The Los Angeles Lakers had a blue Christmas, losing 122-115 against the shorthanded Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. But while the Nets didn’t have Kevin Durant — in addition to several other players — the Lakers also had a decimated roster, with Anthony Davis out with injury while others were isolated in the health and safety protocols.
That’ll continue on Tuesday when the team travels to The Lone Star State for a game against the Houston Rockets on the first night of a back-to-back that will see them face the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Here are a few things to look out for in that one.
Getting by with a little help from their “friends”
The defeat on Christmas Day gave the Lakers’ their fifth loss in a row — the longest such streak they’ve had this season. It also dropped them to 16-18, the first time they’ve been two games below .500 since dropping the first two games of the season against the Warriors and Suns.
But despite that setback, the team still remains in position to host a play-in game if the season were to end today, as they are the currently the seventh seed in the Western Conference. This is in large part due to how many teams in the middle of the pack in the West are playing just as poorly as the Lakers, as COVID-19 continues to leave nearly every team shorthanded. You can see this in how the five-through-nine seeds of the conference — the Clippers, Nuggets, Lakers, Mavericks, and Timberwolves — are all 5-5 or 4-6 in their last 10 games.
With all of that said, there’s still no team in the NBA that’s been as bad as the Lakers in the last five games as they hold the longest active losing streak in the league. They need to start getting some wins on the board no matter how short-handed they are, as those four other teams won’t continue to flounder while the conference-leading Warriors, Suns, and Jazz continue to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Luckily for the Lakers, the Houston Rockets exist. They come into this game 10-23, which is the third-worst record in the league, and worst overall in the West.
So it’s fair to say the Lakers have been bad. But the Rockets? They’re far worse. In addition to the Pistons, the Rockets are the only team that the Lakers have beaten twice this season.
Now, it should be noted that the Lakers had their full Big Three available for both of those wins. They’ll be without Davis on Tuesday, while the Rockets will “most likely” be getting back two of their most important players in Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.
Stephen Silas says "most likely" Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green will play tomorrow against the Los Angeles Lakers at home.— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) December 27, 2021
Hopefully the Lakers will get some luck on the COVID protocols front before tip-off to help tilt this matchup even more in their favor, but even if the same players remain in protocols on Tuesday, this is the type of game that L.A. needs to do everything in its power to win. The upcoming Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and Timberwolves games won’t be nearly as easy as these Rockets.
In addition, being on the road isn’t even that much of an excuse, as the Rockets will be on the second night of a back-to-back (0-5 this season in those games) while the Lakers will be coming into Houston three days removed from Christmas as well as a Monday practice that was only their 10th of the year.
Hopefully that practice helped the team correct some mistakes seen in their past five games to help them fully take advantage of the Rockets and get their first win since December 15th.
Notes and Updates
- Kendrick Nunn and Davis remain out with injuries, while Trevor Ariza, Rajon Rondo, Kent Bazemore, Avery Bradley (and Frank Vogel) remain in health and safety protocols for now. That may change on Tuesday.
- As previously stated, Green and Porter Jr. will most likely suit up for the Rockets after both missed considerable time due to injury. Green played 25 minutes on Dec. 23rd against the Pacers, but before that he had missed 14 straight games. Porter Jr. has missed the team’s past 12 games while Green sat out on Monday against the Hornets.
- The Rockets also have players in protocols, as K.J. Martin and Jae’Sean Tate entered them on Monday, while D.J. Augustin and Garrison Mathews were already there.
- Around the league, COVID-19 continues to be at the forefront of NBA (and world) news. However, teams received some promising news Monday as it was reported that vaccinated players and coaches could now clear quarantine after six days if data showed they were no longer at risk to be infectious.
A key note in here on cycle threshold (CT) levels, which can help determine how infectious someone might be. Many around the league want to reach the endemic stage ASAP, and there's hope that identifying safe CT levels -- 35 and above -- will be vital to that effort. https://t.co/N2RMJKB11M— Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) December 27, 2021
This recent news may end up having an effect on which Lakers players can return this week.
The Lakers and Rockets will tip-off early, at 5 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.