The last time the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets met, there was a massive brawl that led to suspensions on both sides. Both teams are much different heading into a second matchup, but there still stands to possibly be some tension between the sides.
Coincidentally, the Lakers will be without the two players involved in the fight. Brandon Ingram is dealing with a sprained ankle while Rajon Rondo is close, but hasn’t quite recovered from surgery to repair a hand fracture. But this hasn’t stopped the Lakers from winning two straight and six of their last seven.
The Rockets continue to struggle, having lost seven of their last 10 games, but are coming off an impressive home victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Of course things for the Rockets start with reigning MVP James Harden, who continues to play at an exceptional level. Harden is the catalyst, averaging 30.0 points, 8.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds. He also gets to the free throw line nearly 10 times per game and defending him without fouling is nearly impossible.
That job will fall on Josh Hart initially, but Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson will see time on him as well. Even the likes of Lonzo Ball, LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma will be matched up with Harden on occasion.
“The key is not to foul, make sure you activate him, try to get him to go to the rim or play in that midrange because once he gets cooking from three it’s tough to guard him,” Kuzma said of defending Harden.
“If he’s getting foul calls, it’s also tough to guard him. Just worry about being persistent on not trying to foul.”
Chris Paul’s numbers are down overall, but he is still more than capable of taking over a game. He dropped 28 points and 10 assists in the first meeting, so ensuring he doesn’t repeat that performance will be key for the Lakers.
Defense has been key overall for the team on their recent run. They have climbed up to ninth in the NBA in defensive rating and are allowing just over 100 points in their last six victories. Against the Rockets guarding the three-point line will be especially important.
Houston is second in 3-pointers made per game and first in threes attempted. They don’t shoot a great percentage, but with so many attempts they can still turn a game around at a moment’s notice.
The story of the Lakers coming into this game has been the play of Kuzma. Over the last five games he is averaging 25.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists, showing off major improvements on the glass, defensively and as a playmaker.
Some believe Kuzma is turning into the second star the Lakers supposedly didn’t have and if he keeps up this level of play, it will be hard to argue.
One area the Lakers should be able to take advantage of Houston is on the glass, particularly on the offensive side. Houston is one of the worst in the league at clearing the defensive glass. JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler should be able to take advantage of this to create extra possessions.
Likewise, turnovers will be crucial as neither squad does a great job of taking care of the ball. Whoever is able to take advantage of that should be able to create some opportunities for easy baskets.
This game could easily turn into a shootout if the Lakers aren’t careful. Houston’s offense is still one of the league’s best with Harden Paul, Eric Gordon, and Clint Capela leading the way. It is their defense that has fallen off immensely from last season.
If the Lakers can limit open threes, defend without fouling, and control the glass, they have a great chance to kick off their road trip with a win.
Los Angeles Lakers (17-10) vs. Houston Rockets (12-14)
5:00 P.M. PT, Dec. 13, 2018
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Josh Hart
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson, Svi Mykhailiuk
Projected Rockets starting lineup:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: James Harden
SF: Eric Gordon
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Clint Capela
Key Reserves: James Ennis III, Nene, Gerald Green, Danuel House