The Los Angeles Lakers have hit a bump in the road during this 82-game season. After a positive start, the injury bug has caught up to rookie head coach Luke Walton, leaving him with a depleted roster. The Lakers travel to the Toyota Center for a Wednesday showdown against the Houston Rockets.
The key situation regarding the short-handed Lakers has to do with the rotation and bench unit. While Walton does not want to alter the rotation with the second unit, he has put forth a subpar starting lineup.
The Lakers enter Wednesday’s contest without at least four players, as Larry Nance Jr. remains questionable with a knee contusion. D’Angelo Russell (knee) and Nick Young (calf) were already sidelined, although Russell received some positive news on Tuesday regarding his knee.
Walton’s lineup then took a hit when Jose Calderon (hamstring) went down after chasing a loose ball, which resulted in him being sidelined for 2-4 weeks. During Monday’s contest against the Utah Jazz, backup center Tarik Black sprained his ankle and will not travel with the team to Texas.
The Rockets backcourt looked different during the season opener against the Lakers. After dealing with a knee surgery, Patrick Beverley has returned to the lineup and taken a chunk of the minutes. James Harden still resides as the primary playmaker and ball handler, but the peskiness and defensive prowess for the Rockets has surely increased.
Eric Gordon took the bulk of the guard minutes alongside Harden early in the season, but can now share the intensity with Beverly. The scoring guard has the ability to take it to the basket, but also spaces the floor when Harden uses the pick and roll. He tweaked his ankle in an earlier game against the Boston Celtics, but stated he believes he will play against the Lakers.
Harden has taken this season by storm, almost keeping up with the pace Russell Westbrook has set. With the ball in his hands seemingly more than last season, he has seen a lot more easy assists because of the attention he draws. Through 21 games this season, he is averaging career highs in assists (11.6) and rebounds (7.6), while getting about 29 points per game.
Guard Lou Williams has picked up the lack of scoring in the backcourt, becoming the first Lakers player to score 38 points in consecutive games since Kobe Bryant. Williams has been handed the primary scoring duties for the Lakers, which at times has been a bad thing.
During the final few minutes against the Jazz, Williams seemingly got tired as the game went on, coming up short on his last few shots. The offense wasn’t producing many opportunities, which ended with his teammates giving him the ball with the shot clock winding down.
He, Marcelo Huertas and Brandon Ingram need to execute the offense at a quicker rate, rather than settling for pick and roll situations late in the clock. Playing against the up-tempo Rockets will mean more possessions than an average NBA game, so both teams will be running.
With Mike D’Antoni’s offensive scheme, the forwards on the team provide a strong shooting presence on the floor. Ryan Anderson’s spot up role with the team is something Julius Randle must keep track of.
Former Laker Trevor Ariza has been the longtime small forward for the Rockets, as his veteran presence is always welcome. His defensive awareness provides a lot of steals and fast break opportunities, as the transition defense will be key.
Clint Capela has developed tremendously early into his NBA career. Capela was the main reason the Rockets didn’t feel affected by Dwight Howard’s departure, as the organization is eager to see the improvement from the big man. As James Harden’s primary screen setter, he receives a lot of easy baskets and lobs.
During the initial meeting with the Lakers this season, Capela received a tremendous amount of lobs to the rim from Harden, for easy dunks. With Timofey Mozgov, Thomas Robinson and perhaps Ivica Zubac receiving time manning the middle, they must decide which player they are going to guard off the pick so the help side defense can rotate.
Three Keys To Victory
Limit Transition Opportunities:
With the Rockets at home, they are sure to get up and down the court. Against an injury-riddled Lakers roster, D’Antoni will want the tempo to stay at a high pace. In a game that will see a lot of shots taken by both teams, the Lakers must make a conscious effort to run back on defense and match up with their assignments.
Start The Game Strong:
The Lakers have failed to outscore their opponents in the first quarter in each of their last nine games. The altering first unit hasn’t able to find their footing, as the shuffling lineups each require their own method to execution. If Walton were to go with the same lengthy starting five, as he did against the Jazz, the team needs to have a strong start to set the tone for the contest.
Contain Rockets’ Three-Point Shooting:
It is no secret the Rockets love to shoot the three ball, with a spaced out floor for Harden to create in. With the ball in his hands, all it takes is for a defender to ball watch and the shooters to relocate. The Rockets are currently making history, setting an NBA record for most consecutive games with at least 10 three-pointers made (20 games).
Los Angeles Lakers (10-13) Vs. Houston Rockets (14-7)
5:00 P.M. PST, December 7, 2016
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW (Spanish)