This should be interesting.
The 15-18 Los Angeles Lakers limp into Houston tonight, trying to overcome a tidal wave of injuries and defeat the 20-14 Rockets at the Toyota Center. Yesterday, three Lakers big men were ruled disabled for a week or more, with Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard being hung out with various injuries. Regardless of whether or not the trio were healthy, LA would be the undeniable underdog here
The Rockets have been absolutely rolling as of late, winning 9 of their previous 11contests, with road wins against the Knicks and Bulls and home W's over the Grizzlies, 76ers and Hawks. Houston has racked up 111.4 points over that span, scoring in triple digits nine times and owning an average point differential of +9. In other words, the Rockets aren't just winning--they're winning big, blowing out teams and putting up scorching point totals.
Despite an early season swoon which had them at a middling 9-11, Kevin McHale has gotten his team to harness their youth and athleticism. Jeremy Lin and James Harden have begun to find ways to complement one another, as Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik, Marcus Morris and Greg Smith fill in the gaps around them. The Rockets are an average defensive team, but seeing as they play at the league's highest pace, they actually fill out as having the NBA's 16th best defensive efficiency. In many ways, they're exactly the team the Lakers hoped to be, before anyone cared to notice that the team didn't have the requisite athleticism to do so.
And thus, LA comes into tonight's contest as the mirror opposite of the Rockets. They've lost four out of five games, after a five-game winning streak that feels a century old. However, the team that's played for the past two weeks isn't anything resembling what's going to take the court in H-Town. With Mike D'Antoni's entire big man rotation sidelined, Antawn Jamison will be unshackled from the bench, as he and Robert Sacre, along with Metta World Peace, will take up a majority of the minutes usually given to Howard, Gasol and Hill. Earl Clark could see some minutes as well depending on how well Jamison and Sacre play, and how much MDA wants to taunt the Lakers fan base.
The Lakers are going to adjust on the fly after a Monday practice and a Tuesday shoot-around with essentially an all-new rotation. As I said last night, I expect D'Antoni's new plan to be to run, shoot and repeat, as this team is ill-equipped to play as much half-court offense as they've been doing with Howard and Gasol. LA should struggle to rebound and protect the paint with nary a non-Sacre player over 6'10" in sight, so better communication on defense and a commitment to play with effort is an absolute must if the Lakers want to slow down Houston at all.
However, perhaps this more athletically inclined Lakers team will be better equipped to handle the slick shooting, trigger happy Rockets. There's very little expectation for this undermanned squad to take down one of the Western Conference's best in the Rockets, but maybe that's exactly the position D'Antoni's team needs to be in to keep the ship afloat while the bigs get better.