The Los Angeles Lakers hit the road for a quick one-game trip as they faced the Houston Rockets Wednesday night.
The Lakers have been bit by the injury bug recently, as in addition to D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young and Jose Calderon being unavailable, center Tarik Black did not travel with the team as he’s nursing a sprained ankle suffered in Monday’s loss to the Utah Jazz.
With both of his starting guards out, Lakers head coach Luke Walton decided to go with Jordan Clarkson and Marcelo Huertas in his backcourt, which in turn moved Brandon Ingram back to his bench role.
Clarkson and Huertas had the tough task of guarding Houston’s tough guards, led by James Harden.
Centers Timofey Mozgov and Clint Capella exchanged buckets to open the game. Then, after turning the ball over, Huertas stole the inbounds pass and finished a layup to give the Lakers an early 4-2 lead.
Harden, who leads the NBA in assists, got his teammates going early as he had to assists to give the Rockets their first lead. Harden then drained consecutive 3-pointers after two Lakers turnovers, and the Rockets were out to a 14-7 lead.
Lou Williams and Eric Gordon, the two leading bench scorers in the NBA, became the first substitutions for each team at around the seven-minute mark. Protecting the ball continued to be an issue for Los Angeles, as seven turnovers in the first six minutes of the game led to the Rockets taking a 21-11 lead.
One possession after the timeout, Williams did what he does best and drew a foul while shooting a 3-pointer. He connected on all three free throws to get the Lakers’ deficit back to single digits.
The Lakers defense could not get any stops though, as the Rockets scored three consecutive easy baskets to push their lead back up to 30-19. Gordon ended the quarter in a flurry, making a trio of 3-pointers in the final two minutes.
The Lakers trailed 43-27, at the end of a disappointing opening quarter. The 43 points were the most for the Rockets in any quarter this season.
A pair of blocks by Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. kept the Rockets from two more easy layups in the beginning for the second quarter. Ingram also drained a three, followed by a mid-range jumper by Clarkson to cut the Lakers’ deficit to 47-34.
Ryan Anderson knocked down two free throws to stop a modest 7-0 Lakers run, and then Patrick Beverley stole the ball from Huertas and finished with a layup to push the lead back up to 15. Ingram quickly answered with another three to keep the Lakers within striking distance.
Sloppy play for both teams took over from there, as turnovers and missed open shots caused a Rockets timeout with the Lakers trailing 51-39 midway through the second quarter.
Five straight points for the Lakers out of the timeout in the form of a layup by Julius Randle and a three from Clarkson cut the deficit to seven, forcing Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni to call another timeout.
The Lakers went dry over the final three minutes and found themselves trailing 67-55 at the half. Williams’ half-court heave at the buzzer put a positive touch on what ended up being a poor close to the quarter for the Lakers.
He led the team through two quarters with 17 points off the bench, while Randle had 15 points and seven rebounds.
Neither team took control of the game early on in the third quarter as they exchanged baskets through the first four minutes.
The Rockets then scored five straight points behind a jumper by Harden and a three by Trevor Ariza to extend their lead back up to 17 points.
The Lakers continued to have no answer for Harden, as he rattled off eight points and two assists within the first six minutes of the third quarter. A Clarkson floater snapped the Rockets’ 10-0 run, but the Lakers were unable to slow Houston down.
Gordon hit back-to-back 3-pointers within the final minute of the quarter, and the Rockets led, 106-77, through three. Gordon led all players at that stage with 26 points, just ahed of Williams’ 24 points.
The final quarter saw much of the same, with the Rockets’ first five baskets all layups. Beverley snapped the streak with a 3-pointer just under the eight-minute mark, pushing Houston’s lead to 117-81.
The Lakers emptied their bench roughly halfway through the quarter, which meant playing time for rookie Ivica Zubac and Metta World Peace. Houston cruised to a 134-95 victory, led by 26 points from Gordon. His eight 3-pointers made set a career high.