Game Preview & Chat: Rockets at Lakers

Kurt —  October 30, 2007

Records: Lakers 0-0; Rockets 0-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers NA; Rockets NA
Defensive ratings: Lakers NA; Rockets NA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Kwame Brown;
Rockets: Rafer Alston, Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes and Yao Ming.
Lakers Notes: Finally, we can talk a little basketball and not soap opera. Well, one last note on the soap opera: There has been a lot of talk about Phil Jackson saying Kobe doesn’t have his heart in the preseason. People, this is what Phil does — over the last 18 years, how many times has Phil tweaked a player through the media to get said player to do what Phil wants? 100? 200? That is what we are talking about here, Phil was trying to make sure Kobe’s head was where it needed to be, nothing more. (UPDATE: For more insight on the Kobe/Phil relationship and more with the team, check out the latest from Roland Lazenby.)

Now to the real news. Yes, Kobe was put on the morning “inactive” roster for tonight’s game (with Odom and Chris Mihm) but the official Lakers site says he is expected to play tonight. Remember, that inactive list can be changed up to tip-off, basically. I think we can count on Kobe playing.

In other news, Coby Karl has made the team in the 15th roster spot, although I’d expect him to see a lot of D-League time this year (if everyone is healthy Crittenton may get time there as well).

But the Lakers are not healthy right now — no Lamar Odom tonight — and health is a key to this team. They also come in off a preseason where the starters were none-to impressive, but the reserves were. If the starters struggle again on offense, look for the Kobe we all know to take over more. And look for the second until to have a good night again.

The Rockets Coming In: First and foremost, this is a talented team that won 52 games last year and got better in the off-season. They should be good — but will they be good at the start of the season is another question.

After years of the stagnant Jeff Van Gundy offense, the Rockets struggled to adjust to the motion offense of Rick Adelman in the preseason (according to both reports out of Houston and commenter/Rockets fan Stephen). For example, Yao does not feel comfortable operating out of the high post (something he is asked to do about 1/3 of the time). Rick Adelman said that if the offense doesn’t flow tonight, he will fall back more on low-post plays and pick-and-rolls that he knows will get the team points.

In one way this Rockets squad reminds me of the championship Rockets of the 1990s — team makeup. There is the powerful inside game (Hakeem Olajuwon/Yao Ming), a slasher to the hoop (Clyde Drexler/Tracy McGrady) and a bunch of guys who can drain the three. In the preseason, Battier shot 50% from three, Luther Head 40%, Mike James was 50%, Aaron Brooks was at 41.7% and Bonzi Wells was a perfect 3 for 3.

All that means is that the Lakers need to close well on three-point shooters tonight. No uncontested looks allowed.

Notes That Would Interest Only Peter King: According to the LA Times, Kobe Bryant’s Halloween costume is Lord Voldemort from the “Harry Potter” series.

Just a couple of links: Nate Jones said it well — Shawn Marion is no James Worthy.

Have seen the new official Lakers blog over on the team’s site. There’s lots of great info from practice and behind the scenes stuff, plus links to other stories and more. Combine that with all the great video no being posted on the Lakers site and you have to say the team has really made a leap forward with its Web site this year. We as fans have a lot more unfiltered access, and that is good.

Keys To The Game: The big key to this game will be turnovers — both teams were turnover machines in the preseason (the Lakers averaged 20.1 per game, the Rockets 18.3). Whichever team can limit theirs — and by extension limit the easy baskets at the other end for their opponents — will have a huge advantage in this contest.

While the Rockets may be struggling to adjust to a new offense, they still have some weapons the Lakers need to neutralize. Such as Kwame slowing Yao on the low block, and Kobe (and others) staying with McGrady. I expect if the Rockets need a bucket the ball will go to Yao on the block, so this is a big night for Kwame.

Battier will be on Kobe and usually does a pretty good job on him, so without Odom other Lakers are going to have to step up and pick up some scoring slack.

Thoughts/Prediction: Predicting the first game of the season between two teams that looked awkward in the preseason is next to impossible. I feel safe in predicting some ugly basketball at times. If I have to choose, I think the Rocket staring five is better than the Lakers starting five (sans Odom) and they play better defense, so the Rockets hold on for a close win. Rockets 97-95.

Where you can watch my prediction go up in flames: Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Pacific) but as this is a TNT game the under/over on it starting on time is 15 minutes late. While we’re at it, what’s the under/over on Saving Grace promos? Take the over. No local broadcast in LA, but the good news is we get Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins, we don’t have to suffer Reggie Miller the “analyst.” To watch the game online check out the ESPN gamecast.