Records: Lakers 7-2 Rockets 5-4
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 106.3, Rockets 108.5
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.8 Rockets 106
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: That was not a pretty loss in Denver . They never are, but this was particularly ugly. But I continue to say you can’t really extrapolate anything, good or bad, from one game in November into what will happen in the spring.
The difference between the even first half of that game and the third quarter was simple — seven turnovers. That’s how many the Lakers had in the third quarter, and they led to easy baskets the other way that got Melo and other Nuggets going. From the people at ESPN Stats and Information, for the game Carmelo had 8 layups or dunks (making seven) and Denver as a team had 12 layups in the game. The Lakers as a team had four and Kobe one. That will kill the Lakers against any team, particularly a good one like Denver.
The Rockets Coming in: Trevor Ariza gets his Championship Ring tonight, and the guy deserves a huge ovation from the fans for all he did on that run. We may be better now with Artest, but Ariza is still missed.
The Rockets have gone 2-2 since we saw them last, but the most recent game was their own ugly loss to Sacramento. Our resident Rockets fan Stephen says these struggles may be signs of the Rockets roster (sans Yao) catching up with them:
Rockets are starting to show significant weakness that good coaching can exploit-if the player will execute. The Rockets perimeter D is getting abused, leaving the bigs scrambling to help and hopelessly out of position on rebounds.
The offense is very much hit-or-miss in that if the 3s fall, the Rockets are very good, but if the aren’t, they don’t have a viable option B. Brooks sprained his ankle against Dallas and has been somewhat hesitant since. Budinger will be available for this game and he’s been a typical rookie, can’t miss one game, can’t throw it in the ocean next.
The one guy who is playing well — and had a good game against the Lakers last time around — is Carl Landry. If you compare his year-over-year shooting numbers he’s a little less efficient this year, but that is because he is having to take on more of the offense and create his own shot more (60% of his baskets this year are assisted, down from 67% last year and 73% two years ago). The Lakers also need to keep him off the boards.
Blogs and Links: Check out Rockets Buzz. Also, I’ll be throwing in some comments on the ESPN Daily Dime live chat tonight.
On an off-topic point — maybe the amazing thing that Brandon Jennings has done is not 55 points as a rookie (it was against the defenseless Warriors) but the buzz and interest he has created around Bucks basketball. That is something hard to do.
Keys to game: The Rockets are one of those teams that just tends to match up well with the Lakers, and tend to play them tough. On paper it shouldn’t be this way, the Lakers length and quickness on the wings should be ideal for attacking Houston, but they always struggle. I don’t expect a cakewalk win tonight.
With the Rockets playing weaker perimeter defense, tonight might be a good night to move Kobe out of the post a little and have him attack from the wing. Part of the reason for that is getting some motion back in the offense, something Stephen adds the Lakers need to do to win.
The key to this game for the Lakers is simple-MOVE. Move the ball,but above all move Laker bodies. The more one-on-one play by the Lakers the better for the Rockets. The Lakers need to swing the ball, find cutters, above all move their butts. Even if Kobe goes into low post and works over Shane or Trevor, they can’t just stand there watching, they need to set picks for each other, cut to the basket, curl around the FT line. Do this and they won’t get caught flat-footed watching the Rockets race past on a fast break. And you’ll be surprised at how many offensive rebounds will fall into your lap.
The Rockets are still thin in the front line, so some early touches for Bynum where he goes at Chuck Hayes trying to draw fouls would be a help.
Last meeting between these two was some of the best pick-and-roll defense the Lakers have played, with Bynum stepping out and not letting the speedy Brooks turn the corner, then the Lakers recovery and rotations were tight. They need that again tonight.
And don’t leave Lowry, Ariza, Battier and Budinger alone at the three point line. Don’t. That’s what gets them going.
Where you can watch: This game tips off at 6:30 pm Pacific, on Fox Sports here in Los Angeles, and on 710 ESPN radio.