The Houston Rockets took on the Los Angeles Lakers in game 78 of the 2022-23 season. The Rockets have long known that they would be watching the playoffs from their couches for the third straight season, but tonight, they had a chance to play spoiler as the Lakers looked to solidify their playoff position.
The Lakers came into the night only a half-game behind the Pelicans and a game behind the Clippers for the sixth spot. So the Rockets, who haven't been in too many pressure-packed games, had a chance to affect the playoff race in a way they haven't done in years.
This was the first matchup for the Rockets where they faced LeBron James and Anthony Davis, as Davis missed the last two matchups, and LeBron missed the Rockets’ win over the Lakers in early March.
With LeBron's triple-double and Davis dominating 40 points, the Rockets were outmatched from the start, and the final score of 134-109 showed that dominance.
Here are three things that stood out to me about the Rockets.
Houston had zero answers for Anthony Davis
It was no surprise that the Rockets, especially for the fact no team can slow down Anthony Davis right now, who has played like a top-five player the last few weeks, but Davis seemed to be getting anything he wanted in the first quarter versus the Rockets.
Davis had 13 points and 4 rebounds in the first quarter as the Lakers dominated points in the paint. Davis continued his excellent play, towering over the Rockets in the paint. The Rockets tried double teams, fronting and sometimes triple teams, but it didn't matter. Davis finished with 40 points and 9 rebounds on 15-for-20 shooting.
This isn't the same Lakers team the Rockets faced two times earlier this season
The Rockets had faced the Lakers twice this season and had split the two games. In the first game, the Rockets faced the Lakers with no Anthony Davis, and LeBron took over the game. In the second game, the Rockets faced the Lakers without Davis and LeBron and pulled out the victory.
Both were in the lineup tonight, with especially Davis making his presence felt early. That, however, is not the only difference when facing the Lakers this time. The Lakers made several moves during the trade deadline, most notably reuniting with D'Angelo Russell, who brought much-needed shooting for L.A.
The Lakers got a dominating performance from Davis and double-digit scoring from Rui Huchimura, Austin Reeves and Malik Beasley. Earlier in the season, the Lakers couldn't find much help for Davis and LeBron; lately, they are getting help from multiple players, especially in this game.
Every player that played for the Lakers had a positive plus-minus. The Lakers have won seven of eight games and are rising up the playoff standings because of their trade deadline additions.
Despite the loss, Alperen Sengun continues to show he won't back down from any opponent.
The last thing you would think of when a player drops 40 points and has 9 rebounds is the defender on the other side, but Sengun’s defensive improvement isn't based on just one game. Sengun has shown from day one that he will not back down from any opponent. He goes right at them on every play, whether it is Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic or even LeBron James.
I asked Coach Silas about Sengun not showing any fear against players like LeBron or Anthony Davis.
“Tonight was a really tough matchup, but he didn’t back down from it not one bit and I love that”
Again Davis had his way with the Rockets, but he has done that to every team, especially in the last few weeks. Davis is playing some of the best basketball of his career, but Sengun still had his moments and finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, along with two big-time dunks and a chase-down block.
Sengun backed down LeBron and spun by him quickly on his way to an easy basket. Sengun also consistently scored over LeBron in a matchup during his rookie season. Sengun is already showing this type of confidence bodes well for his career as he continues to gain experience and develop his game.
The Lakers controlled the game and coasted to an easy victory as they continued their playoff run. The Rockets are winding down another tough season and are starting to look forward to one of the most important off-seasons in years. But before that, the Rockets have three games left, with their next matchup being their home finale .
Rockets vs. Nuggets 7 CT at the Toyota Center.