Dwight Howard
(Bill Baptist/Getty Images)

Lakers start second half with a bang in road win in Houston

by Rodrigo Azurmendi
Staff Writer

Couldn’t have asked for a better start to the back half of the season.

The Lakers came back from an 11-point deficit Saturday night to win a much-awaited national TV road matchup against the Rockets.

And if LeBron James was the team’s best player – he was, as usual, with a dominant 31-5-12 performance in 35 minutes – then Kyle Kuzma was clearly the difference-maker.

LBJ credited the third-year forward for helping tame Russell Westbrook after a magnificent first half by one of Houston’s stars.

“I think offensively he was very good, but defensively in that third quarter he took the challenge on Russ,” James said during his walk-off interview. “Big step for the young fella.”

Kuzma’s day was a microcosm of the Lakers night.

He had just six points in the first 2 quarters, with the Lakers going into halftime down by that same amount.

The rest of the way was a different story, with the forward from Flint dropping 17 of his 23 and the Lakers outscoring Houston 65-50.

The constant was his defense – tirelessly brilliant throughout the whole night despite his early struggles on the other end. Kuzma did step it up after intermission and was highly responsible for keeping Westbrook to just 13 points after he had scored 22 at the half.

“He works really hard on that end of the floor,” Vogel said. “Not only individually on Russell, but we were in rotation a lot tonight, far more than I’m comfortable with personally. He’s got great length and athleticism to compete in those situations, and he did a great job on that.”

The rest was just a matter of sticking to the game plan. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, another key figure in the win, explained how they went about limiting James Harden – who made a single three-pointer in the second half amid an onslaught of double teams.

“The plan was just to hit (Harden), send him to his weak hand and then be in full rotation after that,” he said. “And I feel that [with] my teammates, we did a hell of a job in the second half.”

KCP wasn’t too shabby either on offense, scoring 20 off the bench on 50% shooting – one of four Lakers in double figures.

And with the defense allowing just a pair of buckets in Houston’s first 16 shot attempts in the third quarter, the comeback was just a matter of time.

Credit JaVale McGee, whose rim protection was integral in keeping the Rockets to a frigid 21.4% from the field in the third.

He racked up 3 blocks in the period, including a pair in a terrifying 23-second span:

The night ended with the Lakers nursing a comfortable lead and with James getting M-V-P chants from the purple and gold faithful in the Toyota Center stands.

This was, without a doubt, another show of character against a playoff-tested team, and a win that allowed the Lakers to improve to 4-1 in their last 5 games without Anthony Davis.

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