In a game that was likely lost the moment the schedule came out, the Los Angeles Lakers (8-15) dropped their 5th straight contest to the visiting Houston Rockets (18-4), 118-95.
After arriving in Los Angeles around 1:00am last night on the heels of a deflating loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers got off to a surprisingly strong start for the first time since Larry Nance, Jr. (15 points, 8 rebounds, 7-12 FG) rejoined the starting lineup. Brook Lopez (+9 on the night) protected the rim, he and Nance crashed the offensive glass, and Brandon Ingram (18 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) slashed in transition.
Yet Luke Walton’s pregame comments that the Rockets were “playing the best basketball in the NBA” soon came to fruition, as the Lakers bench couldn’t sustain the same level of defensive excellence . The Lakers switched nearly every screen on the defensive end, and the Rockets are unusually well-equipped to handle that. They have a multitude of perimeter scorers who are capable of exploiting mismatches in the resulting isolation possessions, yielding the 2nd most Points Per Possession in NBA (1.05) in such situations. Eric Gordon (22 points, +37) led that charge, before handing the baton to James Harden (36 points, 9 assists) in the 2nd quarter.
A 21-6 run at the beginning of the 3rd quarter cut the lead to 3, as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope briefly caught fire, scoring 10 points in a 2:30 stretch. But Houston quickly counterpunched with a 9-0 run of their own, and the Lakers never challenged again. The Rockets entered the game leading the NBA with 16.2 made 3-pointers per game, versus just 8.2 per game for the Lakers. This math problem was on display tonight, with Houston outscoring LA 42-27 from deep.
“As soon as we have a breakdown or go through a dry spell for a period, their lead would go right back up,” said Luke Walton.
Lonzo Ball (2 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound, 0-4 FG) was a non-factor on the night, visibly slowed by troublesome calves. “It’s like I got two knots in my calves right now. It’s like I got two rocks every time I run and jump. You can play through it but it just hurts a little bit,” lamented Ball.
The Western Conference leading Rockets improved to 8-0 with Chris Paul in the lineup, whose presence allows Mike D’Antoni to have an elite pick & roll guard on the court for all 48 minutes.
Next up: The Lakers (and Lonzo’s calves) get a much needed, extended break before heading east to start a 4-game road trip against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, at 5:00pm PST on TNT.