Red-Hot Rockets Run Past Lakers
The Lakers are a young team trying to hammer their way into contention. The Houston Rockets are a fully operational bulldozer playing “the best basketball in the league,” according to Luke Walton.
On the second night of a back-to-back, the Lakers didn’t have the firepower to match the Rockets, who won 118-95 for their 13th victory in 14 games.
Meanwhile, the Lakers (8-15) are trending the opposite direction, having lost five in a row.
“This is the time of year that can break teams down,” Walton said. “It really can when you’re not winning.”
Walton also maintained his belief that this Lakers squad isn’t the type to be broken by an unforgiving December schedule that includes five more games against Houston, Golden State and Cleveland.
In spite of the recent losing streak, Walton has been able to keep his optimism thanks to the improved performances of young players like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma.
“It hurts to lose and it’s tough to sleep after losses,” Walton said. “But it doesn’t hurt as bad this year, because I can see what this team is and where this team is going and the individual progress that’s being made.”
Kuzma had the team’s best statistical night, putting up 22 points and 12 rebounds. But 16 of those points came in the fourth quarter, and the rookie didn’t mince words when it came to describing how he was able to easily score.
“Garbage time,” Kuzma said. “They were already up 20. Nobody wants to play hard when they’re up 20 anyway.”
With most of Kuzma’s damage done beyond the point of competition, Ingram was probably the most effective Laker on the night.
He ended with 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, flashing the all-around game that Walton envisions being his trademark throughout his career.
“He’s more of a basketball player than he is just a scorer,” Walton said. “We’re at our best when he’s in the game, not only trying to get to the rim and put pressure on it, but also looking to playmake for his teammates when the defense collapses.”
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Houston (18-4) boasts two of the best playmakers in the NBA: James Harden and Chris Paul.
Harden — the league leader in both scoring and assists — absolutely torched the Lakers with 36 points and nine dimes.
“Ain’t no stopping James Harden,” Kuzma said. “… He takes like 30 dribbles. It’s hard to guard somebody when they take that many dribbles and you’re on an island.”
The reason the Lakers were marooned so often was because of the way Harden, Paul (21 points) and Eric Gordon (22) attacked their switching defense.
One of the Lakers’ biggest strengths the entire season, their ability to switch defenders was turned against them by Houston’s guard trio, which constantly screened to get the matchup it wanted before slicing to the rim or pulling up for an open jumper.
The other major issue was the Lakers’ inability to keep possession of the ball.
For the second straight night, the NBA’s most turnover-prone team matched is season-high by committing 21 giveaways.
Turnovers have become so contagious for the Lakers that Walton has needed to turn the clock back in practice to the days of prom and driving lessons.
“We literally are doing drills that the players joke are like high school drills,” Walton said. “But that’s what it’s come to. We’ve got to start taking care of the basketball.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 16 points and four 3-pointers, while Larry Nance Jr. added 15 points and eight rebounds. … Aside from Kuzma, the Lakers’ bench shot just 3-of-19 for 12 points. … Houston hit 50.6 percent from the field and made 14 3-pointers. … An audience of 18,997 — including actor Will Ferrell and model Emily Ratajkowski — sold out STAPLES Center.