LeBron James and James Harden

Lakers at Rockets: Three Things to Know (1/10/21)

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (7-3) head to Houston (3-4) for a back-to-back set of games against their Western Conference Semifinal opponent from last season, starting with Sunday’s 4 p.m. tip on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

Here were the starting lineups when the Lakers last played the Rockets, in a 119-96 Game 5 blowout win on Sept. 12 that sent L.A. to the Western Finals and Houston home:

Lakers: LeBron James, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, Anthony Davis and Markieff Morris
Rockets: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington and PJ Tucker.

Green, Westbrook and Covington are on other teams, while KCP has missed the last four games with a left ankle sprain*, and Davis the last game with an adductor strain. Meanwhile, impactful players like Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and Wesley Matthews have entered L.A.’s rotation, while John Wall, Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins now play for Houston. It’s a younger team in Houston, too: Harden and Gordon are the only players on the roster with at least 10 years of NBA experience, down from eight last season. As such, things will look quite different than they did in the WCSF.
*Frank Vogel said he hoped KCP would be available to return for Sunday’s game.

Houston’s offense is still good, though, ranking seventh in the NBA, four spots behind the Lakers. Their defense has struggled, however, checking in at 18th to L.A.’s 6th.

One of the ways in which the Lakers took apart the Rockets last season was in transition, as they looked to push after getting stops, and utilized the devastating athleticism of LeBron and AD in particular, plus KCP, Alex Caruso or Kyle Kuzma flying up the wing. L.A. had a 17-6 edge in fastbreak points in Game 5. In Game 4, it was a 19-2 edge. Game 3 was an exception, just a 10-8 edge, but Game 2 was 20-6, and Game 1 18-9.

The total fastbreak points difference was 84-31.

Last season overall, the Lakers finished 2nd in fastbreak points with 17.6 per game, but through 10 games this year, it’s down to 14.6, ranking 11th. Their pace is also slower, at 22nd, down from 11th last season. Houston also plays methodically under Harden, ranking 23rd in pace, plus 14th in FB points.

It’s important to factor in this unique start to the season, especially with the lack of crowds, which definitely has an impact on energy, particularly for the Lakers considering their shortened offseason. They’ve managed to win seven games nonetheless, but here’s guessing that the FB buckets will continue to increase as the season goes on.

While the Lakers may not be running as much, they haven’t needed to in part because they’re shooting the ball so well from the perimeter. Through 10 games, the Lakers rank 6th in 3-point percentage (38.9%), a category they finished 21st in last season (34.9%). Alfonzo McKinnie (2 for 2), Jared Dudley (1 for 1) and Quinn Cook (2 for 5) may be enjoying small sample size life, but there are four other Lakers at 38 percent or higher:

Alex Caruso: 9 for 16 (56.3%)
KCP: 10 for 19 (52.6%)
Wesley Matthews: 16 for 39 (41.0%)
Anthony Davis: 12 for 30 (40.0%)
Kyle Kuzma: 18 for 47 (38.3%)

Meanwhile, the Lakers with the most makes, LeBron, is hitting a solid 36.7% (22 for 60).

The Rockets rank just 23rd at 35.1% from three, which mirrors their 2019-20 rate of 34.5% (24th). They attempted and made the most 3’s last season (15.6 out of 45.3) but have slipped to ninth in attempts this season (38.3) and 11th in makes 13.4, ahead of L.A.’s 12.2 (21st).

Ben McLemore is a perfect 5 for 5 from distance, while Tucker’s at 60% (12 of 20) and Harden 37.9% (22 of 58). Wall (30.8%) and Gordon (29.5%) are struggling to convert thus far.


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