Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  November 4, 2009

Records: Lakers 3-1 Rockets 3-1
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.8, Rockets 111.1
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 100.7 Rockets 107.8
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Rockets: Aaron Brooks, Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes

The Lakers Coming in: I called the NBA League Office to double check this: The NBA does not give out a big, shiny trophy for being the best team in the league in November. Not even a consolation prize, no lifetime supply of Rice-O-Roni. Nothing.

Yet reading the comments at this site and around Lakers sites everywhere, you’d swear we were missing out on something. The team isn’t firing on all cylinders right out of the gate and some people seem very concerned. If I could prescribe all Lakers fans a Xanax, I would.

The Lakers have played four games without their second best player, and they are 3-1. Their offense hasn’t flowed smoothly without the guy who makes their offense flow smoothly. Kobe took too many shots, like he was missing the second best player on his team (and like he has always done in the clutch). The bench has struggled like its leader has had to be in the starting lineup.

I’m not saying all is right with the Lakers. They turned the ball over on 25% of their possessions against OKC. They gave up too many offensive rebounds. Kobe made bad gambles on defense. There were too many misses close to the basket. They got away from the triangle too much. But in the end, it is a win (against a good team that could well be the Lakers first-round playoff opponent). But the important thing to remember — we are not yet 5% of the way into the season. It is silly to expect perfection. Every game does not need to be a 25-point win. Accept it, say there are things to improve on, that the team is working on them, and move on.

A few other notes: Phil kept two starters on the floor with the bench guys at every moment in the second half. For one stretch during that time, Ron Artest took over as the focal point of the offense, and he performed well. Until Pau returns and the bench rights itself, this may need to be what happens. And there was more good defense from Artest — you can say the Thunder did not get Durant the ball in positions for him to succeed late (they didn’t), but the fact remains that with Artest on him in the fourth quarter and overtime Durant was 0-5 and a -5. He did not key their offense.

The Lakers forced 14 second half turnovers, which was key (and I’m less sold on Westbrook as a primary ball handler than I was). I really liked the play of Etan Thomas, even if his hair scrunchie had an NBA logo on it (first pointed out by Brett Pollakoff). Once again, heavy minutes for the starters and nobody off the bench playing more than 13. That needs to change tonight on the second night of a back to back.

Injuries Note: No Gasol again tonight. However, the results of the MRI did not freak anybody out, he practiced Tuesday and he may be back by Friday. Patience. But things are getting closer.

The Rockets Coming in: The Rockets are hot, not only are they 3-1 but they smacked down Utah a couple nights ago. Our resident Rockets fan Stephen sent in some thoughts on the guys from Houston:

Starting 5:
Battier(SF) is doing the Battier thing — but he’s been uncharacteristically making 2-3 bad defensive plays each game. He is looking a bit more for offense and showing why he shouldn’t. (Against Portland he tried to do a 360 on fast break, lost the ball and Drexler — doing color — couldn’t stop chuckling for 2-3 minutes.)

Scola(C/PF) hasn’t gotten untracked thru first 3 games. He twisted ankle late in Preseason and doesn’t look comfortable yet.

Hayes(PF/C) is grinding away. When he outscores Oden it’s almost a sign of the Apocalypse 🙂 Seriously he is excelling at low post D, and is very active setting screens and slipping towards basket. He is about only quality low post defender Rockets have.

Ariza(SG) is quickly finding his role in the offense. In Game one he repeatedly tried to drive the lane and constantly got stripped. By game three he has learned where he can get his shot-and is taking them. That’s the biggest difference between his Laker days and now — in Houston he’s taking shots that are contested, in LA he’d pass the ball instead. Ariza is not the Rockets go-to guy (Brooks is), but he is often the first option. In Games two and three Ariza got off to fast starts with 19 and 21 points in the first half.

Brooks(PG) has the keys to the kingdom. It’s his team. And he looks like he’s figuring out how to combine scoring for himself w/setting up his teammates. Instead of using his speed in straight lines, he’s figured out how to use the angles on the court to blow past his man and help defense.

Key reserves:
Lowry(PG). Many want him starting as he’s a much better passer and defender than Brooks. Aggressive taking ball to basket and usually draws several fouls. Often left alone at three-point line as he’s a poor shooter from there.

Landry(PF) plays physical, fights for rebounds. Has adequate 15-20 foot shot and is trying to be a post player with very uneven results so far.

Andersen(C/PF) is still feeling his way in NBA. Does have a good stroke out to 20-plus feet, nice low-post turn-around. He’s soft, doesn’t fight very hard for rebounds and can be pushed around

Blogs and Links: Check out Rockets Buzz.

Keys to game: First game of a back-to-back and this will be a challenging one because the building will be rockin’ — the Rockets fans will see this as a measure of revenge for the playoffs last year. Some players may as well. This is no easy win (on the road as the champions, there are no easy wins).

This is a smaller Rockets team — while Chuck Hayes is a good post defender he is six inches shorter than Andrew Bynum. The Lakers have a big height advantage —pound it inside. If the Lakers can get Hayes in foul trouble all the better because their post defensive options get much worse fast. Post up everyone, even Fisher on Brooks. However, with how quick the Rockets are, they may front/deny the post entry and go for steals. The Lakers have to make smart, quality entry passes to the post.

The Lakers must defend the three-point line — as a team the Rockets are shooting 44% this season. The Lakers defensive tendency to collapse and protect the paint could hurt them this game, they cannot leave shooters open at the arc.

Stephen also said these Rockets like to get out and run, but the Lakers have probably looked their best this year in transition (despite the loss of Ariza). The Lakers should run when they can, but post up other times.

Is Trevor Ariza officially a Frenemy of this site?

Every Laker has to be focused on defense, the Rockets have a balanced attack with a lot of ball and player movement. Against Utah, the Rockets scored 113 without one player getting more than 20.

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 5:30 pm Pacific, on KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles.