(Photo By: David Sherman/Getty Images)

Lakers at Rockets: 3 Things to Know (12/31/17)

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Here is what you need to know before the Lakers’ New Year’s Eve clash with the Houston Rockets.

1) The Lakers are in need of Kuz control
Eleven days ago, the Lakers busted Houston’s 14-game winning streak behind a herculean effort by Kyle Kuzma, who went off for a career-high 38 points.

Kuzma was blistering from the moment of tip-off, getting into a quick rhythm by canning his first nine shots. He went on to put up 10 attempts from 3-point range, sinking seven of them.

But it was more than just the finally tally for Kuzma, who was so impressive in how he reached 38.

The rookie’s red-hot 3-point shooting was accompanied by scoring moves beyond his years. He reacted to double teams, got an and-1 layup, mixed in a fadeaway and step-back, and made plays for others with four assists and zero turnovers.

Kuzma is now looking to get back toward that level of play. After another eruption netted him 31 points on Christmas night, he has hit the first cold spell of his career, scoring 22 points in his last two games combined on 10-of-38 shooting (2-of-18 on 3’s).

Kuzma is great working off the ball, so it is key that the Lakers — without Lonzo Ball — find some playmaking, specifically with one of Brandon Ingram, Tyler Ennis or Alex Caruso running the most point.

2) No Zo is taking its toll
Not all of the Lakers’ recent struggles fall on the absence of Ball (shoulder sprain), but it certainly doesn’t help to be down a gifted passer who vacuums rebounds and competes on defense.

The most noticeable effect has been the Lakers’ slowed-down pace without Lonzo pushing ahead and playmaking in transition.

On the season, L.A. runs the league’s fastest pace (104.0 possessions per game), but in Ball’s three-game absence that has wound down to 13th (98.9).

The Lakers have also struggled defensively — an area that the team has succeeded in throughout this year. Over the last three, they are surrendering a league-high 117.0 points per game.

Much of this has to do with injuries: Ball is an above average defensive point guard in his rookie year, and Brook Lopez (ankle sprain) contests the most shots in the NBA.

The Lakers are behind the eight ball when it comes to defensive personnel (also without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in this game), but have to make that side a priority against the Rockets.

3) The Rockets have struggled to lift off lately
Since the Lakers ended Houston’s streak on Dec. 20, James Harden and co. have gone winless in a five-game slide.

The Rockets have bled points defensively and coughed up turnovers during that span, and missing walking double-double Clint Capela for the last two games has hurt.

But a win is never too far away with a talent like Harden on the roster.

The MVP frontrunner along with LeBron James, he is putting up 32.1 points per game — a mark that leads the NBA and is on pace to break Moses Malone’s franchise record.

Harden — who dropped 51 points in the loss to the Lakers — is also a boogeyman for the Lakers’ switching defense because of his ability to exploit mismatches.

In fact, he averages more isolation points (11.7) than every other team in the league. Harden will probably get his numbers no matter how the Lakers play him, so they will likely stick to their plan of forcing him to work for his buckets and limiting everyone else.

Injury Report
Lonzo Ball (left shoulder sprain), Brook Lopez (right ankle sprain) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (personal reasons) are out.
Rockets: Clint Capela (right orbital fracture) is TBD. Luc Mbah a Moute (right shoulder dislocation), Demetrius Jackson (G League), Chananu Onuaku (G League) and Troy Williams (right knee MCL sprain) are out.

Tip-Off: 4 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet and Spectrum Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Unis: White
Location: Toyota Center — Houston, Texas

Click here to view game notes for this contest.

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