The Lakers had a thrilling win last night, beating the Knicks in overtime on a game winning THT 3-pointer on their final offensive possession and then getting a great defensive stop on the Knicks final chance. The Lakers needed a last second put-back from Wes Matthews to even force OT, and this after nearly 48 minutes of a back and forth, old-school 90’s style of a game that featured hard nosed defense and, particularly in the 2nd half, some spotty shotmaking. That said, the Lakers don’t have much time to celebrate that win with the Rockets coming into town tonight.
First things first, however, is the Lakers will raise their banner tonight. More than anything else, this will give them a moment to remember what they accomplished and let fans cheer them on. This should give them an initial boost and, hopefully, also focus them on the goal they’re seeking out this year.
That said, the other reality will set in pretty quick. Neither LeBron nor AD will play in tonight’s game. It was thought Bron would come back from his recent ankle soreness to give it a go tonight, but Saturday vs. the Pacers is looking more likely now. As for AD, he finished the game after dealing with a “tight” groin that was clearly bothering him and it turns out that less than a day later he/the team/the doctors think it best to give him some rest rather than play. I agree with this line of thinking, particularly when you consider his recent minutes load. Alex Caruso is listed as questionable, but after leaving the Knicks game with continued soreness in his foot, he may also be out.
Of course, the Rockets injury report is even more drastic than the Lakers. The Rockets will be without so many players, it’s almost comical, but of the names many casual fans would recognize, both Christian Wood and and Danuel House are questionable. Otherwise, for the clearly tanking Rockets, many of their better players have been ruled out and it’s time to get extended looks at some end of the roster guys as they look forward to next season.
This game, then, is a tricky one to actually evaluate. The Lakers are down their best players, just played last night, and may again be down to one capable ball handler. They still have more talent than the Rockets, but the general skill set of the remaining group is short in a really important area. They’re playing a Rockets team, however, that is so short on talent that the competitive nature of the team will be tested. It’s just hard to get up for such a depleted team, even on a night the team will have fans celebrating the raising of banner #17. On the other hand, teams love to beat the Lakers and I would imagine as much as the Rockets tank is surging, they’d still make a quick detour off their downward trajectory to mess up the Lakers chances of getting out of the play-in game and spoiling their celebration.
With the roster the Lakers do have, however, there’s three players who I think will need to have big nights in order to get this win. First is THT. I don’t think this requires much explaining; he’s the team’s best wing shot creator and him being able to score and facilitate for teammates is big key. The 2nd is Kyle Kuzma. Kuz’s game vs. the Knicks was a bit obscured by THT’s late 3 and Wes’ tip-in, but Kuz’s 18 point first half kept the team in it and a repeat performance on the scoreboard would be really helpful. The final guy is Trez. Harrell’s role has been vastly reduced with Marc re-emerging as a rotation piece, but with AD out the Lakers will need Trez’s interior scoring and general enthusiasm for putting the ball in the basket. They will also need his energy on the 2nd night of a back to back.
Of course there’s other players who matter here — Drummond could be very important and will need to do more with AD out, KCP’s shooting and transition attacking can make a big difference, and Wes continuing to defend and shoot well can also be big. But if Kuz/THT/Trez have big nights, I feel pretty comfortable with how this game will go. Let’s go get it and hopefully see close to a full roster back this weekend.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.