I know it’s been harder to talk about basketball lately while everyone is mourning the death of Kobe Bryant. That probably won’t get easier immediately, but sports can be an escape for us as well, and Thursday’s Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets rematch should be one worth paying attention to for strictly basketball reasons, for anyone who is ready to do so.
The Rockets have won five of their last seven games, Russell Westbrook has stopped shooting threes — and become efficient enough to win the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week award as a result — and the team just overall appears to be hitting their stride after a tough first half of the season. Add in the fact that the Rockets have now taken part in a massive, four-team blockbuster trade that makes them even smaller in an apparent attempt to zig where the Lakers are zagging and run them off the floor, and this is a fascinating matchup.
Now, it’s worth noting that the Lakers won convincingly the last time these two teams played, and seeing whether they can do so a second time after the Rockets downsized in an attempt to out-quick them is a good chance to see how Los Angeles’ recently ailing defense stacks up against what was already the third-best offensive team in the league.
This game will also offer an opportunity for our first look at the Lakers in the post-trade deadline landscape. By 12:00 p.m. PST on Thursday, we’ll know if the Lakers stood pat at the deadline or made a move. While any player they traded for wouldn’t be in uniform by Thursday night against Houston, this game will either feature an undermanned Lakers team without whatever players they sent out in a trade, or another chance to see what an intact roster looks like against one of the other better teams in the West.
If the Lakers do make a deal, this game could get a little wacky. While they obviously aren’t putting as many parts of their rotation on the block as they did last year while in pursuit of Anthony Davis, if the Lakers dealt, say, Kyle Kuzma (just for example) they would be missing at least one or two depth pieces along with him in all likelihood because they’d probably have to send them out to make salaries work.
Should the latter scenario happen, this won’t be quite an accurate look at what the Lakers would look like moving forward, but we would get to see how a few of the lesser-used guys in the roster fare in increased minutes (and with the peace of mind that comes with knowing they won’t be traded).
Still, right now it’s hard to see the Lakers making a move for a variety of reasons. If that is how things ultimately shake out, it doesn’t mean they won’t bring in a player via buyout, but that player likely wouldn’t be in uniform by Thursday. As a result, this game against the Rockets would be our first glimpse on if this team that already seems to have incredible chemistry will be further heartened by the knowledge that they’re mostly staying together.
Either way, this is the most interesting game the Lakers will play until the All-Star break, and bears paying attention to through that lens.
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This article was originally published on Feb. 4, but was updated on Feb. 5 to reflect the massive changes the Rockets made in their trade on Tuesday night. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.