The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping they will treat themselves to a record over .500 for the first time this season after a tricky Halloween clash with the Houston Rockets on Sunday.
The last time the Lakers had such an opportunity, they fell miserably to the then-winless Oklahoma City Thunder after squandering a 26-point lead earlier this week. Now it is the 1-4 Rockets standing in L.A.’s way to a positive record with their young squad hoping to play a similar trick on Los Angeles.
Houston has gone through a staggering metamorphosis since trading away James Harden in January of this year. The Rockets boast one of the youngest rosters in the NBA with an average age of 25.
Leading the way for Houston is the versatile Christian Wood, the new face of the franchise since 2020. The big man is averaging 19.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, shooting 46.2% from behind the 3-point line this season.
No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green came to help Wood steer the organization into a better future this year, chipping in 14.2 points per game. However, Green is yet to adjust to life in the NBA, struggling with underwhelming shooting accuracy early in the season. The 19-year-old guard makes 34.7% of his field-goal attempts and just 31.6% of those coming from downtown.
Poor shooting is a common theme for Houston this season. The Rockets convert just 42.6% of their field goal attempts — ranking 25th in the league — own the fifth-worst offense in the league with an offensive rating of 100.6, and commit the second-most turnovers per game (17.8).
A clash against a side struggling on the offensive end comes at an opportune time for the Lakers, who are still figuring out things on their defense. L.A. slowly finds a way to make more stops and managed to give up season-best 101 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
But Los Angeles remains the fourth-worst offense in the league with an offensive rating of 111.0 — and it showed against Cleveland. For large swaths of the game, the Cavaliers kept creating open looks for themselves but couldn’t convert them into points. The Lakers’ defense eventually showed some resistance in the final quarter, allowing the rivals to score just 16 points.
Carmelo Anthony should look forward to the Halloween clash. The 37-year-old forward was red-hot from behind the 3-point line on Friday, drilling down six treys on eight attempts (75%). Meanwhile, Houston concedes the most 3s in the league (43.4 per game).
If the 10-time All-Star finds a way to take advantage of the Rockets’ flailing perimeter defense, the Staples Center crowd might enjoy yet another Anthony masterpiece off the bench to end the eventful week.
As far as the Lakers’ injury report goes, LeBron James (ankle) and Dwight Howard (chest) are both questionable and game-time decisions.
Among other things to watch for in James plays, the LeBron James-Russell Westbrook pairing will surely find itself under scrutiny again. Ahead of the game, James said he is still figuring the way to get the most out of Westbrook’s presence on the floor.
In fairness, the 32-year-old guard is showing signs of a better understanding of the Lakers’ basketball after a tough opening week of the season. But still, James and Westbrook were to blame for 11 of L.A.’s 20 turnovers against Cleveland.
While the Rockets have been one of the most careless with the ball sides in the NBA this year, they are in the top-10 when it comes to forcing opponent turnovers. And even if many of their shots go wayward, they have the players who can benefit off of open looks behind the 3-point line, too.
Patience, focus, and ball protection will be key for the Lakers if they finally want to see their number of wins exceed the number of losses.
Lakers (3-3) vs. Rockets (1-4)
7:30 p.m. PT, Oct. 31, 2021
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Kent Bazemore
SF: LeBron James
PF: Anthony Davis
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, Dwight Howard, Austin Reaves,
Projected Rockets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jalen Green
SG: Kevin Porter Jr.
SF: Jaesean Tate
PF: Christian Wood
C: Daniel Theis
Key Reserves: Alperen Sengun, Eric Gordon, David Nwaba, Kenyon Martin Jr., Armoni Brooks