Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Lakers Preview: 10 Things to Know About the Rockets

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Lakers open their 2014-15 campaign with a visit from the Houston Rockets.

Here is what you need to know as the Lakers and Rockets go head-to-head at STAPLES Center.

1) James Harden is one of the league’s most versatile and dangerous offensive threats. Harden’s 25.4 points per game last season were the fifth-most in the NBA.

Harden thrived at the free throw and 3-point lines. The 2013-14 first team All-NBA guard trailed only Kevin Durant in attempts at the foul line (9.1) and free throws made (7.9). He also attempted the third-most 3-pointers (6.6) per game and averaged 2.4 makes.

2) Scoring was not Harden’s only contribution to his team’s offense. A skilled ballhandler, Harden led all shooting guards with 6.1 assists per game, more than many point guards, such as Mike Conley and Goran Dragic, and 13th overall.

3) Dwight Howard is still among the NBA’s top big men. The second team All-NBA center averaged a double-double for the 10th time in his 10-year career last season with 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. Howard ranked fourth in total rebounding and made 59.1 percent of his shots from the field, which was the best mark among players with at least 10 attempts per game.

4) Houston signed former Laker Trevor Ariza over the offseason from Washington, where he posted team-highs in 3-pointers (180) and 3-point percentage (40.7). Ariza also made a lasting impression on his future team on Feb. 12, when he drained a Wizards franchise-record 10 3-pointers against Houston.

Ariza Shot Chart

5) The Rockets employ an advanced metrics-influenced attack, which strongly favors 3-pointers and shots near the rim. Houston attempted (26.6) and made (9.5) more 3-pointers per game than any other team, while also leading the league with 29.5 drives to the hoop and ranking second in points in the paint with 50.9.

Meanwhile, the floor in front of the 3-point line was a ghost town for the Rockets, who averaged a league-low 8.9 shots from mid-range, 7.3 fewer than the next-lowest team, Philadelphia.

Houston Distribution

6) The Rockets lived and died at the foul line more than any other team, averaging a league-high 31.1 free throws last season. Due in large part to Howard’s 54.7 percent mark, they also shot the NBA’s third-worst percentage on free throws (71.2).

7) In the last five minutes of close games (five point difference or fewer), Harden averaged the second-most points (4.3) in the NBA. In the same situation, Howard tied for the league leads in field goal percentage (68.4) and rebounds (2.0).

8) There is a lot of recent history between these two teams. Jeremy Lin spent the last two seasons with Houston before being traded to Los Angeles. Jordan Hill spent one full and two partial seasons as a Rocket. Ariza led the Lakers in steals during their 2008-09 championship season, and also played part of the previous year with L.A. Howard was a Laker for the 2012-13 season before signing with Houston in the offseason.

9) Houston’s biggest weakness may be handling the ball. The Rockets committed the second-most turnovers last season (16.1), while Harden surrendered the ball more times (3.6) than any player except Stephen Curry. This could be compounded by the loss of Lin, who started 33 games at point guard last year.

10) The Rockets were responsible for one of the Lakers’ most defensively porous losses last season on April 8. Harden and Terrence Jones both dropped 33 points to lead Houston to a 145-130 victory, which set a new record for most points allowed by the Lakers in 202 games between Houston and L.A.

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