The Los Angeles Lakers kick off the 2016-2017 NBA season on Wednesday night with an intriguing matchup against the Houston Rockets. While Dwight Howard may no longer be a Rocket, the game will represent the regular season return of Mike D’Antoni, whose last head coaching job ended when he and the Lakers agreed to part ways back in 2014.
D’Antoni has long been known as an offensive-minded coach, and this Rockets team appears to be assembled in that mold, with Harden joined by gunners like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. However, their defense may initially be worse than even D’Antoni is comfortable with, as pesky guard Patrick Beverly has been lost for four to six weeks thanks to a knee injury. The Rockets will compensate by using a starting backcourt of Harden and Gordon, who are both sub-par defenders. Gordon told Calvin Watkins of ESPN how he plans to fill in for Beverly:
“With me starting, I’m going to have to guard mostly the top perimeter guy and that’s fine,” Gordon said. “They will have to guard me also. You just have to play both sides of the ball very well. Pat is known well for defense and I have to put it up on both ends of the floor.”
In theory, the unfortunate injury to Beverly should lead to a productive opening night from the Lakers guards. It isn’t yet clear whether Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, or Nick Young will be the team’s starting shooting guard, but regardless of which one joins D’Angelo Russell in the backcourt, they should have a quickness advantage over Harden and Gordon. As Gordon notes, however, the Lakers (and everyone else) will also have to try to defend them on the other end, which is no small feat.
Wednesday night’s game should be an interesting competition to see which club can get stops when they need them, though the Rockets’ offense, at least on paper, looks to be a tough cover for a young Lakers team.
Also of note: Gordon has a history in Los Angeles. After originally being drafted by the Clippers with the seventh pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, he became the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, which went down after a deal the Lakers made for Paul was infamously vetoed by then NBA Commissioner David Stern.