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Lakers vs. Rockets Preview: It’s time to evaluate the team

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Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Lakers need to swing the tide of their season as soon as possible — perhaps starting against the Rockets on Saturday — before another quarter of the season slips away.

The Lakers are back home after their four-game road trip, which they split at 2-2. Next up for them is the Houston Rockets, who they will face before the in-season tournament knockout round commences.

Start time and TV schedule

Who: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets

When: 7:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 2

Where: Arena

Watch: Spectrum Sportsnet

The last time the purple and gold faced the Rockets was exactly just 12 days ago when they escaped with a 105-104 victory at home thanks to LeBron James’ superb 37-point performance. It has been nearly two weeks for both teams but a lot has happened in that span.

For the Lakers, they won three more times after but have also loss the same amount of games. Two of those three defeats have come against above-average teams — the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder — on the second night of a back-to-back, which hasn’t been kind to them this season. The other loss was versus the Philadelphia 76ers, who they played against with an eight-man rotation before the game got out of hand.

The last two weeks have been a pretty accurate depiction of the Lakers season so far: They’ve played well against teams that they’re supposed to beat but have lost to the ones that are currently above them in the standings mostly due to their health issues. It’s frankly been a frustrating season in this regard because it’s been difficult to evaluate an incomplete team that has yet to play together 20 games into the season.

And that’s a big reason why the Lakers currently have an 11-9 record and are sitting at seventh place in the Western Conference. The only evaluation that can be made out of the season so far for this team is that it’s fair to say they’re doing well based on the adversity they’ve been through, but it’s also this adversity that’s holding them back.

There’s no doubt that getting Jarred Vanderbilt, Rui Hachimura and Cam Reddish back in the lineup permanently will significantly help this team but it’s also concerning how much of an impact missing one or two of these guys has caused the Lakers this early in the season.

Because if there’s one thing we know about this league, it’s that it’s extremely unpredictable and if the Lakers want to win a championship, they have to be better than what they’ve showcased in the first quarter of the season — whether they’re dealing with injuries or not.

Currently, the Lakers are considered an average team with a great defense but subpar offense. They’ve been an incredibly poor three-point shooting team to the point that the Memphis Grizzlies are the only ones that are worst than them. They’ve improved in the rebounding department — they now rank third in the league in defensive rebounds per game! — which was a major problem for them to start the year.

But the lingering question that remains for Los Angeles is whether or not they can reach the level they have to be in once they get reinforcements back. We’ll see the Lakers, who are getting Vanderbilt, Hachimura back, at their healthiest for the first time this season on Saturday.

As for the Rockets, the last time we checked in on them was when they were off to a surprisingly hot start to the season. After winning six out of their first 10 games, including one versus a depleted Lakers team, they’ve now found themselves losing five out of their last 10 games. Like the Lakers, they’re currently considered an average team.

The Rockets, who are currently on a three-game losing skid, have struggled scoring the ball as of late but they still have the league’s sixth-best defense. They match up quite well with the Lakers given their physical guard depth on top of Alperen Şengün — who had 23 points and 10 rebounds in their last matchup — being a big factor for them this year. They’re going to approach this game with the intent of getting back in the winning column.

Overall though, with 20 games of the season now over with, the Rockets have exceeded expectations while the Lakers have not. But as I reiterated above, it only takes a week or two for any team to swing the tide of their season. The Lakers need to do just that as soon as possible before another quarter of the season slips away from them.

They can start by putting together a quality win versus the Rockets at home on Saturday, before the next phase of the play-in tournament commences.

Notes and Updates:

  • In the Lakers’ last matchup against the Rockets, Anthony Davis fouled out after being an instrumental key for the team throughout the game. AD will once again need to have a big game in this one and his matchup against Şengün is going to be something to look out for.
  • For the first time this season, the injury report brings good news. It’s only Gabe Vincent (left knee effusion) who is listed as out for Saturday. Jarred Vanderbilt (left knee bursitis), Rui Hachimura (nasal fracture) are not on the report, which means they are ready to go.
  • Anthony Davis (left adductor/hip spasm), Jaxson Hayes (left elbow soreness) and Cam Reddish (right groin soreness) are noted as probable while LeBron James (left calf contusion) is questionable as it has been the case in the over the past week.
  • For the Rockets, it’s only Victor Oladpio (knee) and Amen Thompson (ankle) that will not suit up.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani



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