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.

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