Last season was the end of an era for the Los Angeles Lakers as legend Kobe Bryant played his final games in the purple and gold. The Lakers finished a franchise worst 17-65, as a lot of the focus during the season was on Bryant instead of the development of the team’s young players.
Along with Bryant, head coach Byron Scott is also no longer with the team as the team decided to part ways with Scott and hire another former Laker, Luke Walton, to bring in the new era of Lakers basketball. At 36 years of age Walton becomes the youngest head coach in the NBA.
Because of their bad record the Lakers earned the second pick in the 2016 NBA draft in which they selected Duke forward Brandon Ingram. He joins D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., among others as the team’s young core to lead Los Angeles into the future.
The Lakers front office signed veterans Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng this past offseason to bring veteran leadership into a Lakers locker room that will be without Bryant for the first time in 20 years.
The first preseason under Walton was a bit rough as the Lakers finished 2-6, but many believe that under Walton the Lakers will surprise some people this season as they continue to improve on both ends of the floor.
Wednesday night marks the beginning of the 2016-17 season for the Lakers as they host the Houston Rockets, who hired former Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, at Staples Center. Here is a preview of Wednesday’s matchup:
Earlier in the offseason Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni announced that All-Star James Harden will take over the point guard duties in order to keep the ball in his hands as much as possible. Harden, who many figure to be in the MVP conversation this year, had the best season of his career last year statistically. He averaged 29.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists, which were all career highs.
Houston will be without defensive stalwart Patrick Beverly for the next four to six weeks as he recovers from a knee injury so starting alongside Harden will be Eric Gordon, who previously played for the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans. Gordon has had trouble staying on the cout in his career as since the beginning of the 2011-12 season Gordon has missed 221 out of a possible 410 games.
Last season with the Pelicans he averaged 15.2 points in 45 games.
Both Harden and Gordon are very talented scorers, so Russell and whoever winds up starting next to him will have their hands full.
The Rockets also recently signed 32-year-old Bobby Brown, who hasn’t played in the NBA since 2009, to be their backup point guard. He had an impressive preseason, averaging 9.6 points and 3.2 assists.
The Lakers will be without veteran backup point guard Jose Calderon on Wednesday as he continues to recover from a calf injury.
After the departure of Dwight Howard the Rockets frontcourt features former Laker Trevor Ariza along with third-year center Clint Capela and sharpshooter Ryan Anderson.
Ariza is entering his third year in his second stint with the Rockets. Last season he averaged 12.7 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 37.1 percent from three-point range.
Randle will likely have the tall task of guarding the 6 foot 10 inch Anderson, who is a career 37.7 percent three-point shooter. Anderson is not known as a defender though so Randle should attack the basket often Wednesday.
The Rockets also signed veteran Nene, who will be entering his 15th NBA season. He has averaged 12.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in his career.
Keys to Victory:
Limit turnovers: As with all D’Antoni teams, the Rockets want to get out in transition so they can get easy buckets. One easy way to stop that is to not turn the ball over, something the Lakers young guards struggled with this preseason.
Communicate of defense: Houston will be doing a lot of pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops in their half-court offense with Harden and Anderson. The Lakers will need to constantly be communicating on defense, something that is often difficult for young players.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-0) vs. Houston Rockets (0-0)
7:30 P.M. PST, October 26, 2016
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Rockets Starting Lineup:
PG: James Harden
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Ryan Anderson
C: Clint Capela
Key Reserves: Nene, Bobby Brown, Corey Brewer, Tyler Ennis, K.J. McDaniels
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Lou Williams
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Brandon Ingram, Tarik Black, Nick Young