(Photo By: Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images)
Lakers at Rockets: 3 Things to Know (12/20/17)
Here is what you need to know before the Lakers visit the NBA-leading Houston Rockets.
1) The Lakers are facing an elite team once again
First it was Cleveland. Then it was Golden State. Now it’s Houston.
On the third leg of a four-game stretch against the NBA’s top teams, the Lakers will look to give the Rockets the same type of fight they did against the Cavs and Warriors. The only difference is they want a win this time.
Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma have shined the most against these elite clubs. Ingram has reliably attacked the rim while providing enough perimeter shooting to function as a counter.
Most importantly, he has begun to sprinkle in more playmaking, setting up shots for teammates like Kuzma, who canned four 3-pointers in his 25-point game against the Warriors.
Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with a team-high 25 points tonight against the Warriors. pic.twitter.com/RIOBSm7UWM— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 19, 2017
2) The Lakers are down 2 of their starting 5
Brook Lopez sprained his ankle against the Warriors, causing him to miss at least three weeks. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope couldn’t travel to Houston because of a legal matter.
That leaves the Lakers without two of their most high-volume 3-point shooters.
Kuzma, the team’s most accurate player from beyond the arc, will likely get some more looks, as will Jordan Clarkson.
But don’t forget about Lonzo Ball, who has sunk 9-of-20 3-pointers in his last three games.
The more pressing matter is Luke Walton’s center rotation.
With Lopez out, Julius Randle is likely to see his minutes increase. But who gets the playing time left over?
Andrew Bogut is a veteran who provides a 7-footer’s defensive presence but little shooting. Larry Nance Jr. gives L.A. defense and hustle plays, but is a natural power froward and also doesn’t shoot. Rookie Thomas Bryant, a true stretch center, is capable of sinking triples but has yet to play in the NBA.
3) The Rockets are at the top of the league
It is difficult to overstate just how hot Houston — winners of 14 straight — is right now.
James Harden is the MVP favorite, averaging 31.3 points while sinking 4.2 3-pointers and 8.2 free throws — all of which lead the NBA. He is also a fireball one-on-one, topping the league in isolation scoring (10.6), with more such points than 27 of 30 teams.
Future Hall of Famer Chris Paul has hit his stride lately. With Harden soaking up so much attention, Paul has been able to strike from his hot spots, shooting 19-of-23 on layups and 11-of-13 on corner 3-pointers this season.
And what’s truly special about the Rockets is that they have so much talent surrounding those two star guards.
Clint Capela has elevated his game to become a pick-and-roll hammer and true rim protector. Ryan Anderson hits more 3s than any big man in the league. Trevor Ariza, in his 14th season, is still a reliable 3 and D player. Eric Gordon is coming off a 33-point game.
Sans Lopez and Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers will need to conjure up some firepower to contend with Houston’s arsenal.
Lakers: Brook Lopez (right ankle sprain) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (personal reasons) are out.
Rockets: Luc Mbah a Moute (right shoulder dislocation), Troy Williams (right knee MCL sprain), Chinanu Onuaku (left wrist injury), Zhou Qi (G League assignment) and Briante Weber (G League assignment) are out
Tip-Off: 5 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet and Spectrum Deportes in L.A. NBA TV nationally
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Location: Toyota Center — Houston, Texas