The Lakers ended their three-game losing streak on Monday, getting a much-needed, 140-132 victory in their MLK Day matchup against the Houston Rockets. L.A. was in control the majority of the game — leading by as many as 16 points — but Alperen Segun had a career night with 33 points and 15 rebounds and kept Houston in the game until the fourth, when LeBron James helped the Lakers just squeak by and avoid another crunch-time collapse.
James was sensational all night, scoring 48 points and going 5-10 from deep and if Russell Westbrook was affected by his late-game blunder last night, he hid it well. He had 24 points, 5 rebounds and, most importantly, zero turnovers in the win. In fact, the Lakers as a team had just 2 turnovers, a franchise-low for a whole game.
L.A. is now 20-24 and a game and a half back from a play-in spot, while Houston is 10-34 and deep in the Wembenyama sweepstakes.
Scoring was plentiful and defense was optional to start the game, and perhaps the pace was why Thomas Bryant found himself in early foul trouble and had to be subbed out. Luckily for the purple and gold, Wenyen Gabriel was more than serviceable, scoring 6 points along with 3 rebounds in the opening frame. The Lakers could’ve ended the quarter up by five, but after a careless Juan-Toscano Anderson foul, Eric Gordon was awarded three free throws and the Lakers took just a two-point lead into the second quarter despite shooting 56% from the field.
L.A. came roaring out in the second and started the quarter with an 8-0 run. It was a lot of ugly basketball in the first half, careless passes, ugly baskets, but as Dominic Torretto once said, “Winning is winning,” and with all the “good” losses the Lakers have had recently, winning ugly will be gladly accepted.
But while Houston may have been down, they weren’t out. The Rockets went on a 12-2 run midway through the quarter and dominated the paint thanks to Sengun, who had 20 points in the first half to lead all scorers. The Lakers responded by subbing James back into the game and going on a 9-1 run of their own to close the half leading 73-61.
It was their biggest lead of the half, and the 73 points were tied for their most points in a half this year.
In the third quarter, the Lakers were clearly the better team, but Houston just wouldn’t go away. Segun continued his production for Houston and the supporting cast caught fire from three. Bron heated up in the third with ten points giving the Lakers a 16-point lead at one point, but Houston closed the quarter out on a 9-1 run during the non-LeBron minutes. It seems as though whenever Bron steps off the floor teams take advantage and any lead the Lakers have begins to evaporate. That rang true tonight, as the Lakers’ lead was just four after three-quarters of play.
Houston stayed in it until the very end. They went on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth as James took a quick rest and the lead shrunk to three. Darvin Ham called timeout and Bron was subbed in and immediately stopped the run with an and-one play. With the game still hanging in the balance, Wenyen earned his sixth foul of the night with 2:41 left leaving the Lakers with one less big on the floor. With the rim being unprotected Houston continued to attack and got to within two but after a Russ fastbreak dunk and a pull-up jumper from Bron, they finally closed the door on the Rockets and secured the much-needed win.
Is Wenyen Gabriel becoming a key rotation player? On this back-to-back, he’s averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds in 28 minutes of play. He’s especially looked good when paired with Russ as part of the second unit. He played much more today with Bryant’s foul trouble and stayed in the game because of his production. It may have just been a couple of good nights for Wenyen, but if this is at all sustainable, that gives the Lakers another rotation big, which they desperately need even whenever Anthony Davis returns.
If he can avoid his own continuing issues with foul trouble, that is.
Next for the Lakers is a Wednesday matchup against hipster Twitter’s new darling, the Sacramento Kings. L.A. took care of the Kings last time they faced off, winning 136-134 in a rare close game win. They’ll be looking to repeat that result on the penultimate game of this homestand.