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Lakers vs. Rockets Preview: Looking to keep the strong momentum going

The Lakers will look to stay undefeated in this vital six-game road trip against the Rockets.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Lakers started their current six-game road trip on a great note after a thrilling victory against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. They now head to Houston where they face the Rockets on the first leg of a back-to-back.

Start time and TV schedule

Who: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets

When: 5 p.m. PT, Jan. 27

Where: Toyota Center

Watch: Spectrum Sportsnet

The Lakers will face the Rockets for the final time this season on Monday. It’s the perfect time for the purple and gold to take advantage of a team that has been trending down of late and has lost seven out of their last 10 games. It’s also about time L.A. separates themselves from this Rockets team in the standings as these two are just a game apart in the ninth and 11th seed.

Besides the importance of this game's outcome, there are two storylines worth following, both of which involve players who have been playing extremely well recently.

Has D’Angelo Russell really convinced the Lakers to retain him?

Russell once again put up impressive numbers in the win against the Warriors last Saturday. He’s been nothing but consistent in the last few weeks as he continues to prove why his skillset is so important for this Lakers team’s success. That’s why it’s not a coincidence that the Lakers are reportedly now considering retaining him instead of trading him to the Hawks for Dejounte Murray.

Nothing is obviously set in stone and who knows if this is just the Lakers’ way of creating leverage through the media before the trade deadline expires on Feb. 9. But what’s certain is that Russell has definitely made a strong case for Los Angeles to retain him. Let’s see if the point guard can extend his best stretch as a Laker in Monday’s game against the Rockets.

Will Jared Vanderbilt eventually replace Taurean Prince in the starting lineup?

Another player who’s in the midst of an outstanding stretch right now is Jarred Vanderbilt. He had his best game of the season with 14 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and four steals and was also a +30 in 41 minutes. As I mentioned in my last preview, the forward continues to make a case to replace Taurean Prince — who ironically had his worst game of the season last Saturday — in the starting lineup.

What’s notable, though, is that after Ham played last season’s starting unit for the first time against the Bulls last Thursday, he leaned more into it versus the Warriors. That indicates that Ham still believes in that starting unit and it’s going to be interesting to see if this trend continues against the Rockets.

Zooming into the Rockets

Speaking of the Rockets, they’ve regressed since the Lakers last faced them last December. Led by Alpren Sengun, Jalen Green, Fred VanVleet and, of course, Dillon Brooks, Houston is still a really good defensive team, but they’ve struggled offensively. They’re a matchup problem for the Lakers with their physical backcourt and ability to rebound the ball really well.

However, that’s not to say that the Lakers don’t have answers for the Rockets’ strengths. If Anthony Davis — who is listed as questionable in the injury report for this one — suits up, then he’ll definitely help the Lakers in containing Sengun. LeBron James himself is a matchup problem for the Rockets, who won’t have an answer for him.

The Lakers beat this Rockets team by 10 in their previous meeting despite shooting 29.6% from downtown. Their 54 points in the paint carried them to victory. Now that L.A.’s 3-point shooting has trended up since then it’ll be nice to see them expose the Rockets’ inability to keep up offensively again.

Let’s see if the Lakers keep their strong momentum going and make it three wins in a row against the Rockets on Monday.

Notes and Updates:

  • For the Lakers’ injury report, Anthony Davis (bilateral Achilles tendinopathy) and LeBron James (left ankle peroneal tendinopathy) are listed as questionable.
  • Cam Reddish (right ankle sprain) — who will be re-evaluated in two weeks — is noted as out, as well as Gabe Vincet (left knee surgery).
  • Meanwhile for the Rockets, Tari Eason (leg injury) and Victor Oladipo (left patellar tendon) won’t be available.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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