Houston went from the best team in basketball to a dumpster fire over the last five games. A loss to the Lakers will do that to you. The Lakers, without Lonzo Ball, Brook Lopez, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might well represent the worst statistical team in the league right now. Currently 11th in defense and 28th in offense, there are not a lot of high points on which to focus. Let’s hope Harden is focused on his early reservations in the champagne room tonight.
The real story today is the injury report. For Houston, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela are all injured to varying degrees. Capela is expected to return tonight to provide his standard double double. He makes a great roll man on offense and plays tall around the rim on defense. He is not an All-Star but much of the win streak played off the dirty work Clint brings to the game.
Chris Paul returned from a groin injury last game, just in time to lose to the Wizards by 18. Paul is still one of the best two way point guards in the league. He also has an injury history that would lead most sane teams to take it easy on him. That said he plays for a Mike D’Antoni team so he’ll probably play 35 minutes in an eight man rotation.
Perhaps the worst news tonight is that James Harden is questionable with a bruised right foot. Harden put up 51 points in his last meeting with the Lakers. Normally we could expect a revenge game, but with a questionable injury status we should probably only expect 35/11/7 out of him should he play.
If you check out Tim’s Amazing Data Page, you will note Harden alone accounts for the 30% of the spread between these teams. If he sits out tonight it is a much more winnable game. There is not a lot of great news coming out of those stats for the Lakers short of what we already know – we have an advantage in transition. The Lakers are playing a lot slower without Ball and will need to focus on pushing pace to work this advantage.
How do the Lakers win? We need Julius Randle to put on a dominant “I deserve to start” performance on both ends of the court. Kyle Kuzma will need to rebound with an efficient 25 points. Or an inefficient 25 points. Basically, Kuzma is going to fire away from three.
It is an early game on New Year’s Eve. For both the players on their fans, let’s keep it safe and injury free tonight. Pray for a fast, transition heavy game where thankfully KCP will have no input into shot selection. Our data favors Houston by 15. Watch it with that attitude. Root for a hard, close game because anything can happen in a close game in the last two minutes. If things take a turn for the worst I highly encourage you to spend the night voting Kyle Kuzma for the All-Star team.
Where you can watch: 4:00pm PST start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.