Apologies for the condensed game preview today. I’ve unexpectedly needed to travel and time is short.
Records: Lakers 33-8, Rockets 26-14
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.1 (4th), Rockets 113.5 (3rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.7 (3rd), Rockets 109.1 (5th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Avery Bradley, Danny Green, LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, JaVale McGee
Rockets: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Ben McLemore, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela
Injuries: Lakers: Anthony Davis (questionable), Rajon Rondo (questionable); Rockets: Gerald Green (out), Austin Rivers (out), Nene (out)
The Lakers infamous Grammy Road trip begins today when they travel to Houston to play the Rockets. The Lakers are coming off a loss vs. the Magic in their last game — a contest that words can’t really describe; you really did need to see it to understand what the hell actually happened. The Rockets, too, are coming off a loss — a bad one vs. Portland that was their 3rd defeat in 4 games.
Both teams, then, are looking to get back on track and will take the floor in the NBA’s marquee Saturday primetime game with lots of eyes on them.
In an attempt at brevity, I’ll use bullet points here to spell out some of the keys to the game and what I’ll be watching for:
- “Does AD play?” is probably the biggest question I have about this game. If he does, the Lakers take a clear edge for me simply because the Rockets have few ways to defend the Lakers capably with both bigs in the lineup and LeBron playing his normal point guard/forward role. Houston does not want to go big — but if they do, it plays into the Lakers hands by limiting offensive spacing and putting lesser defenders in the game, particularly in the P&R. Davis’ potential to be an impact defender as a helper also matters here, especially if (when?) the Lakers play zone and he’s able to hang back near the paint more to challenge Harden/Westbrook drives.
- Harden is a terror offensively and I’m honestly not sure how the Lakers plan to defend him. The Lakers have been very aggressive at the point of attack against players like Harden, pressing the dribble and bringing the big man high in P&R’s to trigger passes by the ball handler rather than letting him roam free or take walk up jumpers behind the arc. Harden, then, may prefer to play even more iso than normal, looking to get Bradley in space where he can step back and shoot the 3 ball or drive him in an attempt to get to his floater/finish at the rim. It’s very important that Bradley stay out of foul trouble this game even if the Lakers probably feel comfortable putting Green on Harden for stretches.
- Do not be surprised to see LeBron or even AD defend Westbrook for stretches in order to be a primary helper. If Russ beats you with jumpers, so be it, but the Lakers want LeBron and AD to play free safety defensively where they can blow up Houston’s offensive sets with timely help.
- This is a game where the Lakers need to make jumpers. I would not be surprised to see Houston play some zone in an attempt to limit the Lakers inside presence and to gum up the team’s offense and make them either play deep into the clock or take early clock jumpers. If the Rockets do go zone, I want LeBron at the nail/FT line on nearly every possession. If Davis plays, he can man that spot too, but I love LeBron in the middle of the zone making pass/shot decisions and able to get downhill.
- It seems counterintuitive, but do not be surprised to see Harden defend LeBron or AD for stretches this game. Harden’s best attribute as a defender is his strength in the post and his quick hands when swiping down on guys looking to shoot after backing down. If Harden does end up on either of those guys, I still want them posting, but I also want those guys setting screens on the ball to force Harden to hedge/recover or to play in space and have to make defensive decisions at the point of attack.
- The Lakers must defend in transition this game — particularly when Russ is playing without Harden. Russ wants to push the pace and either get shots at the rim for himself or draw help and then kick out to shooters. If the Lakers do not get back and do not build a wall vs. Russ, they’ll pay for it.
- I have not said much about LeBron yet, but this is a game where he’s going to need to be great. I rarely say this about Bron because, honestly, he’s one of the best players in the league and when you’re that good I’m not going to put anything extra on you too often. But, this is one of those times. Coincidence or not, Bron has not had his best games against the top teams in the league. And while the Rockets aren’t on the same tier as the Clippers or the Bucks, they’re a very good team that has an MVP level player and a defender (PJ Tucker) who will work hard against him all night and a big (Capela) who will challenge behind him. A big game from LeBron may not be necessary for the Lakers to win (especially if AD plays and is an impact guy), but it would be great for him to show up big in this one.
Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time on ABC.
*All stats via stats.nba.com