Plot: Beaten, bruised and in some senses broken, the last thing the Lakers really needed was to come to Houston on the second night of a back to back to face a team that hasn't played since Friday night. Even worse, to see the smiling face of a franchise that some thought would be covered in purple and gold for the next half decade. And even worse than that, they might only have 9 healthy bodies.
LA hits H-Town tonight having lost 8 of 9 games, with 6 of those losses coming in double-digits blowouts. The laundry list of problems with the Lakers is longer than this simple preview will allow...but to summarize: a complete breakdown of any sense of defense, a hobbled starting line-up that now includes Kendall Marshall and Robert Sacre, a second unit with Nick Young and Jodie Meeks running point and a brutal January schedule that's just beginning. This Lakers team is not very good, with the negatives far outweighing the positives. Tonight, as they'll be pitted against one of the best offenses in the entire NBA, the cons might loom even larger.
The Rockets haven't been the juggernaut that some suggested they'd be with the addition of Dwight Howard this year, but are still a very good squad at 22-13. It should come as no surprise that Houston shoots the lights out--James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and the injured Patrick Beverly form one of the most effective wing rotations in the league. Combine them with Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard on the interior and we're looking at one of the most fearsome inside-out teams in the Western Conference. Defensively, they're still a work in progress however. They allow the 7th most points per game and have sunk to 18th in defensive efficiency, both far cries from the performances some thought they'd be able to give with Howard manning the paint. More that likely, this defensive inconsistency is the reason they've been so up and down the past month, going a very tepid 9-7 despite all their talent.
The prevailing thought for this game has to be "well, this is a Lakers team that went into Houston as underdogs early in the season and won, right?" Wrong.
That Lakers team featured Steve Blake, who hit the game-winning jumper and Jordan Farmar, who poured in 11/5/7 off the bench in 20 minutes. Without those two very proficient point guards whom LA depends on for reliable production from the top of the key to win, this is an extremely different squad. The results without them have been predictable--the mess that you've seen over the past two and a half weeks.
LA will get up for this game against Howard, putting out their best effort possible. Nick Young, who has a "bad back", has said he won't leave his teammates out to dry and will suit up tonight. The Rockets might be without Chandler Parsons (knee), who some nights is their best player. Even with those factors considered, I don't know how the Lakers win this game. As evidenced by last night and the previous week of games, they are absolutely powerless against any sort of formidable wing rotation.
It might be a brutal one, folks. But I'm fairly certain they'll go down with a fight.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino