The Lakers (11-9) return home after their 4-game trip for a matchup with the Houston Rockets (8-8) for the third time this season. The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. Pacific on Spectrum SportsNet.
Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:
As we enter into the full swing of the holiday season, the Lakers got the gift of good health news in their return to Los Angeles, with several players having their status upgraded heading into Saturday's matchup with Houston.
Here is the current injury report:
- Anthony Davis (left adductor/hip spasm), Jaxson Hayes (left elbow soreness), Cam Reddish (right groin soreness): PROBABLE
- LeBron James (left calf contusion): QUESTIONABLE
- Gabe Vincent (left knee effusion): OUT
Note, neither Rui Hachimura nor Jarred Vanderbilt appear on the injury report at all, which means both are available and will play -- with Vanderbilt set to make his season debut after dealing with bursitis in his left heel since the Lakers preseason opener on October 7th.
The Lakers are now as healthy as they have been all season and, should LeBron play, will have its complete front court rotation available for the first time all season. How this might impact the starting lineup or the general rotation remains to be seen, but this is the sort of good problem Coach Ham would almost certainly prefer over the challenges of being as shorthanded as the team was over their recent road trip.
TIME TO MESH
While the return of an almost-full roster is great news overall and the hope is that the entire team will hit the ground running, the reality is it will take a little bit of time for all the players and the coaching staff to find their footing as they try to come together.
While most of these players have practiced together in training camp this year and even gotten some game reps together either this season or last, working through how all the skill sets mesh while also re-establishing the nuances of timing and togetherness that can only cement itself through countless in-game, shared experiences does not happen on day one.
The coaches will also need time to sort through what groups work best together, and how the various three, four, and five-player groupings actually connect and execute well on the floor in practical ways rather than as ideas on paper. History tells us that even the best laid plans and the truest of intentions face bumps along the way to overcome, and sometimes require revisions in order to get on the right path towards the ultimate goal.
That said, this must all be balanced against the unrelenting nature of time and a season that does not wait for anyone to become the best version of themselves. The Lakers have survived this first stretch of 20 games with an above .500 record while dealing with a myriad of injuries and ailments. With a quarter of the season gone, finding their stride quickly may not be the easiest task, but it should be aspirational all the same.
LAKERS VS. ROCKETS, ROUND III
The Lakers and Rockets have split their two previous games, the first was a blowout loss in a game where Anthony Davis sat out, and the second a one-point win in which LeBron, Austin Reaves, and AD led the Lakers to a victory where Houston outshot them from deep, but the Lakers were clutch down the stretch to close out the win.
If those first two games have taught us anything, it's that the Rockets have a strong resolve on both ends of the floor and an ability to hang tight in a game due to a balance on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they have enough perimeter talent to hit shots, but are still very reliant on big man Alperen Şengün to create good offense for them out of the post while also serving as a catalyst in their pick-and-roll game via dives to the rim.
On the other end, they play hard-nosed defense on the perimeter with Dillon Brooks and Fred VanVleet serving as their point of attack disruptors, but with Şengün and 2nd year forward Jabari Smith Jr. using their collective size and length to disrupt in the paint. If the Lakers settle too much for outside shots, they will play into the Rockets plans of limiting their paint touches, so finding ways to create post up chances for AD and driving lanes for LeBron and the team's other perimeter players is important.
That said, the Lakers cannot abandon the arc and will need to hit shots from the outside to balance out their offense. In the last game between these teams, the Lakers connected on just six of their 29 attempts from behind the arc, which necessitated the late game heroics of LeBron and Reaves to pull out the win. The Lakers shooters will need to be better in this one if the team hopes to find a better offensive balance and create headway vs. the NBA's 6th ranked defense.