After a one-game reprieve following a long road trip, the Lakers return back to the road as they travel to Houston for tonight’s match-up against Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets.
Most will remember their match-up to kick off the season as the Lakers downed James Harden and the Rockets on Opening Night in our first glimpse of how special this season was going to be.
However, the Lakers will be without a handful of players from that Opening Night win. D’Angelo Russell will still be out tonight and for the foreseeable future after meeting with team doctors on Tuesday. Nick Young and Jose Calderon each are out for the near future as well and Tarik Black did not make the trip with the team after spraining his ankle against Utah.
Larry Nance is still banged up and questionable for tonight after banging knees with an opponent last week, though he did take part in shootaround and is expected to play tonight.
Other than that, though, the Lakers are at full strength!
In reality, the Lakers are way behind the eight ball tonight as they come against one of the most absurd offenses in the league. The Rockets average 37 three-point attempts per game, over two more attempts per game than any other team in the league. The team’s effective field goal percentage of 54.6 is second in the league to Golden State.
Basically, the Rockets let it fly from deep and make a lot of those shots. Oh, and they have James Harden. No big deal!
Here’s our keys to tonight’s game
Don’t let James Harden destroy you
Ok, let’s be real here: the best case scenario tonight is that Jordan Clarkson is the man matching up against Harden for much of the night. And despite the progress Clarkson has made on that end of the court, he’s still a below average defender.
On the other end, Harden is having a certifiably absurd season, averaging 28.7 points, 11.6 assists and 7.6 rebounds and would be a favorite for MVP candidate if not for Russell Westbrook going super saiyan.
You aren’t going to hold Harden down. However, the Lakers did a great job of defending him as a unit in the opening game, forcing Harden into hero ball, a strategy that worked out in LA’s favor in the long run.
Tonight will need to be much of the same. The Lakers aren’t going to lock down Harden, but if they can keep his assist numbers down and his shot attempts high, it could help the Lakers stay close.
Maybe don’t get down by double digits to start the game?
Listen, it’s no secret that the Lakers’ starting unit has been bad all season long. Luke Walton has taken the approach of keeping his bench unit together and sacrificing the starters in the process.
However, Monday’s experiment failed spectacularly in putting Brandon Ingram at point and Metta World Peace on the court at all. Even with Larry Nance Jr. expected to play, the Lakers have to make adjustments, which would likely mean one of Jordan Clarkson or Lou Williams into the starting line-up.
That being said, no matter who is out there, the team can’t afford to go down big on the road again. Against an offense like the Rockets that can put points up in bunches, going down double-digits early in this contest could be a death sentence for the banged-up Lakers.
Survive without injuries
This isn’t going to be a fun game. I certainly won’t count the Lakers out because this team has proven it’s fight, but the cards are stacked against them. The team is banged up and likely exhausted still from their road trip and coming up against an offense that could very well run them out of the building.
However, there is a bit of a break in the schedule coming. After tonight, the Lakers have two-straight home games against Phoenix and New York, both winnable games and games the Lakers might have players (namely Russell or Young) back for. The goal tonight should be to escape Houston injury-free, regroup over the next five days, and be ready for a seven-game road trip coming up starting Monday (which, what the hell schedule makers?).
Consider this a reverse-jinx if you want, but I can’t see LA keeping it close in this one. They haven’t been blown out this year, but this may be an exception. Houston 113, LA 95.