It turns out that the season is still not miserable enough for the Lakers (15-18). Yesterday, the team reported that Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill will be out of commission for several days to to their various injuries. This is coming with the Lakers looking at their toughest stretch of their schedule facing the Spurs, Thunder and Heat in the days ahead. Not to mention that they are riding a 3-game losing streak and trying to keep themselves within arm's length of the 8th seed Nuggets in the west.
But it's still early in January and, believe or not, there's still time for the Lakers to pick themselves up. Tonight would be a good time to do just that.
The Lakers are starting their Texas Two-Step trip against the Houston Rockets (20-14) before heading 200 miles west to San Antonio to take on the Spurs tomorrow night. After starting the season playing like a team trying to find their way, the Rockets have turned a page by winning 11 of their last 14 games since snapping a 3-game snide against the Wizards. A lot of that had to do with James Harden and Omer Asik.
Harden is averaging 26.4 points while shooting 44.9% from the field for the year. In their last 10 games, he's upped those stats to 29.5 and 48.9% per game. Interestingly enough, Harden has only averaged 17.5 points on a dismal 27% shooting in the 2 games against the Lakers this season. That's because both Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace has done a solid job defensively against him. But look for Harden to come out aggressive tonight.
Asik is a non-factor against the purple and gold so far. But with both Howard and Gasol out, he just might have his best game of the season tonight. Like Harden, the 7-footer from Turkey has stepped up his game in scoring, rebounding and on defense. However, we'll see if he can control his personal fouls to stay in the game long enough to be a nuisance for the Lakers. Just because he won't be facing any notable competition in the post doesn't mean he's safe from Kobe's (especially with Chandler Parsons out) attacks at the rim or any one of Steve Nash's sweet dishes to an open man under the basket.
Expect Bryant and Nash to play a ton of minutes tonight. At this point in the season, rest for those tired old legs is no longer an option. The Lakers simply need to win more than anything else just to give themselves a chance at making the playoffs. That is going to be an undertaking for them with or without their bigs from this point on. Laker fans can only hope that the team take this latest situation an opportunity to shine instead of another reason to doubt.
Nash needs 5 assists tonight to reach a 10,000 career assist milestone.
Matchup of the Game
Lakers vs. Rockets: With very little support on both ends in the post, the Lakers will be challenged as a team to stop the Rockets from attacking at will while getting enough outside shots to go in to win the game. Kobe is the Lakers' best hope offensively but that doesn't mean he needs to take all of the shots. But that solely depends on the rest of the team contributing on the scoreboard and working hard on the defensiv end.
Keys to the Game
> Play as a Team: How the Lakers follow this mantra is going to be monumental for them tonight and in the coming days, especially. The Lakers will have to dig deeper than before across the board together if they want to get a win. That means doing the fundamentals, hustle on the floor, getting those 50/50 balls, and above all, play hard the entire game.
> Steve Nash: No doubt the offense will run through Kobe tonight. But look for Nash to be extra aggressive on offense and be more focused on keeping the entire team involved on that end of the floor.
> Bench: Metta will move back into the starting lineup. That leaves Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison as leaders of the 2nd unit to contribute. If Jamison wants to be more a part of the team, then he can't let this chance to prove himself to slip through his fingers. As far as Meeks goes, he needs to hit those open shots and continue to work hard on defense.
Watch Out For
ANTAWN JAMISON: After riding the pine for several games, it's probably a good bet Jamison will answer the bell tonight.
JEREMY LIN: He stunk it up against the Lakers in the last 2 meeting getting 4.5 points and shooting 23.5% per game, but don't think that will continue tonight. In the last 10 games, Lin is averaging 14.2 points and 7.1 assists per outing. In other words, he has some making up to do.
Tonight @ Houston Rockets
Tip-off: 5:00 p.m.(PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Steve Blake (abdomen – out until late January), Pau Gasol (concussion), Jordan Hill (right hip) and Dwight Howard (right shoulder) are all out.
ROCKETS: Chandler Parsons (sick) and Royce White (suspended) are both out.