-game road trip.
Also without center Brook Lopez, the interior of the Lakers has been rather weak. Walton has looked to Andrew Bogut to fill the void defensively, but his stamina and lack of offense have this team attempting changes.
Julius Randle, who was visibly distraught following a stretch of reduced minutes, was inserted into the starting lineup against the Clippers for the first time this season.
Kyle Kuzma should be a huge factor against the Rockets, despite coming off of his worst two-game stretch of his rookie season. Kuzma has shot 10-for-38 over the past two games, including 2-for-18 from beyond the arc.
The Lakers desperately need his shooting to return to the norm, especially when Kuzma starts to exude that confidence the front office was so proud of. Kuzma scored a career-high 38 points against Houston on Dec. 20.
Three Keys To The Game
Stay Disciplined Defensively:
It is no secret the Rockets like to get out and run under head coach Mike D’Antoni. The Lakers have to stay disciplined with their defensive rotations and matchups in transition, not allowing the Rockets many open 3-point opportunities.
Los Angeles also needs to stay wary of the Rockets deception, using many pump fakes and drives to set up their centers at the rim.
Keep The Rockets Guessing On Offense:
These Rockets aren’t the most sound defensive team in the NBA, with the Lakers putting up 122 points against them less than two weeks ago. L.A. needs ball security against a team that likes to gamble towards easy baskets, meaning they must keep their fundamentals intact and turnovers limited.
Let Defense Create Offense:
With Ball sidelined, the Lakers have lost a majority of their transition opportunities. Without his court vision and ability to throw an accurate outlet, the team has had to struggle for these kinds of easy baskets.
With that being said, the Lakers must make a concerted effort to end each of Houston’s possessions with one shot attempt. Los Angeles will have a tough time keeping up with their scoring pace, needed a strong defensive effort to stay close.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-23) Vs. Houston Rockets (25-9)
4:00 P.M. PST, December 31, 2017.
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Josh Hart
SG: Kenatvious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Julius Randle
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Corey Brewer
Projected Rockets Starting Lineup:
PG: James Harden
SG: Chris Paul
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Ryan Anderson
C: Clint Capella
Key Reserves: P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green