The Houston Rockets have the league’s best record and haven’t lost in over a month (November 14th vs. the Raptors). They boast the league’s top offense, the 7th best defense, and the 2nd best efficiency differential (+11.3) in the NBA. They have statistical profile of an all-time great team, this is just a fact.
Whether or not it all lines up for them in the playoffs remains to be seen, but when they went and traded for Chris Paul over the summer and then were able to acquire Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker they altered their ceiling considerably. Suddenly a team that was super dependent on James Harden to be the engine of their offense could now lean on one of the best point guards in the league. And a defense which was destined to be around league average had two more wings to throw at opponents’ top SG and SF scoring threats.
In other words, they are a team that went from having a couple of subtle weaknesses to one without any real one. Thus, they’ve only lost 4 times in 29 games and continue to hold off the Warriors for the best record in the west even though Golden State is again having a fantastic season.
What does this mean for the Lakers? Well, it likely means a loss. Like we saw when these two teams faced off last, the Rockets simply have too many weapons and, specifically, the type of scoring threats who can torch both types of defensive approaches the Lakers like to implement.
If the Lakers play a drop scheme to protect the paint against drives in isolation and the P&R, Houston will just step back and bomb 3’s. If the Lakers switch screens and extend their defense in order to take away the long ball, Harden and Paul (and Eric Gordon) will simply drive to the paint to either get shots at the rim or collapse the defense to kick out to shooters spotting up.
This is the quandary Houston creates offensively and the Lakers — a good defense in their own right — don’t have the personnel or discipline to stop them consistently. There will be moments, for sure. And I think if the Lakers can force some misses and build on those with transition opportunities and good half-court offense in their own right, they can remain connected on the scoreboard for good stretches. I am pessimistic, however, that Houston won’t just put a big run on the board at some point and that will be that.
I will say, though, that I’m interested in seeing what the Lakers do with their starting lineup since Brook Lopez is injured and KCP isn’t allowed out of the state of California for 25 days as part of his plea agreement from his drunk driving charge while still with the Pistons. When KCP missed the Cavs game, Josh Hart got the start and I hope that Luke gives the rookie the nod again. I’d like to see him match up with Harden, not because I think stops would ensue, but just because I like to see Hart compete defensively and Harden is one of the most relentless attack players in the league on that end.
Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.