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Los Angeles Lakers @ Houston Rockets on 1/8/2014

Dwight Howard made it clear during his interview (look in yesterday’s Daily if you missed it).  ”We’ve got to get a win. A good win.” At this point, the drama of the off-season should be well out of sight in the rear-view mirror. It’s possible to manufacture storylines for this game, but the Rockets don’t need any. This is the easy stretch of the schedule, the time when their supposed to rack up wins and build up the feel-good team chemistry that will propel them to greater heights. The task at hand should be story enough.

Form:

Rockets: WWLLW

The team has yet to return to form after their brutal beatdown against Oklahoma City. They sleepwalked through a loss to Sacramento and were fortunate to pick up a win against New York. Tonight the team doesn’t just want to win, they want to play well, something they haven’t really done since beating San Antonio on Christmas Day.

Lakers: LLWLL

The Lakers recently went through possibly the easiest possible stretch of games you could ask for – @Utah, vs Philadelphia, vs Milwaukee, vs Utah. They went 1-3.  You’d think it couldn’t get much worse, but then on Sunday Denver dropped 137(!) on them and they were blown out by the Mavericks last night. It’s fair to say this is the worst the Lakers have been in some time.

Injuries:

Rockets: No Beverley (hand) or Asik (knee) for sure. Both Parsons and Smith are struggling with knee niggles as well and will be game-time decisions.

Lakers: Kendall Marshall is the only healthy point guard on the roster – no Nash, no Blake, no Farmar. And of course, who could forget their injured superstar, Xavier Henry! (But seriously, no Kobe either). This is almost certainly the most injury riddled team in the league right now.

On Offence:

  • The Nuggets had 30 fast break points in their rout of the the Lakers on Sunday. Pushing the pace will reap rewards against a team that doesn’t have the morale to get back on defence properly at the moment. Terrence Jones in particular should be looking to get out and run at every opportunity when matched up with Pau Gasol.
  • Howard should be able to manhandle Sacre in the post even if he’s come down slightly from the dominance he was showing against Detroit a few weeks back. Sacre is capable of blocking a few shots if the Rockets venture into the paint too wildly, but his lack of mobility means that it should be pretty easy to manoeuvre him out of the way.
  • The absence of point guard depth for the Lakers means that Jeremy Lin should be able to have field day – there’s nobody on the other team who can stay in front of him if he’s looking to attack the basket. Hopefully we’ll get aggressive Jeremy tonight rather than game-handling Jeremy.

On Defence:

  • With almost all the other big name players injured, Pau Gasol will shoulder most of the offensive burden. He’ll start at PF but probably spend quite a bit of time at Centre as well. If and when he gets matched up against Dwight it will be interesting to see whether their time together in Los Angeles has left them with inside knowledge of each other’s games.
  • If you put him in a limited role and get him open Nick Young can be deadly, as Memphis found out to their cost in the playoffs a few years ago. But with the Lakers he is given far too much offensive responsibility for that to happen very often. He still needs someone to shadow him well enough to goad him into difficult shots though, and it remains to be seen whether Harden will be up for the challenge.
  • Kendall Marshall has come from the end of the bench to put up gaudy statlines in his last few games as he makes the most of his opportunity at the reins of D’Antoni’s point-guard-emphasising system. Remind you of anyone? It remains to be seen whether Lin can avoid Marshall doing to him what he did to so many others a few years back, but I’m sure you’ll see the comparison drawn a lot.

Rotation Spotlight:

Jordan Hill (6’10″ PF, Arizona)

Just as he was in his Rockets days, Hill remains a frustratingly inconsistent player, capable of the occasional great game but also prone to extended lapses in concentration. It is worth pointing out though that his  mySynergySports numbers mark him as one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the league, averaging 1.2 PPP (good for 8th overall!). He’ll give you great effort on the boards too. His weakness (and probably why he hasn’t been getting huge minutes under D’Antoni) is that sometimes his attention wanders at the other end of the court and his mediocre defensive numbers reflect that. Casspi should be able to get some open looks when the benches empty.

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