The Los Angeles Lakers open up the 2016-2017 NBA season with a difficult matchup against the Houston Rockets. Not only does the contest present the return of Mike D’Antoni, who took over as head coach of the Rockets this summer, but it also will also be the first regular season game the Lakers will play in 20 years without Kobe Bryant on the roster.
Bryant’s absence will certainly be noticeable, but the current Lakers squad represents a mix of veterans and young talent that hope to lay the foundation for a successful future. Harden mentioned to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that even without Bryant, the Lakers will pose a formidable challenge:
“They have a lot of young, really, really good talent over there,” Harden said. “We’re focused on how we can get better, no matter who we’re playing. They’re going to play fast. They have a lot of young, athletic guys. They have a lot of guys who can score the basketball. What will help us out is taking really good shots so we’re able to get back in transition and they have to play against our halfcourt sets defensively every game.”
With defensive dynamo Patrick Beverly sidelined with a knee injury, the Rockets will start Harden and Eric Gordon in the backcourt, neither of which is known for their ability to get stops. That being the case, it’s no surprise that Harden would essentially claim that the best way to stop the Lakers is for the Rockets own offense to be efficient.
For the Lakers, attacking the Rocket’s weaker defenders will be critical, but they will also have to take care to stick close to shooters on the defensive end. Players like Harden, Gordon, and Ryan Anderson may not be lockdown defenders, but they can score in bunches, and D’Antoni is certain to run a warp-speed offense that will have Houston gunning from the opening tip.
It won’t be easy, but if the Lakers can balance smart defense with an opportunistic offense, they just may be able to start the season off with a win.