The Los Angeles Lakers lost to
math the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, falling 113-97 as LeBron James (sore groin), Alex Caruso (sore neck) and JaVale McGee (DNP-Coach’s Decision) all were out of the game.
McGee was not listed on the injury report prior to the game or mentioned as an absence by head coach Frank Vogel, but was replaced in the starting lineup by Kyle Kuzma as the Lakers went small, and did not play a single minute in the game.
“It was just a coaches’ decision,” Vogel said of the reasoning for McGee’s absence after the game. “I wanted to see what a small lineup looked like to start with, with Kuz in there. And that means that sometimes it’s going to be difficult to play both centers. It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to go with that if we play (the Rockets) in the playoffs, but it was just something I wanted to look at. It was just a coach’s decision.”
But despite McGee’s absence, and with Quinn Cook replacing James alongside Kuzma, Davis, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green, the Lakers didn’t really get any of the benefits traditionally associated with going small. The Rockets’ destroyed them from distance — shooting 21-57 from three compared to the Lakers’ 2-19 — outran them in transition repeatedly, and never let it feel like L.A. was seriously threatening to win this one.
To their credit, the Lakers stayed close, only trailing by 9 points at halftime and cutting the lead to as little as 5 points at one moment in the fourth before the Rockets responded with a 14-2 run. But without James and Caruso and while still cold/unwilling to shoot from behind the arc, this was a game against not just the Rockets, but math itself, and one the Lakers couldn’t win, especially not with the inconsistent effort they played with tonight.
There weren’t many positives in this one, but credit to Kuzma, who continued his status as the only Lakers to play better in the bubble than before heading to Disney World for the restart. He finished the night with 21 points on 8-16 shooting and 5 rebounds, and deserves credit for continuing to bring it on both ends even if not all of his teammates are joining him in that level of effort. Rookie guard Talen Horton-Tucker also got some run in this one, and while he continues to look raw as hell, he definitely showed some of his promise on offense, scoring 10 points on 4-6 shooting in 19 minutes of run, which is good experience for the 19-year-old at least.
The other good news is that despite this being the Lakers’ second loss in a row, it doesn’t really mean anything beyond the existential dread it will inspire in the more panicky sections of this Lakers community. This team still has the No. 1 seed locked up, was missing their MVP, and has clearly not been fully locked in since winning their first game against the Clippers. That may matter at some point, but that day is not today.
The Lakers will get their next chance to bounce back when they take on the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. In the meantime, don’t stress too much over this one, because the Lakers certainly didn’t appear to be.