The Los Angeles Lakers face the Houston Rockets on the road Wednesday night. It is the climax of a short two-game road trip for the Lakers and the second night of a back-to-back.
L.A. is coming off a strong victory against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. The Rockets defeat the Boston Celtics on Monday in a wild game after three straight losses. Houston has won consecutive games just four times this season.
A win for the Lakers would bring them to .500 for the first time since the start of the season and break a tie for the No. 8 seed if the Dallas Mavericks lose. A Lakers loss would keep them at the No. 10 seed and tied in the loss column with the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans.
Any result for L.A. will have to come with Anthony Davis on the sidelines. Head coach Darvin Ham said Davis will sit out because he hasn’t been cleared to play both legs of a back-to-back, even though Davis is pain-free. It is a precautionary measure for Davis’ right foot stress injury.
LeBron James is still out with a right foot injury, though he completed his first on-court activity before Tuesday’s game against the Pelicans. His rehab has been going according to plan. Mo Bamba is also out with a right ankle sprain. Everyone else is available for the Lakers.
The Rockets enter the matchup relatively healthy, except for center Alperen Sengun. He was questionable with a groin injury but is expected to play. Sengun dropped 33 points on 14-of-17 shooting against the Lakers in their previous matchup. The Rockets have no other injuries.
Even though they have the second-worst record in the entire league, the Lakers can’t take the Rockets lightly. On the right night, Houston can hand a playoff team a loss — they’ve defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics this season. They also have two stretches this season with at least 10 straight losses.
It’s the epitome of a team as young and talented as the Rockets — you never know what you’ll get from them. But, with Davis out, it’s important for the Lakers to come out to as strong a start as they did on Tuesday and leave no room for doubt.
D’Angelo Russell said he will be super aggressive if needed since Davis is out. Wenyen Gabriel will likely get the start with no other big man for L.A. Luckily for them, the Rockets often run a small lineup with Jabari Smith Jr. playing on the wing at 6-foot-11.
Smith has had a scorching March, shooting 50% from deep and scoring in double figures in all but one game. He had 24 points on 9-for-11 shooting against the Celtics on Monday. Making sure he doesn’t catch fire is key for a Lakers victory.
The same can be said for eccentric guard Jalen Green, who much like the Rockets can be a different player depending on the night. He dropped 41 points on 63% shooting in February and then followed it up with an 11-point performance on 26% shooting. He and Kevin Porter Jr. form a backcourt that struggles with efficiency but can heat up quickly.
The Lakers’ defense has been strong since the All-Star Break, but with no Davis, it will be interesting to see how they hold up. For all of their faults, Houston can still put the ball in the hoop.
It’s a must-win for L.A., especially since the Rockets are in Victor Wembanyama mode. With a key matchup against the Dallas Mavericks at home on Friday, positive momentum is key.
Los Angeles Lakers (34-35) vs. Houston Rockets (16-52)
5:00 p.m. PT, March 15, 2023
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Malik Beasley
SF: Troy Brown Jr.
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt
C: Wenyen Gabriel
Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV
Projected Rockets Starting Lineup:
PG: Jalen Green
SG: Kevin Porter Jr.
SF: Kenyon Martin Jr.
PF: Jabari Smith Jr.
C: Alperen Sengun
Key Reserves: Tari Eason, Jaeson Tate, Ty Ty Washington, Usman Garuba
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