December 20, 2017, 4:54 pm
The Lakers (10-18) head to Houston to take on the league-leading Rockets (25-4) and their MVP candidate James Harden. The Lakers are coming off an emotional overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors and have lost 8-of-10.
Los Angeles will be without two key starters Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez. Caldwell-Pope is unable to travel with the team due to a legal matter and Lopez is out for three weeks due to an ankle injury he sustained on Monday against the Warriors. The loss of Caldwell-Pope will be felt acutely as the team takes on the difficult task of slowing down Harden and Chris Paul.
Harden is having another MVP caliber season averaging 31.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 4.2 3-pointers. He is shooting a relatively efficient 45.0 percent from the floor and 86.5 percent from the free throw line on 9.5 attempts a game.
Los Angeles will have a tough time slowing Harden down with out starting shooting guard Caldwell-Pope who is the Lakers’ best perimeter defender. Josh Hart, who is likely to start in his stead, acquitted himself in his last start by producing 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block while playing solid defense. However, guarding the savvy Harden may pose too difficult a task. Perhaps coach Walton will decided to start veteran, and former Harden teammate, Corey Brewer in order to protect Hart from accruing too many fouls early on.
Paul makes up the other half of the formidable Houston backcourt. The Rockets have been almost unbeatable in games in which he plays as he affords coach Mike D’Antoni the opportunity to stagger his two All-Star guards allowing Houston to keep the pressure on their opponents rather than offer teams a chance to make a run while Harden is out of the game. Paul is averaging 17.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.5 blocks on extremely efficient shooting at 48.4 percent from the floor and 89.8 percent from the line.
The Lakers will have one good bit of fortune as Rockets starting center Clint Capela is expected to miss the game with a bruised left calf. Capela is coming off a 24-point and 20-rebound performance and is leading the league at 69.4 percent from the floor and with 87 dunks on the year. Perhaps his absence will allow coach Walton to start Julius Randle instead of going with a larger body such as Andrew Bogut.
Los Angeles is coming off another close loss but their core of young players have been performing well of late. Lonzo Ball has been playing at a high level while showing marked improvement in his shooting as demonstrated by his 35.3 percent from 3-point range over his last 10 games. He has been aggressive of late as evidenced by his scoring seven consecutive points in overtime against the Warriors punctuated by a mid-range jumper, a shot that he has not shot with confidence during his brief NBA career. He has been working on adding that shot to his repetoire — if he can knock it down with confidence it will be a huge boon to his individual game as well as opening up lanes for the whole Laker offense. Ball is producing 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks on 47.2 percent shooting. He will have an extremely difficult matchup with Paul, a physical defender, but Ball’s recent performances have Laker fans excited.
Brandon Ingram is coming off another solid showing as he compiled 19 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals, two steals and one block. He shot 6-of-12 from the field but his 7-of-12 free throws really hurt the Lakers. He continues to show significant improvement in his second year as his production has grown to 16.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks.
Kyle Kuzma has been a pleasant surprise for the Lakers since the moment he donned the purple and gold. He is coming off a 25-point, six-rebound, three-assist and one-block game. On the season he is leading the Lakers with 16.6 points as well as adding 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 49.7 percent shooting. Kuzma will be asked to step up tonight as the Lakers will be shorthanded.
- The Lakers are shooting only 69.9 percent (30th) from the free throw line vs. 79.8 percent (6th) for the Rockets. Their league worst shooting continues to hamper their efforts and was a key factor in their overtime loss on Monday.
- Houston shoots 36.8 percent (13th) from 3-point range while the Lakers shoot a league worst 32.2 percent from distance.
- The Rockets score 115.3 (2nd) points per game compared to 106.6 (11th).
- Houston leads the league at a plus-11.3 per game rating. The Lakers are at minus-3 (22nd) and will be hard pressed to improve on that Wednesday while missing key players and playing on the road.
- The Rockets lead the league in offensive efficiency at 113.8, significantly outperforming the Lakers who are at 100.5 (28th). Los Angeles has improved their defensive efficiency this year to 103.2 (8th) but the Rockets are a touch better at 102.5 (7th).
- Three of the last six Laker losses have come in overtime including two against the world champion Warriors.
Lonzo Ball (PG)
Josh Hart (SG)
Brandon Ingram (SF)
Kyle Kuzma (PF)
Andrew Bogut (C)
Chris Paul (PG)
James Harden (SG)
Trevor Ariza (SF)
Ryan Anderson (PF)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (personal-legal) – OUT
Brook Lopez (ankle) – OUT
Clint Capela (calf) – OUT
Time: 5:00 PM PST, 8:00 PM EST
Television: SPECSN/SPECD, NBATV, AT&T SPORTSNET-SOUTHWEST
Radio: 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES