LOS ANGELES – The 3-Point Contest came a week early this year.
In a duel between a pair of the NBA’s Top 4 offenses Thursday night, the Lakers were outgunned down the stretch, losing 121-111 to the Rockets.
Frank Vogel’s squad managed to keep up most of the game despite facing Houston’s brand-new lineup – bereft of traditional big men and usually featuring five long-range bombers.
They did it by going to Anthony Davis early and often, and by also showing good accuracy from downtown – at least in the first half.
Davis finished the game with 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting and was key in a 62-40 edge in points in the paint.
However, L.A. just shot 2-for-16 from beyond the arc in the second half, and the Rockets never stopped making theirs.
Houston made 19 three-pointers to the Lakers’ 9 and that proved to be too much to overcome. L.A. had success doubling James Harden in the past, but the added shooting had the purple and gold constantly in rotation and stretched to its breaking point along the perimeter.
“Anytime you see a unique style of play it takes a little while to figure it out, but it’s really not that different than what we see with a lot of teams that have centers who shoot threes,” Vogel said. “The difference is they have two elite superstar offensive players that you’re trying to figure out how to guard with five three-point shooters out there. It’s a challenge. We can be a lot better than we were tonight.”
The strategy could have worked, as the Lakers still led with 4:22 to go thanks to solid shooting performances from Danny Green, Alex Caruso, and specially, Avery Bradley. AB’s jumper was on, and he was one of five Lakers in double digits.
Another one of them was LeBron James himself, who finished one rebound shy of a triple-double. The King had 15 of the team’s 33 assists and 18 points, including the dunk of the night in the Association:
The reality was that, through forcing L.A. to go small – JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard played a combined 20 minutes – Houston was able to bring the game to favorable terrain.
In the end, they were just a bit better this time though, led by Russell Westbrook’s 41 in a game that was tied nine times and had 12 lead changes.
“Tip your cap to him,” Vogel said. “He was terrific finishing, making mid-range shots and getting to the basket. His single-coverage and James (Harden) punishing the double teams by hitting shooters, and their shooters punishing by making threes was too much for us.”