Throw out all the new year resolutions. Nothing much has changed in 2014. The Lakers can’t field a healthy team. They have no playmakers or shot makers. They are seemingly allergic to defense. And so here we are. The Lakers drag their battered bodies into Houston having won six games since Thanksgiving. Against teams with a winning record, post Thanksgiving, they are 1-9. They have given up 112 points per game.
With their latest injury (Nick Young) D’Antoni will be forced to play Chris Kaman. Still that leaves the Lakers with (8) players available. Deathly undermanned, it will be a challenge for the Lakers to compete with the Houston Rockets who lead the NBA in three point shots attempted. The Rockets are volume shooters, not accurate ones. They miss seventeen three point shots a game. Rebounding energy for four quarters is going to be the key, but on the second night of a back to back it will be a tremendous challenge. The Lakers do not have anyone who can match up athletically with Dwight Howard. Howard averages nearly 13 rebounds a game. When he goes out the game, Asik comes in. The Lakers will need Gasol and Hill to match Howard and Asik’s effort on the boards.
As for the defense, not much is expected from either team. The Lakers are ranked 28th in defense in the NBA, the Rockets 23rd. Houston will get off a lot of shots. What separates the Lakers three point shooting strategy from Houston’s is that Houston rebounds their misses and the Lakers do not. The moment the ball leaves the shooters hands the Lakers backpedal on defense instead of tracking down their miss for offensive rebounds.
The last time the Lakers played the Rockets James Harden scored 35 points. He shot 16 free throws. Dwight Howard had 15 points. He shot sixteen free throws. Jeremy Lin had 15 points. He shot 8 free throws. As for the Lakers, in that November 7th game, Steve Blake shot zero free throws. Chris Kaman shot zero free throws. Pau Gasol shot zero free throws. If the Lakers want to make it a close game tonight they are going to have to find a way to adjust their offense and get into the paint and get to the line. And if all else fails they can fall back on the Hack-A-Howard strategy. It worked the last time they played.
The last time the Lakers were in Houston it was a ah-ha moment. Steve Nash, one of the great shooters in NBA history, went three for eleven in that game. He looked particularly old out on the court. It took one year and a freakish but terrible injury for Nash to not resemble the same player, not even a close facsimile. And such is the Lakers season this peculiar year where someone is always getting hurt; it is death by a thousand cuts.
And so tonight Houston will play fast and the Lakers will play faster. Houston’s fast pace leads to efficient scoring in the paint and on the perimeter, assists and offensive rebounds. The Lakers quickened pace creates activity but missed shots and missed rebounds. Both teams turn the ball over a lot. Houston actually is third in the league because Dwight Howard and James Harden turn the ball over the most for players at their position.
Houston had a mediocre month of December. They won eight games and lost eight games but they only lost two games in a row once. The Lakers had a miserable December. They won four games and lost eleven games but had three separate losing streaks, one of three games, one of six games, one of two games. They are in the midst of another two game losing streak. Will it be 3 ?