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Lakers vs. Rockets: Game preview, starting time, TV schedule

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The Lakers are hoping to see playoff Chris Paul and James Harden.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

In game 81 of the NBA’s demanding 82-game schedule, the Los Angeles Lakers will host the No. 1 seed Houston Rockets for the fourth and final time this season Tuesday at STAPLES Center.

The Rockets, in their first year with nine-time All-Star Chris Paul and MVP candidate James Harden sharing the backcourt, have clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, marking the first time since the 2013-14 season the Golden State Warriors won’t finish with the best record in the NBA. It took longer than they would have liked, but the Rockets finally look like a threat to the Warriors’ throne.

With just two games left in the NBA regular season and the No. 1 seed locked up, you’d hope that they’ve considered resting starters against injury riddled, non-playoff teams like say, I don’t know, the Lakers!

While the Lakers have given the Rockets a run for their money in their last two meetings, the Rockets at full strength pinned up against a Lakers squad that will likely be without three key players is sure to be a blood bath.

Just take a look at the projected starters:

PG: Alex Caruso/Chris Paul

SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope/James Harden

SF: Josh Hart/Trevor Ariza

PF: Julius Randle/Ryan Anderson

C: Brook Lopez/Clint Capela

The Lakers will be without Brandon Ingram (concussion protocol) again on Tuesday and will likely be without his services for the remainder of the season. Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are listed as questionable, but they’re also doubtful to return this season with the Lakers’ final two games being back-to-back contests.

Unless Tyler Ennis has one more “I don’t want to play in China” game up his sleeve, this game could get out of hand right away.

The Lakers’ perimeter defense usually keeps them afloat against perimeter oriented teams like the Rockets, but without Ball or Ingram, it’s going to be hard to keep a capable defender on the floor for a full 48 minutes. Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will do their best to contain Houston’s flashy guards, but it might prove to be too big of a task, especially if they’re going to be playing on heavy legs.

Even if, and it’s a big if, the Lakers can keep three-headed monster of Chris Paul, James Harden, and Eric Gordon modest, they’re going to have to keep up offensively and with two of their three leading scorers expected to be out, that’s going to be tough.

On some nights, the Lakers can sneak up on good teams like the Rockets with their grit, fueled by the young and hungry players on the team, but if they come out flat, like they have been known to do this season more often than not, it’s going to be a long night.

For their sake and my sanity, let’s hope it’s the former. Enjoy the game!

TV: TNT

Time: 7:30 PT