As expected, the Lakers’ opening night match-up against the Houston Rockets was not one for defense. Byron Scott rolled over in his proverbial grave multiple times as both teams ran up and down the floor with rarely any signs of defense being played.
The first quarter was an especially explosive stretch of time. The Rockets started out on fire, hitting every shot against the Swiss cheese defense of the Lakers. The Purple and Gold eventually answered with a run of their own, at one point getting three straight three-pointers from Nick Young, D’Angelo Russell, and Luol Deng.
The entire first half was a back-and-forth affair with the PNR combo of Russell and Timofey “the next coming of Shaq and Wilt combined” Mozgov being matched and exceeded by James Harden and Clint Capela. Harden finished the half with 16 points and 14 assists as the Rockets took a 71-63 lead into the locker room.
The third half was much of the same but with some revamped energy from the Lakers. For the majority of the quarter, the team played with more effort on that end of the floor, and it translated to a few more stops.
The Lakers benefited from some strong play from Julius Randle who was able to be a play-maker in transition and an efficient scorer in the half court. Randle, whose flaws have often masked his talent and potential, largely allowed LA to stay in the game.
Randle received help from Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram who both had good showings off the bench. Clarkson especially ignited the Lakers’ offense with a variety of moves around the basket. The shooting guard eventually finished the game 25 points on 8-12 shooting.
Randle poured in 18 points on 9-11 shooting, adding seven rebounds and six assists. Russell was quiet in the second half but finished wit ha respectable 20 points and three assists.
It was Clarkson and Randle in the end who allowed the Lakers to put the Rockets away. Clarkson took control of the offense, hitting a stare-down three over Harden and converting a put back before playing exceptional defense on the other end. Randle blocked Harden on one possession as he was switched on the Rockets guard and finished a tough shot over Nene on the other end.
The Lakers finished out the game on the defensive end, ensuring that they could walk out of STAPLES center on top after their opener with a final score of 120-114.
There are bound to be struggles along the way this season, but for one night, the Lakers showed heaps of progress. The bare frame of a good team is finally here and the path to improvement is visible.
It may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but a win for the Lakers on opening night of the post-Kobe Bryant era is a huge deal. And the young Lakers were able to pull it out against Harden and the Rockets.