LeBron James started at center for the Lakers, and he and Russell Westbrook became the first Lakers teammates to tally triple-doubles in the same game since James did so with Lonzo Ball, and led the Lakers to a 132-123 win over the Houston Rockets in the process on Tuesday, snapping the team’s five-game losing streak.
A new-look lineup saw the insertion of Stanley Johnson and Malik Monk while James got his first career start at center alongside Westbrook and Avery Bradley. Not surprisingly, the game was an offensive shootout from the start with a quartet of Lakers tallying at least 20 points.
James finished with 32 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds while Westbrook had 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in the win. Monk scored 25, while Carmelo Anthony had 24 points and 9 rebounds off the bench.
Only three pairs of Lakers teammates have had triple doubles in the same game— SB Nation (@SBNation) December 29, 2021
> Kareem and Magic
> LeBron and Lonzo
> LeBron and Russ (tonight) pic.twitter.com/NoocGXeTBU
Against a smaller Houston Rockets side, the Lakers not only continued to use James at center, but played him exclusively there on the evening with neither DeAndre Jordan nor Dwight Howard saw the court. While the team, predictably, struggled defensively, they also had one of their best offensive games of the season.
Down the stretch, it was the mismatch created by James playing center that the Lakers exploited time and time again, either by posting James up against smaller players at the rim, or having him cut down the lane against bigger players on the perimeter to give the Lakers a number of timely baskets in the closing minutes. James finished with 14 points in the fourth, and 10 points in the final 100 seconds of the contest.
The two sides had plenty of offense early on, scoring 26 points combined during the first five minutes of the game. The Rockets held an early four-point lead in the first period before a James 3-pointer he shot from Odessa preceded an and-one from James and an Anthony 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run that gave the guests a 23-18 lead and forced a Rockets timeout.
But despite another Anthony three-pointer out of the break, that lead was trimmed to a single point at 28-27 late in the quarter, and Houston eventually took the lead into the second period. Westbrook and Anthony helped the Lakers edge back in front as the high scoring continued, with the teams scoring over 100 combined points 18 minutes into the game.
Monk would catch fire late in the second period with a huge dunk and long-range make to keep the Lakers ahead before a spurt from James, Westbrook and Anthony sent the Lakers into the half up 67-59.
Threes from Avery Bradley and Monk to open the second half gave the team their largest lead of the game at nine points, but a stretch of sloppiness from both sides eventually saw the Rockets trim the lead down to a single point at the midway point of the third period.
Houston eventually retook the lead on a layup from former Lakers legend David Nwaba at 85-84. The two sides swapped the lead for the remainder of the period before a Johnson layup and Westbrook 3-pointer sent the Lakers into the final frame up 97-92.
James opened the fourth quarter with a basket while free throws from Monk and a layup from Darren Collison — his first bucket in purple and gold — gave the Lakers their first double-digit lead of the night at 103-92. Not surprisingly to anyone who has watched the Lakers this year, Houston responded with a 10-2 run to cut the lead back to a single possession at 105-102.
Houston eventually tied the game on a four-point possession that saw Jalen Green knock down a three and Nwaba hit a free throw after being fouled off the ball. Neither team offered much in the way of defense down the stretch — or throughout the game — with blown layups and dunks leading to the two teams trading baskets well into the middle stages of the fourth quarter.
Anthony would extend the lead to four points with 2:25 left before a rare stop defensively led to a pair of made James free throws to push the margin to 122-116 with 1:40 left. James’ emphatic dunk on the ensuing possession grew the lead to eight before a Kevin Porter Jr. 3-pointer cut the lead back down to five.
James sealed the win, though, with a layup on Westbrook’s 10th assist of the game and James’ 28th point. After a few intentional fouls, the Lakers had secured the victory.
With this win, the Lakers are now 16-17 overall on the season. They will fly to Memphis tonight and close out the second half of this back-to-back with a game against the Grizzlies on Wednesday, with a chance to get back to .500 with a victory.