Almost two months ago, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers lost to James Harden and the Houston Rockets in their first home game of the season. While it served as an early measuring stick, the Rajon Rondo-Chris Paul fight, with Brandon Ingram coming to his teammate’s defense, dominated the headlines.
Since then, the two teams have surprisingly gone in opposite directions. As the Lakers are 17-10 and fifth in the Western Conference standings, the Rockets are 12-14 and the second-worst team in the conference.
With the Lakers beginning their four-game road trip, Kyle Kuzma was asked about facing the Rockets for the first time since the skirmish. “A lot of isos, a team that predicates itself on switching defense,” Kuzma said, playing a bit coy. “It’s a little different from a lot of teams we’ve played recently.”
While Ingram and Rondo will not play due to injuries, Kuzma was asked if there is bad blood lingering between the two teams.
“I don’t know. Probably,” Kuzma responded. “[Paul] got hit in the face, so you never know.”
Although the Rockets are struggling, Lakers head coach Luke Walton knows it is difficult to win at the Toyota Center and is focused on the game — not the fight.
“None. No. We’ve got a game to play,” answered Walton when asked if his preparation for the matchup will factor in prior events. “It’s always a tough place to win at, so our prep is all about guarding them and what they do well. That’s the only place our mind is at.”
Since the Lakers started the season with a 2-5 record, Walton reflected on how the suspensions hurt their ability to build chemistry.
“One, we never want to fight. We’re not good with that. The only thing that hurt about that was us losing time together,” Walton explained.
“I think we’re showing now the more we get to know each other and the more we can practice and play together in games and understand each other, the better we become as a team. We missed that valuable time with Brandon and Rondo early in the season. Now we’re missing it for different reasons. It takes longer for us to get to where we need to.”
With eight new players, the Lakers have exceeded expectations through the first 27 games. Along with James playing at an MVP level, the young core is starting to learn how to flourish alongside him while also coming into their own.