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Lakers vs. Rockets Preview: We meet again

The Lakers will try to secure their first three-game winning streak of the season while building on their defense as they take on the Rockets for the second game in a row on Tuesday.

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Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

Last season, the NBA took a page out of the MLB’s book by instituting in-season, baseball-style series, where two teams would play each other twice in a row. This was done primarily to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the league as well as the country, as doing so would reduce travel. The Association has mostly done away with them this season, but there are still rare occurrences during this 2021-22 season. To this point, Tuesday will be the lone time that the Lakers play a team twice in a row, as they take on the Houston Rockets for the second time in three days.

In their first game on Sunday, the Lakers prevailed with a 95-85 win highlighted by another vintage performance from Carmelo Anthony where he essentially became a human flamethrower. It was the second time he’s led the Lakers in scoring this season, tallying 23 points on 8-14 field-goal shooting, including going 5-8 from 3-point range. The Rockets game was almost the third time he’s led the team in scoring, as LeBron James narrowly bested him on Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers with 26 to Anthony’s 24 points.

Here are a few things to note heading into Lakers vs. Rockets: Round 2.

Is the defense turning a corner?

Although the main story from Sunday revolved around another chapter of the #STAYME70 Lakers era, what was even more promising to see was the team’s defense holding the Rockets to 85 points. It was the first time the Lakers held an opponent under 100 points this season, coming off the first time the Lakers kept their opponent from scoring less than 115 points in their 113-101 win against the Cavs.

Of course, these defensive successes should be taken with a grain of salt as the Cavs (22nd-ranked Offensive Rating) and Rockets (28th-ranked Offensive Rating) are two of the worst offensive teams in the league so far in this young season. However, any improvements will be welcomed with open arms after the Lakers gave up 123 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team currently ranked 29th in ORTG.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Funny enough, one of the beacons of defensive light in Sunday’s win against the Rockets was one of the team’s perceived weak links on the defense. Yeah, that’s right. #STAYME7O.

“I didn’t expect to see him have a defensive performance like he did tonight,” Frank Vogel said about Carmelo Anthony following their win over the Rockets. “He was great. Forget about the steals and blocks and strips, he’s always good with his hands. But he was in the right position.”

Anthony tallied 4 blocks and 2 steals in their game against the Rockets, the first time he tallied those combined numbers since his rookie season with the Nuggets (per Lakers PR). But as Vogel stated, he also showed improvements in his defensive rotations, in addition to being a nuisance to Houston with his active hands. With Anthony being one of the least-abled defenders on the roster, it’s especially promising to see him start to nail it down when compared to some of the better defenders that are new to the team.

“Just doing what I’m asked. If it’s my time to be the guy that (rotates) over on the defense, I got to trust that somebody’s going to have my back and they’ve got to trust that I’m going to be able to make that play,” Anthony explained when asked what contributed to his defensive performance on Sunday. “It was just a matter of becoming more comfortable with what we’re trying to do, and finding it by any means.”

Anthony has probably been asked to do far more on the defensive end for the Lakers than what was originally planned due to the prolonged absence of Trevor Ariza. That has caused nearly all of the non-LeBron, non-AD minutes at the 4 to go to Anthony, someone who has definitely never reached the heights of defensive efficiency that someone like Ariza has.

But while there have been some rough moments with Anthony’s defense, if the Rockets game is an indication of him becoming another efficient cog in Vogel’s defensive machine — or, at the very least, not an actively harmful one — then we might be in store for fewer issues with him on that side of the court than previously expected.

Notes and Updates

  • Wayne Ellington practiced with the South Bay Lakers on Monday. He still has yet to make his season debut — despite being technically available the past couple of games — with Vogel refusing to use him due to lack of time with the team in practice. We’ll see if the practice with the G-Leaguers is enough to get him out on the court against the Rockets.
  • Ellington will come into the game “questionable” on the injury report, with LeBron James (right ankle soreness) and Dwight Howard (neck soreness) receiving the same designations. Howard missed Sunday’s game with the same neck soreness.
  • Kendrick Nunn, Trevor Ariza, and Talen Horton-Tucker remain out. Vogel revealed on Monday that THT had the stitches taken out of his surgically repaired thumb, with the team hoping he could start shooting drills on Tuesday. His timetable has not changed.
  • Looking around the league, the NBA revealed the City Edition jerseys for all teams in the Association. You can check out the Lakers’ jerseys here, which feature a purple more akin to the Hornets than the Lakers.

The Lakers and Rockets tip-off at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.