December 21, 2017, 3:50 pm
The Lakers stunned the Rockets on Wednesday with a 122-116 victory, ending the Rockets 14-game win streak.
Los Angeles was led by Kyle Kuzma whose hot shooting incinerated the Rockets in the first half as he shot a perfect 9-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-6 from 3-point range for 24 first half points.
The Lakers came out hot making their first four 3-pointers as a team and jumping out to an early 10-point lead. Los Angeles would end the first quarter with a 37-22 edge while dominating the Rockets in almost every facet of the game including holding an advantage in assists (9-5), turnovers (1-6), steals (4-1), field goal shooting (56.5 percent-39.1 percent) and 3-point shooting (7-of-12 vs. 2-of-7).
Kuzma’s first quarter effort was buttressed by Corey Brewer who came off the bench to contribute 11 first half points, at one point extending the Laker lead to 22 points at 48-26. Larry Nance Jr. was also great in his bench role with a solid stretch in which he compiled seven points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal and a plus-14 rating.
At that point James Harden took over the game scoring 24 of his 30 first half points in the second quarter. The Rockets ended the first half on a 33-15 run to narrow the Lakers’ lead to 63-59 at the break. What was more concerning was that the Lakers simply stopped doing the things that brought them success early on as far as moving the ball, playing team defense and making solid decisions with the basketball. During the Rockets’ run the Lakers went from holding a 9-to-1 to a 9-to-5 edge. Lonzo Ball in particular struggled in the second quarter as he managed no positive stats, missed all of his shots, committed two turnovers and had a minus-11 rating in the period to finish the first half with three points, one steal, one block, two assists, two rebounds and three turnovers on 1-of-6 shooting. To top off a rough second quarter he allowed Eric Gordon to hit a buzzer beating 3-pointer to punctuate the Rockets run.
Kuzma started the second half inauspiciously for the Lakers, ending his perfect night by missing the first two free throws out of three attempts. The Lakers played passively for the first few minutes of the third allowing the Rockets to take a 68-66 lead before the Lakers started to re-assert themselves on the game. Ball started making plays on the offensive end including a 3-pointer to tie the game at 78 and finishing the third quarter with 12 points, six rebounds, four assists, one steal and two blocks.
Perhaps all the recent losses helped teach the Lakers how to close out this game as they were able to outlast the Rockets in this game. Key to the victory was Brewer who played excellent defense on Harden, several clutch shots and amassed 21 points, five rebounds, one assist, three steals and a game-high plus-18 rating. By the time he fouled out (on a questionable call) he had put the Lakers in a position to win. Brewer once again earned James Worthy’s post game song: “If you want to win, put Brewsky in.”
Kuzma was player of the game with a career-high 38 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one block on 12-of-17 shooting from the field and 7-of-10 from 3-point range. His performance may give coach Walton cause to reconsider his starting lineup going forward as Kuzma, their leading scorer on the season despite playing only fourth most minutes, continues to prove that he deserves a larger role.
Ball had good and bad moments but ended the game with an overall positive influence on the game with 16 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one steal, two blocks, five turnovers and plus-6 rating but did not shoot particularly well going 5-of-14 from the field, 2-of-8 from 3-point range and 4-of-7 from the line.
Nance joined Brewer as a vital element off the bench by contributing 13 points, nine rebounds (six offensive), four assists, one steal and a plus-14 rating. Nance’s performance coupled with Brewer relegated Julius Randle to only a short eight minute cameo in the second quarter in which he scored four points with one rebound and one assist and a minus-12 rating. He was perhaps unfairly asked to guard Harden one-on-one for prolonged periods during which the league leading scorer took advantage of him repeatedly. Randle has a tendency to struggle emotionally and a combination of his late entrance to the game and Harden’s rude treatment had him walking around with negative body language. Coach Walton will have to find a way to better incorporate Randle into the next game.
Harden led the Rockets with 51 points, nine assists, three rebounds, one steal and one block. He shot 15-of-27 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 17-of-21 from the line.
Chris Paul, who had been undefeated as a Rocket, was unable to finish the game due to a leg injury. He finished the game with only eight points, five rebounds, five assists, three turnovers and a minus-16 rating. Both his turnover total and his 2-of-7 shooting were uncharacteristic of Paul.
Trevor Ariza played one his best games of the season against his former franchise contributing 18 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, four steals, one block and a plus-3 rating. He was one of the only Rockets to play well in the first quarter finishing the period with 10 points, three rebounds and one steal.
The Rockets really missed Clint Capela on the evening and perhaps his absence was one reason Los Angeles were able to escape Houston with a win. Laker fans will assert that it was all about Kuzma and a team that is learning to do more than just compete with the league’s elite teams — they are learning to win.
Key Stats and Observations
- The Lakers defeated the Rockets at their own game by hitting 15-of-35 (42.9 percent) from 3-point range vs. 17-of-42 (40.5 percent) for the Rockets.
- Los Angeles out-shot Houston from the field going 40-of-85 (47.1 percent) compared to 37-of-90 (41.1 percent) for Houston.
- The Achilles heel for the Lakers continues to be their free throw shooting woes as they shot only 27-of-43 (62.8 percent) from the charity stripe — this performance will further solidify their position as the league worst team from the free throw line as well as the only team to shoot below 70.0 percent on the season. The Rockets were a more respectable 25-of-32 (78.1 percent).
- The Lakers committed only 10 turnovers, well below their season average of 17 (29th). The Rockets were not as efficient with 15 miscues.
- Los Angeles out-assisted the Rockets 27-19.
- Kuzma became the first rookie in NBA history to score at least 38 points, make seven 3-pointers and shoot at least 70.0 percent from the field.
The Lakers head to Golden State to take on the Warriors for their third meeting of the season. The last two meetings have resulted in tough overtime losses for the Lakers. Most recently the Warriors defeated the Lakers this Monday to spoil Kobe Bryant’s jersey retirement ceremony and a solid effort by the young Laker squad.
The Warriors are led by Kevin Durant who hit the game winning shot against the Lakers in the last meeting. He is averaging 26.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.7 steals and 2.2 blocks on the year on stellar shooting of 51.5 percent from the field and 88.2 percent from the line (stats do not include the Warriors on-going game against the Grizzlies).
Although Steph Curry is not expected to return by Friday, the Lakers may have to deal with Draymond Green, who was not available during the last closely contended matchup between the two teams.