Consider this part one of the return. It won’t be nearly as hyped, won’t get nearly the publicity, and won’t be nearly as emotional for the Lakers. But nevertheless, Dwight Howard will play his first game against the purple and gold tonight since leaving for Houston four months ago. For this go around, there will not be much made about Dwight vs. L.A. as he’ll have his hometown fans to backing him up. And considering the state of the Lakers, it shouldn’t cause him much anxiety. On paper, Dwight has a huge advantage over any of the Lakers bigs.
We won’t talk about Dwight vs. L.A. much this time. We’ll save that for his return to the Staples Center. Instead, we’ll talk about a matchup that is not ideal for the Lakers. We hooked up with the Space City Scoop’s lead editor Michael Ma and asked him some questions leading up to tonight’s contest.
We all know how the Dwightmare played out this summer, but how has Dwight acclimated to the Rockets. Lots of talk was that James Harden was no better than Kobe Bryant, but how has he gelled with the roster and the offense?
Dwight is as happy as he’s ever been in his career, both on and off the court. The biggest emphasis that he’s put throughout the summer and pre-season is the fact that he chose to come to the Rockets, where the Orlando Magic drafted him, and the Los Angeles Lakers traded for him. He has fit right in with what the Rockets want to do on offense from their ideal center: run up and down the court, grab as many rebounds as possible, and finish anything under the basket from grabbing an offensive rebound, being the roll man from a pick-and-roll, or receiving a pass from a penetrating guard.
Trying to put Dwight aside for now, the Rockets still have some great players on the court. The team is top 5 in points per game and featured just as high-octane an offense as the Lakers. Is the strategy to outrun — and outscore — their opponents?
That was the Rockets strategy a season ago, as they lead the league in PACE(points per 100 possessions). But coach Kevin McHale, as well as general manager Daryl Morey made a strong emphasis on defense this season, which lead to the heavy pursuit of Howard. Their goal is to be a Top-10 defense in the league this season, and the Rockets have the potential for that with Howard and Omer Asik protecting the paint.
The Lakers greatest strength is their depth. They hope to win the battle of attrition by bringing as many as 6 guys off the bench and running non-stop. Is that an area of concern for the Rockets tonight?
A season ago, YES! But not anymore. Contrary to what the national media and general NBA fans were reporting or claiming, Rockets fans, media, and management completely understood the decision to start Patrick Beverley over Jeremy Lin at point guard to begin the season: which was to provide an offensive spark off the bench. The Rockets had just 1 double-digit scorer off the bench last season in Carlos Delfino, so McHale experimented with a bevy of lineups to maximize bench production in the pre-season.
Prediction for the game?
The Lakers keep pace throughout the game, but the Rockets come out with a double-digit win. The Rockets’ problems with turnovers (they’ve recorded at least 15 turnovers in every game thus far), non-existent moments on defense, and the Lakers bench will make it a fairly close game, but the tandem of Harden and Howard will close the game out at the end.
I personally am not nearly as sold on the Lakers being able to keep this close. They’ve proven already this young season that they’re a horrible road team, and now they have arguably their worst match-up yet on the road. Dwight may scored 50 tonight, and that may be how much the Rockets win by. I’ll keep it conservative and say 105-89, but that’s likely best case scenario.