Showtime: 6:30 PT
Plot: The Los Angeles Lakers travel to Houston for a ho-hum November game against the Rockets. The end.
Wait, what? There's more to this story?Ah yes.
For the first time since his free agent departure, the Lakers will face off against former teammate Dwight Howard as LA visits the Toyota Center. The game itself is almost secondary to the storyline narrative: how will Pau react to Dwight? How will Dwight react to Mike D'Antoni? Will Dwight wilt under the pressure of facing his old team? Will Dwight go the other way and absolutely dominate the Lakers? Who will flagrantly foul James Harden now that Metta World Peace is in New York? There are a bevy of questions that are only tangentially basketball related, making this one of the most hyped games of the early NBA season.
However, the game itself? It might not be quite as saucy as the narrative suggests.
The Lakers saunter into Houston tonight with a 2-3 record, which includes two losses in their only road games--one of which was the 123-104 spanking they took the other night at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. In that game, nearly every one of LA's biggest weaknesses came bubbled to the surface. The team couldn't guard the rim, couldn't hold down the perimeter...hell, they looked generally helpless in every way defensively. That however, wasn't anything tremendously unexpected.
What was surprising was how hapless the Lakers looked offensively. Even though the point totals were there, the team repeatedly missed open looks during the competitive portion of the game as the lead became more and more bloated. More alarming was how completely ineffective the Lakers were at running the pick and roll at several different spots on the floor--a play which was supposed to be a potential strength for the squad. In short, the Lakers played almost as poorly as they could and the results couldn't have been more telling.
The 4-1 Rockets, on the other hand, look to be even better than the well-oiled offensive powerhouse they were last season. Houston is second in the league in offensive efficiency and fourth in points per game, with James Harden and his 25.2 ppg leading the way. The team is the deadly inside-out threat that many felt they would be after adding Dwight: Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi have benefited as well from their new teammate up the middle, with each man except for Parsons hitting above 40% from long. Going back to Howard, the big man has looked far more himself than he did most of last season, averaging 17 points and 14 boards a game on 55% shooting, as well as holding down the defense on his end.
But that's where Houston's main problem lies: they can't defend anyone. Lin, Harden and Parsons are amongst the league's most worst defenders, with the Beard becoming into a twenty-something version of Kobe and his matador defense. The Rockets are 23rd in points allowed per game and 24th in defensive efficiency--certainly not what you'd think considering their new acquisition at center and the fact that they've played the Bobcats, Mavericks and Trailblazers in three of their wins. The outlier here might be the 137 spot the Clippers rang up on them last week, but in simply watching the Rockets, the problem is more than just the results of small sample size.
On the surface, this has all the makings for a potential Lakers win: a much more talented team in the Rockets overlooking a scrappy young LA squad, a weak defense that a sometimes punchy offense can take advantage of and the emotional lift of playing Dwight for the first time. However, the Lakers shift so wildly scoring-wise from game to game that it's extremely hard to predict if they'll be able to take advantage of any defense, let alone a porous one such as Houston's. Moreover, there will be a bit of an adjustment with the starting lineup, as LA has stated that either Jordan Hill or Chris Kaman will begin the game alongside Pau Gasol, with Shawne Williams heading to the bench.
This game should be more exciting for its pregame theatrics and video packages than actual in-game content. Like the story is every night, if the Lakers can outhustle their opponents and play just enough defense to outwit the Rockets, this could end up being their first road win. But a motivated Dwight and Harden firing on all cylinders will be a tough task.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino