April 11, 2018, 5:02 am
The Lakers and Rockets engaged in a hard-fought battle Tuesday night with Los Angeles eventually falling 105-99.
Los Angeles was once again without key players Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Isaiah Thomas. However, tonight was not about who didn’t take the court, but rather who did.
Andre Ingram made his NBA debut after toiling in the developmental leagues for the past 10 years. After his emotional signing went viral yesterday, Laker fans were well aware of his story and greeted him with loud cheers as he entered the game. Ingram made an immediate impact, scoring 10 points in his first seven minutes, to the delight of the fans in attendance. He finished his inaugural game with 19 points, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, 4-of-5 from 3-point range and 3-of-3 from the free throw line. His performance was so riveting that he earned MVP chants on one of his trips to the charity stripe.
Josh Hart continued his stellar rookie season with 20 points, seven rebounds and two steals on 8-of-17 from the floor. He played a game-high 41 minutes and provided the team leadership, helping to keep the Lakers within striking distance throughout.
Julius Randle played in his 81st game of the season, contributing 17 points, eight rebounds and two steals on 7-of-12 shooting. He was limited to only 18 minutes and was not afforded a late curtain call in his last home game before free agency, perhaps a sign that coach Luke Walton expects to have Randle back next season.
Alex Caruso was outclassed all night by the Rockets’ guards but that didn’t dissuade him from playing his heart out — exemplified by his drawing a key charge with 90 seconds remaining in a meaningless game. His final stat line was indicative of his effort, chipping-in across the board with nine points, four rebounds, six assists, two steals and a plus-12 rating.
Ivica Zubac had a rough night, chipping-in two points, five rebounds and one steal in his twenty minutes. Unfortunately, the young man was left on an island with Chris Paul on multiple occasions, getting badly embarrassed including a play when Paul dribbled between Zubac’s legs en route to a lay up.
Paul tormented the Lakers’ guards as well, finishing with 22 points, six assists, three rebounds and one steal in only 27 minutes. He shot 9-of-14 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point range. He was able to dictate whatever he wanted, forcing unfavorable switches in the pick and roll, beating defenders one on one and generally looking completely unstoppable on the evening.
Clint Capela added 10 points, 12 rebounds and one steal in his 21 minutes of action.
Gerald Green was vital in securing the win, tallying 16 points, six rebounds and a plus-13 rating on 5-of-10 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from 3-point range and 3-of-3 from the line.
James Harden had a sub-par night by his standards, accruing 21 points, 10 assists, four rebounds, one steal and one block in his tenure on the court. However, he converted only 6-of-15 shots and committed six turnovers.
This contest did not have the feel of a meaningless game; the stadium was buzzing with energy and the fans brought an intensity often reserved for playoff games. Coach Mike D’Antoni must have been influenced by the strong aura, opting to play his starters and key rotational players early into the fourth quarter, including 31 minutes for his MVP candidate Harden.
The Rockets did suffer an injury in the game, losing important defender Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to a dislocated shoulder on a dunk attempt — he will undergo an MRI Wednesday. Houston was fortunate to avoid further injury in a game that had no bearing on their playoff standing.
Houston is now 42-3 in games where Paul, Harden and Capela are all in the lineup.
Key Stats and Observations
-The Lakers amassed 35 fast break points compared to only nine for the Rockets. One factor that contributed to this disparity was the difference in steals with the Lakers holding a 14-9 edge over the Rockets.
-Los Angeles continued their season-long dominance in the key, outscoring Houston 48-40 in the paint.
-The key to the loss was the difference at the 3-point line where the Rockets converted 16-of-47 (34.0 percent) vs. 10-of-36 (27.8 percent) for the Lakers. The 18-point deficit for Los Angeles was the difference in a game that was otherwise statistically very close.
-The two teams shot an almost identical percentage for the game with Houston knocking down 37-of-88 (42.0 percent) while the Lakers made 38-of-90 (42.2 percent).
-The Lakers were unable to take advantage of 11 fourth quarter turnovers compared to five for Los Angeles — no small number. For the game, Los Angeles committed 17 miscues compared to 19 for Houston.
The Lakers play their final game of the season on Wednesday at Staples Center, but this time as the road team against the Clippers.
Ingram gets a second opportunity to shine against many of his peers as this game promises to feature each team’s second and third units extensively.
The Lakers are not expected to get back any of their key players and the Clippers are expected to bench leading scorer Lou Williams. However, these two teams have developed a mini-rivalry and the Lakers have demonstrated that they will bring energy to every battle — this game promises to be a high intensity matchup regardless of who is on the court.