The Lakers are now 3 games under .500 at 10-13. They have lost 3 in a row and 4 of their last 5 games, their lone win coming against the Bulls in what was a pretty unexpected performance considering how shorthanded they were and the fact they were on the 2nd night of a back to back.
The team, of course, remains shorthanded. Though the recent update on D’Angelo Russell is somewhat positive, he’s not likely to return until early next week. And the team is still without Nick Young and Jose Calderon for longer than that while Tarik Black is out at least against Houston with Larry Nance questionable to play.
None of that is good news. Not against a Rockets team which is playing very well of late. Houston has won 5 of 6, including a double OT victory in Oakland against the Warriors last week. That win snapped the Dubs’ double-digit win streak and showed how the Rockets can compete against the best teams through their high powered offense which is piloted by James Harden.
Harden is an MVP candidate and is a nightmare for any team to contain, but especially these Lakers. In the first matchup between LA and Houston, Luke Walton put Nick Young on Harden for most of the night and while Young battled hard he ultimately didn’t stop James from getting his numbers. Harden’s ability to get into the paint allowed him to set up teammates for good looks and his shooting ability meant there were no ways to shade or cheat on him without giving up a play he is more than capable of making.
Without Young available tonight, it’s unclear who Walton turns to now. Deng? Ingram? Does he break up his backup backcourt duo of Clarkson and Williams in order to have JC track the Beard? Harden is of such quality, but none of these sound like good solutions.
Whatever the decision is, though, it will likely be dictated by more than just Harden. In the loss vs. the Jazz, Walton caused some waves due to his decision to start Metta and Ingram next to Deng rather than going with Clarkson, Lou, or Huertas. Those starting perimeter players proved unable to stay with Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood which dug the Lakers a hole they ultimately were not able to recover from (in the 2nd half).
Walton, then, must decide on if he’s okay running out a starting group with 3rd string level players (Huertas, Metta) or if he’s finally willing to break up the bench to get more quality into the 1st unit. I don’t have a great answer here, but if it were me I would probably start Clarkson and Ingram next to Deng, Randle, and Mozgov and see what they can do. Clarkson hasn’t shown to be the playmaker that Lou can be, but he’s the more stout defender. Against a Harden and Eric Gordon, that will be needed.
To be clear, though, however the lineup choices go the Lakers are in a tough spot. If Nance doesn’t play, the Lakers are down four of their top 10 rotation players. This team depends on their depth and now that has (potentially), been cut in half. Their style of play simply does not hold up when you reach to the end of the bench for solutions; there is not a high enough caliber star player right now to hold those types of lesser talents in orbit around them.
Ultimately, then, I just don’t see things improving at this point and have trouble seeing the Lakers pulling this game out. Maybe if Harden struggles and multiple shooters have off nights the Lakers can keep the game close enough for a Williams or Clarkson late flurry to pull it out. But that’s asking a lot and likely more than what the basketball gods are willing to give tonight. We shall see.
Where you can watch: 5pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.