Kyle Kuzma drives against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 19, 2019.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

Lakers Hit Highs and Lows in Overtime Loss to Houston

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

LeBron James and Rajon Rondo each missed their 13th straight game. Lonzo Ball was injured in the middle of a strong performance. Luke Walton was ejected shortly after.

Yet despite missing their superstar, top two point guards and head coach, the Lakers battled back-and-forth with reigning MVP James Harden’s Rockets. In fact, L.A. had the victory in its grasp before a last-second 3-pointer forced overtime, where Houston squeezed its way to a 138-134 win.

“I loved the way our guys competed,” Walton said. “They gave us everything they had, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Earlier in the day Walton joked that keeping Harden to fewer than 50 points would be a defensive success. Considering his recent track record — back-to-back 50-point games plus a 50-point triple-double against the Lakers last month — that may have actually been a reasonable goal.

The Lakers did keep him off that threshold, but just barely. Harden was in attack mode all night, racking up 48 points with 12 made free throws, eight 3-pointers, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Yet it was Kyle Kuzma who had the hot hand early on, erupting for 20 points in the first quarter — the most by a Laker in the opening frame since Kobe Bryant in 2011.

And while he didn’t reach that heat level again, Kuzma did finish with a team-best 32 points, while pushing the Lakers’ lead as high as 21 late in the first half.

Kuzma thrived off chemistry with Lonzo Ball, who was aggressive and pushed the Lakers’ pace, with eight points and 11 assists in only 22 minutes. But Ball’s night was cut short by a left ankle injury suffered early in the third quarter.

The sophomore had to be helped off the court and taken to a local hospital for X-rays (since Toyota Center’s in-arena machine was not working). His tests returned negative for a fracture, but the Lakers aren’t sure when he will be able to return.

With Ball out, the Lakers’ issues snowballed. Houston opened the half on a 21-10 run, and Ball’s injury left Walton incensed with the referees.

He admitted that he deserved the first technical foul that they gave him, but insisted that all he said to earn the second was, “You guys are funny. This is really funny.” Nonetheless, he was ejected from the game for arguing, and associate head coach Brian Shaw took over from there.

“Right when Lonzo went down; that’s when I think it went away,” Brandon Ingram said. “We lost momentum a little bit. We got away from what we were doing a little bit.”

But the Lakers (25-22) barked back in the fourth quarter, when Ivica Zubac proved 12 of his 17 points, while Lance Stephenson added 11 of his 16.

L.A. led by seven with just a minute left, but Harden went back into MVP mode, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers. Yet when the Lakers led by three with six seconds remaining, Houston (26-19) went to a different player.

The Rockets inbounded the ball to Eric Gordon, who sunk a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to force overtime.

Gordon then scored 10 of his 30 points in overtime, as Houston took control early. Brandon Ingram provided the Lakers’ response, using his height to shoot over smaller defenders for 11 points in OT, finishing with 21.

But Gordon had the final say. Even with Chris Paul and Clint Capela both hurt, he was all the Rockets needed down the stretch.

Ingram’s fadeaway tied the game with 40 seconds remaining in overtime, and he added another bucket later. But Houston won the game at the line, hitting six free throws, including five from Gordon, to ice its victory in a battle between shorthanded clubs.

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The Lakers shot 67.8 percent on two-pointers, but just 27.0 on 3s. They had huge advantages in points in the paint (68-34) and bench scoring (62-28). … JaVale McGee had 12 points and 14 rebounds in only 16 minutes on his 31st birthday. … Zubac fouled out in overtime. … P.J. Tucker had nine points, nine rebounds and five steals for Houston.

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