The Houston Rockets welcomed the Los Angeles Lakers to the Toyota Center for the second time, and it is the fourth matchup of the year between the two teams. The season series coming into the saw the Lakers holding a 2-1 lead after taking the last two games.
There was some doubt about the status of Jabari Smith for the Rockets and Anthony Davis and LeBron James for the Lakers. We found out that all three were available and playing. Unfortunately, Tari Eason could not suit up, but Coach Udoka stated he was ready for full contact drills starting this week.
This game also had playoff implications as the Rockets came in on the outside, looking for a play-in spot, two games behind the Lakers in the standings but only one in the loss column.
Right off the bat, Jalen Green continued his aggressive play with a fancy behind-the-back dribble and hard drive to the basket, resulting in two free throws. In the next play, Green again went hard to the basket and put the Rockets up 4-0. The Rockets started off switching different players on LeBron. It's an easier task with Jabari Smith back in the lineup.
Green started the quarter by scoring 11 of the Rockets’ 20 points. The Rockets took an early 20-to-11 lead. LeBron got his first basket halfway through the quarter, and I knew this without even looking because the crowd went wild ( Yes, the game was in the Toyota Center). The Lakers slowly crept back into the game and eventually took the lead with a De'Angelo Russell three-pointer.
The game went back and forth for a few minutes until... Cam Whitmore came in and instantly took the game over, scoring the Rocket's last 12 points of the quarter and giving the Rockets an 11-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started with a Dillon Brooks turnaround as the Rockets went up by 13. Earlier, Brooks pushed Vanderbilt as he went up for a dunk, and a few plays later, during a dead ball, Vanderbilt hit Brooks in the back of the head, which led to his ejection.
Whitmore continued his hot shooting from the first quarter as he went hard at LeBron and almost dunked it on him. Then, he made a layup and handed the ball to LeBron. The Rockets’ onslaught continued after back-to-back three-pointers by Smith and Green to push the lead to 18. The Rockets continued to outplay the Lakers to end the quarter, taking a 78- 60 lead into halftime.
The third started like the second ended, with the Rockets beating the Lakers in every facet of the game. Sengun had a monster slam that was followed by a Jalen Green three-pointer. The Rockets continued the onslaught, going up by 30 94-64 as they were in complete control. The Lakers would cut the lead down to 101-80, but Sengun would make a layup, and then Green nailed a three from the quarter as the Rockets took a 108-84 lead into the fourth quarter.
Desperation set in for the Lakers in the fourth quarter as the Rockets started the quarter with a 24-point lead. However, the Lakers slowly started to cut away at the lead as the Rockets started to turn the ball over and go cold from the field. The Rockets were up 116-91 after a Sengun make. The lead would eventually get all the way down to 10 after a LeBron James three with under four minutes left.
The Rockets, however, were able to right the ship as they finished the game on a 14-8 run to put it away 135-119. They matched their win total from last season at 22 games. Jalen Green finished with 34 points and had his third straight double-double after not having one in his entire career until that point. Alperen Sengun also had a 30-point double-double as Green and Sengun became the youngest duo to have a 30-point double-double in the same game.
After the game
During his post-game press conference, Jalen Green was asked how he handles the constant negativity about his game.
During the post game @BigSargeSportz asked Jalen how he blocks out the noise and goes out and have performances like tonight. Jalen definitely seems locked in.— Lachard Binkley (@BinkleyHoops) January 30, 2024
“I just delete stuff” pic.twitter.com/u3Q2AAuNxp
It seems Green is focused on his game and not any outside noise, as shown in the last four games. Green went on to talk about how his rebounding has helped his offensive game. With Green, it's not his talent. It is about consistency, game in and game out. Your shot isn't always going to be there. Still, if he can continue to play decent defense, rebound, and become a solid secondary playmaker, he can help this team go from .500 on the outside looking in to a possible playoff team this season.
The Rockets take on the New Orleans Pelicans Wednesday night at the Toyota Center.