The Lakers won their most recent game, a demolition of the Bucks that saw nearly every player do well. This has been a rare enough occurrence that this in and of itself is worth still feeling good about. Yes, even two days later. Beyond the final margin and the individual players doing well, the team did some good things on offense that inspire thoughts that maybe they are starting to get it. They are far from fully formed, but some hints of progress are there.
This leads us into Thursday’s game against the Rockets. These teams played less than a week ago, the Lakers losing on the final night of their 8-game road trip which was also the second night of a back to back. That game did have some positives…err, a positive. Kobe played well, scoring efficiently (25 points, 9-16 shooting) while also stuffing the stat sheet in other ways (7 rebounds, 6 assists).
That was not enough, though. And it won’t be tonight, either. Not if James Harden has another big night, Dwight Howard and Clint Capela control the paint on both ends, and one (or more) of the non-Harden perimeter guys knock down shots. That was the formula the Rockets used to win the last game and if they are able to lay down the same blueprint, I expect the same result.
The counter to these things is pretty straight forward, though it will be difficult to execute. First is slowing Harden, but the Lakers don’t actually have good options there. Jordan Clarkson likely draws the assignment, but he’s not exactly known as a stopper. However, if Clarkson can mark him early and force him towards help off the dribble, it’s a good place to start. If Harden also misses some jumpers, things will go even better.
As for the bigs, Hibbert can do a decent job of staying with Dwight on post ups and brute force attacks, but anything on the move will be difficult. Hibbert will need to do his work early and then battle hard on the glass to make up for where he cannot match up athletically. Larry Nance Jr. will also need to be active in the paint, especially on the backboards. Nance can have a habit of chasing the ball rather than bodying up his man, but that won’t work against guys like Howard and Capela. Those guys are too long and athletic to get away with that.
I am also looking at Julius Randle to see if he can have a bounce back game. The Rockets offer size and length throughout their big man rotation and these are the types of players who can give Randle trouble. However, matchups against Terrence Jones and Donatas Montiejunas are ones Randle can be effective. He will need to use his combination of quickness and power to get them off-balance, but he’s more than capable of doing so. Finishing over the length will be a challenge, but it’s one he should get used to.
Lastly, the battle of the benches will be important in this one. Last game, Marcus Thornton got hot and helped the Rockets establish the lead they would not surrender. I already mentioned Randle, but if Russell and Nick Young can also play well they might be able to turn the tide of the game.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen at ESPN Radio Los Angeles 710AM.