The final score was 120-114. One of the game clinching plays was a defensive stop which came after a switch onto a league MVP frontrunner. The bench was a shining light in helping to secure the win, but the starting group — which featured new FA additions — had their moments as well, with two key young players posting strong numbers.
Man, the Lakers win over the Rockets on opening night seems like it happened years ago at this point.
Fast forward to today and so much has changed. D’Angelo Russell may or may not start after being moved to the bench in favor of Jordan Clarkson who the coaches want to get some extended looks at PG against starting units. Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng aren’t just out of the starting lineup, they are racking up DNP-CD’s as healthy scratches. Lou Williams has been traded and Nick Young’s role has been reduced, not playing in recent games at all (but likely to get some run tonight). More than all that, though, the fun that was the signature feeling around the team has been replaced by the despair and frustrations of losing as the team puts itself in better position each night to retain their lottery pick.
Houston, on the other hand, is the 3rd best team in the west and found their identity as an offensive juggernaut under Mike D’Antoni. If MDA is the architect designing the plan, James Harden is the master builder who executes the vision and keeps everyone in-tune and humming down the same path together. This team is a legit contender, able to score with/on anyone and with enough defensive ability to rank in the top half of the league. That combination is a scary proposition to contend with, especially as injury and malaise infect the other top title seekers.
Just reading the above, then, you can imagine how this game will play out. Houston may very well score 150 points if their shots are falling. The Lakers, struggling terribly on both ends of the floor, seem destined to not only fall behind early, but not be able to make a game of it at all. Sure, they may have a few nice runs (this is the NBA after all), but it feels more inevitable than just likely that the Lakers will be blown out early and close simply going through the motions.
If all this sounds despondent and overly pessimistic, I don’t know what to tell you. I suppose the Lakers could always surprise or the Rockets could play poorly, but the fact that those are the circumstances which dictate this game even being close pretty much says it all about the state of both teams right now.
So, sure, I want to see the young guys play well. I want to see how Clarkson defends Harden. I want to see if Russell can find his stride again after having a couple of down games. I want to see Zubac contend with Capela and whether Randle can take advantage of a favorable match up against Ryan Anderson. These things are worth watching in a vacuum. But the bigger picture is what it is. The Lakers are overmatched and that most likely means another really rough defeat. And no matter how much you want the team to keep their pick, I would imagine keeping your eyes tuned to this one will be difficult.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet