Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Darius Soriano —  January 8, 2013

Records: Lakers 15-18 (11th in the West), Rockets 20-14 (6th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (6th in the NBA), Rockets 105.6 (7th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.2 (18th in the NBA), Rockets 103.1 (17th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Robert Sacre
Rockets: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik
Injuries: Lakers: Dwight Howard (out), Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out), Steve Blake (out); Rockets: Chandler Parsons (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: As we told you yesterday, the injury bug has latched on to the Lakers’ big men and not let go. Since that report, Jordan Hill’s status has been clarified somewhat as he is also out indefinitely, to be evaluated in one week, with a partially torn labrum in his hip. So, if you’re counting out home: Pau’s concussion is sandwiched by torn labrums for Dwight (shoulder) and Hill (hip).

In non-injury news from yesterday, the Lakers waived Darius Johnson-Odom. DJO’s contract was set to become guaranteed on January 10th so waiving him now gives the team the chance to ensure that he clears waivers and have it all be official by the deadline date. Waiving DJO does open up a roster spot which gives the Lakers flexibility moving forward with the ability to sign a street free agent outright or get more creative with a trade should they need to take back an extra contract. My best bet is that the Lakers simply hold onto the open spot and reevaluate things when they get most of their roster back healthy. That said, depending on how long Dwight and Hill are out, the team may need to sign a big man to a 10-day contract to help with depth.

The Rockets Coming in: Houston has won 4 in a row and 9 of their last 11. This surge has them 6th in the conference and looking like a firm playoff team even in a crowded west. Principle to their recent success has been that Jeremy Lin and James Harden seem to be figuring out how to play with each other as the season advances.

In the last 10 games Lin is averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 49.5% and Harden is averaging 29.5 points, 5.4 assists while shooting 48.9%. Getting that type of production — especially the shooting efficiency and the playmaking — creates the backbone for a dynamic offense where, even with two high usage players, the rest of the team is involved and engaged. The results have been the Rockets posting an offensive efficiency of 111.4 over this stretch, simply blowing teams out of the water with a fast paced approach that is difficult to keep up with.

Rockets Blogs: Check out Red 94 for good insight on this team.

Keys to game: With the Lakers missing the top three big men in their rotation they face an uphill climb tonight. As mentioned above the Rockets are terrorizing teams with their offense and the Lakers are lacking their best rim protectors. Furthermore, while it’s Lin and Harden that get the major headlines, the Rockets possess multiple quality big men who can impact the game on both ends of the floor that won’t have as much resistance facing a depleted Laker front court. Patterson, Asik, Morris, and Greg Smith all have advantages tonight that they wouldn’t normally have on nights with Pau, Diwght, and Hill healthy. There’s a good chance that this game gets out of hand early as the Rockets control the back boards on both ends and then use their guards to create good shots at the rim in transition and by beating their man in the half court.

The Lakers, then, must do everything they can to turn the game ton their favor. If it’s a battle of the backcourt, I still like the Lakers duo to be able to do serious damage against Lin and Harden. Nash and Kobe will need to carry an amazing burden this evening, but it’s what they’ve done their entire careers. Nash and Kobe will both need to be in attack mode, putting the defense on its heels and then either taking advantage by taking the shots they create or hitting the open man when the defense over commits. This will be especially important for Kobe as it will be easy for him to over compensate by looking to score more. But he should also realize that he’ll have shots available to him all night and if there are moments he can create an easy look for Sacre, Jamison, Clark, or Ebanks he should do it as those guys won’t be able to create offense for themselves too often in their individual match ups.

When Nash and Kobe attack, they need to also ensure that they’re not forcing the action so much that they commit turnovers. The Rockets love to change ends quickly and will take advantage of the miscues by turning them into easy points. If the Lakers can take care of the ball and make the Rockets score against a packed in defense, it will greatly aid in getting a win tonight.

Another defensive key will be every Laker hitting backboards hard to finish off possessions with a rebound. Clark, Jamison, Ebanks, Ron, and Kobe will all need to play big by hitting the glass and making sure that they secure the ball before they think about going the other way. The Rockets aren’t a good offensive rebounding team, but today they’ll have a size advantage that make them more of a threat. If the Lakers can control their own backboards, they may just be able to take advantage of an over-attacking Rocket team and counter them with transition buckets of their own.

In the end, I’m hoping the Lakers just come out tonight and play free. The expectations on this team were understandably high coming into the season but on a night like tonight all that goes out the window. No one expects the Lakers to win this game and if they simply come out, play hard, and let go of some of the burdens of the standings/a playoff chase/their season at large, they can turn that into some confidence and just play. Win or lose, it will be good to see them compete tonight and show us what they’re made of.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start on TCW Sportsnet locally and NBA TV nationally. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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