Feb 13, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Chris Kaman (9) during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first quarter at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Game 54 Preview: Lakers vs. Rockets


The Rockets are the hottest team in the NBA having won seven games in a row. In the month of February, Dwight Howard is playing his best basketball of the season, averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds. James Harden is averaging 25 points. On the season, the Rockets are third in scoring and fourth in field goal percentage. It is their defense that is not quite championship level, especially on the perimeter, primarily because their perimeter players, James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons are mediocre defenders. On offense the Rockets take a lot of threes and their two point shots are dunks or layups. James Harden and Jeremy Lin beat their man off the dribble to get to the rim. Consequently Houston gets to the line a lot which allows them to control the pace. But they give up 101 points a game. The last team to give up 101 points a game and get to the NBA Finals was the Lakers in 2008. But that Lakers team averaged 108 points a game. The Rockets average 104, only outscoring opponents by three.

Of course the storyline is Dwight Howard’s return. Dwight is emotionless about coming back to Los Angeles as he should be. He was here but he was not here, not emotionally. It is just another game to him because Los Angeles was just another city and the Lakers were just another team, a bridge to get him where he really wanted to be. He will hear a lot of boos but as he freely admitted he gets booed everywhere he goes. The only distinction is the boos tonight will have a level of animosity behind them that the boos in Portland and Atlanta did not have. No one knows how it will affect him. He has a fragile nature but on occasion he has demonstrated a level of mental toughness. For the Rockets to win he has to have a great game. In his first game against the Lakers he had 15 points and 14 rebounds but reminiscent of game 4 of the 2009 NBA Finals, in the last minute, Howard missed two free throws and Steve Blake hit a game winning three point shot to win the game. In his second game against the Lakers he missed 9 of the 14 shots he took and 14 of the 24 free throws. But he has an obvious advantage against Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre.

The Lakers are continuing their drama rich life. Jordan Hill and Steve Blake are names mentioned daily in trade rumors. As is Pau Gasol, of course. Pau is not likely to play but how Jordan and Steve handle their career uncertainty will determine how competitive the Lakers will be. The Lakers get Jodie Meeks back which is a relief. Someone who can actually shoot the ball though Jodie will have at tough time staying with James Harden and keeping him out of the lane. Lately, and only because he is forced to, D’antoni has been playing a lot of Chris Kaman and he should have good results against Howard. Kaman has an array of post moves and shot fakes and Dwight plays defense with his hands, he tries to block every shot. Plus Dwight turns the ball over a lot. Kendall Marshall will be going up against a taller and more athletic Jeremy Lin who can drive by Kendall whenever he wants. The keys in this game are rebounding, perimeter defense and interior presence. The Rockets score both inside and out. And lately the Lakers have trouble scoring at all. Even though the Rockets overwhelm the Lakers with their talent the Lakers are rested and should keep the game close and entertaining, (fouling Howard at every opportunity) until James Harden closes the game out for the Rockets. He may be a selfish player as some have recently suggested but he is the league’s best offensive shooting guard. He is coming back to his hometown. Expect his best.

 

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