With only five games remaining in the season, the Lakers continue to try and salvage the season as much as possible. Unfortunately, the number of injuries they are piling up makes that task extremely difficult. Tonight they take on the Houston Rockets in an attempt to even the season series. Jordan Farmar is expected to make his return and Steve Nash should play as well. But Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol will both be out, and Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore are both gone for the rest of the season.
The Rockets have played the last five games without center Dwight Howard, but remain one of the most explosive offenses in the NBA with James Harden and Chandler Parsons. The Rockets come into this game with a 51-25 record, having won their last two games. The Lakers are 25-52 and have lost their last four games.
Frontcourt: Even if Dwight Howard misses his sixth straight game, the Rockets boast one of the best defensive bigs in basketball in Omer Asik. Asik doesn’t bring as much to the table offensively as Howard, but his ability to protect the rim is among the best in the league. Next to him is the consistently improving Terrence Jones who has seriously stepped up his game this season. Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly will be undersized against the Rocket’s big men but will have some advantages. Hill will have to stay out of foul trouble and use his energy and athleticism. Kelly must use his ability to stretch the floor to keep the Rockets spread out and off-balance.
Chandler Parsons at the small forward position is someone who can do a little bit of everything. He is an excellent shooter, ball-handler, and passer who can hurt teams in many ways. Wesley Johnson is likely to see himself re-inserted into the starting lineup and he is one of the few Lakers who can match Parsons’ size, speed, and length. The Lakers are going to have a tough time matching the size of the Rockets upfront. They will have to find a way to contain them while generating some offense.
Backcourt: The engine of the Houston Rockets is their star guard James Harden. Harden is one of the best players in the NBA and his shooting ability combined with an uncanny knack for drawing fouls makes him almost impossible to stop. Jodie Meeks will draw the assignment of containing Harden and one of the best ways to do so is to attack him on the other end. Harden at best is a below-average defender and Meeks could be in line for a huge day if he attacks him relentlessly.
Jeremy Lin runs the point for the Rockets, and while his jumper is inconsistent, he is very tough to keep out of the paint where he can either score or dish out to the number of shooters the Rockets possess. Kendall Marshall must do everything he can to contain Lin. Just as important will be his ability to get the rest of the Lakers involved. The Lakers don’t have a lot of people who can create their own shot, so Marshall has his teammates good looks.
Keys To A Lakers Victory
Attack Harden On Defense: James Harden is an outstanding offensive player, but he is a terrible defender. The Lakers need to attack him on that end and make him work. It will start with Jodie Meeks, but guys like Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, MarShon Brooks, and Jordan Farmar will all have times when Harden is guarding them and they must make him a defender. By doing this, they take advantage of a Rocket weak point and make Harden do something he is not used to.
Battle On The Boards: The Rockets are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA. Obviously Dwight Howard is a big part of that, but Jones, Asik, Parsons, and Harden are all great rebounders for their positions. The Rockets are one of the best at controlling their defensive glass, so the Lakers will be hard-pressed to get many second-chance opportunities. They must do the same thing to the Rockets and not allow them to dominate on the glass. The Lakers are unlikely to out-rebound the Rockets, but they at least have to make it a battle. Johnson and Kelly in particular will have to step it up and crash the boards at every opportunity.
Containing Transition: Mike D’Antoni prefers his team to run, but the worst thing the Lakers can do against the Rockets is getting into a track meet. The Rockets average the third most fast-break points in the NBA, and the Lakers quite simply will not be able to keep up. The Lakers must take care of the ball first and foremost, as a lot of turnovers will allow the Rockets to push this game out of reach quickly. But they also must run selectively. The Lakers must pick and choose when to get out in transition for themselves and be careful not to get caught up in a back-and-forth game.
Houston Rockets (51-25) at Los Angeles Lakers (25-52)
7:30 PM PST, April 8, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, TNT
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Rockets Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: James Harden
SF: Chandler Parsons
PF: Terrence Jones
C: Omer Asik
Key Reserves: SG: Francisco Garcia, SF: Omri Casspi PG: Isaiah Canaan PF: Donatas Motiejunas
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Jordan Hill