Before the season started, the Houston Rockets (16-49) and Los Angeles Lakers (28-36) couldn’t be more different in set expectations. The Rockets faithful we’re bracing for a season of ‘MID’ with a sprinkle of exciting development with it’s young core,
While Lakers fans envisioned an action-packed season filled with redemption after a first round exit by the eventual NBA Finals runner up Phoenix Suns, it was assumed the newly acquired ex-MVP Russell Westbrook would be the difference maker to add to a ‘big three’ with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
After 65 games, both teams seem to be stuck in the mud, as Houston and L.A. have only won one game in the past two weeks. With that being said, not all wins and losses are equal. Despite the Rockets’ and Lakers’ hobby of giving fans an aneurysm with their bad play, both teams have different vantage points.
Los Angeles has failed to live up to expectations, and LeBron’s legendary campaign to chase Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record has been mired with inconsistent play from the team and injuries to Anthony Davis. Even LBJ’s masterclass against the Golden State Warriors that led them to a win last Saturday, where he scored 16 of 56 points in the fourth quarter hasn’t been enough to right a seemingly sinking ship. Per cleaning the glass, the Lakers are ranked 29th in offensive rating(106) and 21st in defensive rating(117) during that span.
Houston, on the other hand, has been slightly encouraging. Jalen Green since the All-Star break has averaged 20 points on 48 percent shooting, Christian Wood just had his best game of his tenure on both sides of the ball in Houston, and in that same game Kevin Porter Jr. had a 19-point barrage in the third quarter, which elevated them to a win against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Remember at the beginning of the season when the Rockets led the league in turnovers (17)? Well guess what? After the All-Star break they’ve been 14th (13); that shameful crown now belongs to the Portland Trail Blazers (17) with the Lakers nipping at the heels in 29th (16).
Houston may have the same record with the Orlando Magic, but the vibes to many in the fandom have been immaculate, just because of the signs of development taking place, as they’ve shown from the competitive games against Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies, who are contenders, that Clutch City can be the hunter, instead of the hunted.
According to our good friends from DraftKings, the Lakers are favored by 4.5 points. Can the Rockets pull an upset and beat the Lakers? That depends on a few factors:
- Contain or stop drives to the rim
- Reduce turnovers
- Transition defense
Containing drives against a team that has LeBron James and Russell Westbrook on the roster is a tough task, but it’s paramount. Every time those two get to the rim it’s either been an easy layup/dunk...
or open shot from the defense collapsing.
Westbrook has feasted in their previous match ups, as he’s averaged 22 drives a game, which has benefited to his overall stat line of 24 points and 8 assists on 48 percent field goal shooting.
As mentioned before, the Rockets have improved their turnover count, nonetheless it’s still a concern. In the previous matchup between both these teams, Houston has boasted a disgusting standard of 22 turnovers a game.
The main culprit of this? The short answer is the youth. Between KPJ (5), Green (4), Alperen Sengun (3), & Jae’Sean Tate (3), they’ve combined for 15 out of 22 turnovers a game alone.
The good news is that it was early in the season when they played the majority of these games and we should expect improvement, from what we’ve seen so far. Especially KPJ, who has become way more decisive as the lead ball handler, as he was on record sighting his struggles with setting up his teammates
Lastly, we need to talk about transition defense. It’s no secret how bad Houston’s transition defense is, however, and when paired with the past of 22 turnovers a game and Westbrook drives to the rim, it could wind up a nasty combo
Carmelo Anthony, who’s had a renaissance since being booted off the Rockets, has used this to his advantage. In the three games played in this matchup, Melo has manifested the Michael Jordan “I took it personally” meme and has posted 20 points on 61 percent from the field and 57 percent from three-point range while using off ball scoring skills by scoring off the catch on kick outs...
on fast breaks...
Regardless of the result, win or lose, the Rockets are fine. Every loss gets them one step closer to securing a top five pick, while if they win, everyone is happy and NBA fans get to gather around and hear Lakers fans audibly screech on Twitter Spaces as a family (Which is cool if fans are slandering the product on court, not players off of it).