Lakers lock in on defense to give Houston problems

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The Los Angeles Lakers came out sloppy against the Houston Rockets as Russell Westbrook hurt them for 22 first-half points, but managed to turn things around in the second half with a stellar defensive effort, winning 124-115 to start their annual Grammy road trip off the right way. Kyle Kuzma was a big part of that.

After a slow first half, Kuzma got going over the second two frames. While he had to leave the game in the third quarter to get his ankle re-taped, Kuzma appeared to be just fine, scoring 23 points and, more importantly, showing as much engagement, energy and effectiveness on defense as he has all season.

“I think offensively he was very good, but defensively in that third quarter he took the challenge on Russ,” Lakers star LeBron James said on ABC after the game. “Big step for the young fella.”

The Lakers had managed to hang in to only trail by 6 at the break despite Westbrook’s efforts in the first half, and outscored the Rockets 32-17 in the third quarter to extend the lead they ultimately wouldn’t relinquish.

It wasn’t just Kuzma, either. The whole Lakers roster really locked in on defense for most of the game, but especially while extending their lead in the second half. They got deflections, blocks, steals and long rebounds to ignite their fast-break attack, with LeBron James particularly directing their transition efforts to perfection while finishing with 31 points, 12 assists and raucous MVP chants on the road.

JaVale McGee also deserves credit for continuing to step up in Anthony Davis’ absence. His defense was huge in fueling the Lakers’ third-quarter run. He blocked three shots on the night, but affected countless others, and two of his blocks — one of Clint Capela at the rim, and one of a corner three — were huge in establishing L.A.’s momentum.

This win stops the Lakers’ losing skid at one game, and the team is now 34-8 heading into their road matchup with the Boston Celtics on Monday. It’s looking more and more like there is at least a chance Davis will be back for that one, making it even more of a must-watch. We’ll see you there.

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

Comments

The move for DG to play full or 3/4 court defense in the 3Q was the turning point

Houston shot 51% in the first half, ended at 44%

Does Kuz play better on the road??

WE WIN!

No asterisk needed for the Lakers to win in Houston.

Banging my trash can in celebration!

BANG BANG

LMAO

Buzz me when you’re finished so I can celebrate next

The turning point

is when LBJ took a wild three in the third and Vogel immediately called a time out to sit LBJ who later came back with the intention to attack that rack!!! Seriously, of course Vogel did not call that time out to "punish" LBJ but the thought of it made me crack a smile. And the fact is LBJ was attacking that rim after he checked in.

It didn’t happen like that.

And the turning point in the third was right here:

8:08 – James 1’ Running Layup (18 PTS) – 67 – 68
7:58 – McGee BLOCK (3 BLK)
7:52 – James 2’ Layup (20 PTS) – 69 – 68

This was that sequence where LeBron drove on Harden and scored, McGee had that monster block on Capella, and then LeBron went coast to coast. The Lakers took the lead and never trailed again.

LeBron took that three a minute later, but a timeout was not immediately called. He still scored another layup after that, then dished another assist, before he was subbed out.

So LeBron was already attacking the rim (3 layups) before he checked out for the first time in the third quarter.

nailed it Penne ...

really JaVale’s energy & activity to start the 3rd jumpstarted the entire team. he was disruptive defensively (especially in the paint). he was actively rebounding (2 O-boards and a putback to that pt i believe). and had he had that swat on Tucker’s three from the corner (loved that he dapped up the Laker fans in the 2nd row on this one) on the same possesion jus before he got the one on Capela that led to the Bron push. LeBron really started getting downhill …

there was also that bizarre rash of O-fouls to start the qtr – 1st time i’d seen anything like that

since JaVale’s been here and i’ve gotten a really good look at him, i’ve wondered why Kerr didn’t use him A LOT more as a vertical threat to give their shooters even more space. and also his defense seemed severely underutilized. best i cld come up with is they didn’t have a Dwight to fall back to when JaVale wasn’t effective. i can remember him having stretches where he did freakishly athletic things for stretches that helped the team … but mostly wat i remember is he was hardly on the floor

Thanks, Penne. Much respect. We shouldn't be too hard on Romain lettuce over here. He was just trying to set us up for jokes, so I gave him a rec for the joke assist.

I agree that generally in life, attacking the rack leads to good things. The one caveat is that you have to establish post play first, otherwise things may go awry. Life wisedom, y'all.

We finally won a game I marked on my calendar -- good, 'cause I was beginning to think I had jinxed them. <img src="//fonts.voxmedia.com/emoji/unicode/1f605.png" alt=":sweat_smile:" class="emoji">

How many did u mark????

All Clips, Bucks, Celts and Rockets.

Unmark them all

Good victory.

Refs were trash

That third quarter felt like it was four hours long. Just let the teams play

Oh the worst officiating crew ever assembled

Horrific

Refs had to do something. It was getting violent out there.

It was looking like football, not basketball. They had to slow it down. Sure, some of the fouls called were dubious, but they were on the verge of losing control.

Never seen so many offensive foul calls in a stretch

That stretch early in the third was odd. But then later LeBron was getting those calls.

Vs McLemore and Harden. Rockets fans would say that those should’ve been fouls on LeBron or non-calls. So it kind of balanced out.

In the end the Lakers shot more free throws. 32 to 29.

Houston only had 3 players go to the line. Harden, Westbrook and House.

It was a new page in the refs rule book

actually calling Rockets for B.S. contact initiation on offense. Plus a few plays where they got the short end of calls. I thought Dwight got the worst of the officiating. Would just as soon never see this crew again – aside from making me laugh by pissing off the Rockets they were awful.

Yeah, it's not just Harden anymore...

Westbrook, Mclemore and others now routinely try the "barge into the opposing player and expect a foul to be called" play.

I think there were bad calls both ways, but for example, the Mclemore one where he could have gone straight to the rim for a layup but veered into LeBron trying to get an and-1, it’s his own damned fault. Just try to shoot the basketball… stop with all the lame attempt to draw fouls.

I love how the other side sees it

From the hawks blog " And it has nothing to do with Harden’s play at all. For the first time, I really doubt the NBA will allow Harden to win a championship. When the game was in the balance tonight, it was Lebron flopping around who got every call. If you don’t have a universally respected star like Lebron/Duncan/Wade/Curry/Dirk etc, you just aren’t getting those calls"

Rofl

Yep. If Alex Caruso tries a play like that, it's called a charge on Caruso

Giving Javale a taunting Tech for looking at the crowd wasn’t about control.

Missing several goaltends, kick balls, an fouls wasn’t about preventing malice in the palace 2.0. It was them not being good at their job. They were objectively bad on both sides.

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