The Lakers took care of business against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night. And they’re right back at it on Wednesday night. But first, let’s see the standings in the Western Conference on the Ides of March, 2023.
The Lakers are currently positioned at 10th after the convoluted tiebreakers. If the regular season were over, the Lakers would make the play-in. But the regular season doesn’t end until after the night of April 9th. So the Lakers still have time to get a better position. The 5th seed is very much in reach. Heck, the 4th seed is quite attainable. But also, getting left out of the play-in picture altogether is very very possible.
One team that is not going to be in the play-in picture is the Houston Rockets. You see the record. Right now, they have the second worst record in the league but in terms of lottery odds, it doesn’t matter if they’re the worst or the third worst as the three bottom teams each have a 14 percent chance of winning the first pick. Either way, the Rockets are playing out the rest of the season as a spoiler team. They have a chance to mess up the Lakers’ chances of making the play-in.
The last time the Lakers played the Rockets, LeBron James scored 48 points. But LeBron is still out with a foot injury so he won’t be playing. However, since the Lakers are in a back-to-back situation, Anthony Davis won’t be playing, either. So count on the team to hold out Davis one more time as the Lakers have one more back-to-back situation left in the season (April 4-5).
I had mentioned that the Rockets were young and inexperienced in the preview before their first match-up. They traded Eric Gordon to the Clippers in a three-way deal before the trading deadline and picked up Frank Kaminsky on the way. So they actually got even younger. Boban Marjanovic and Kaminsky are the only two players on the team that have more than three seasons under their belt. And neither of them play much.
I don’t have to mention how bad this Rockets team is. They’re near or at the bottom of the league in multiple traditional or advanced statistics. However, these boys crash the glass hard. They’re #1 in offensive boards. In fact, the Rockets nearly doubled them in that category in their first game, 17-9. It’s also how Houston outscored them in the paint, 72-60.
I don’t think the Lakers will take care of the ball as well as they did against Houston in their first match-up; L.A. set a franchise low of two turnovers. It’d be great if they can keep that number in single digits. But they can certainly force Houston to be reckless as the Rockets continue to be the worst in turnovers.
The Lakers should put this away as soon as possible. Of course, the Lakers had a 40-point lead against the Pelicans and they still received a scare. It’s easy to be complacent when teams have a huge lead. Against the Rockets, they should kick them while they’re down. This is a team with pretty much nothing to lose so you know they’re going to flail, kick, scratch, and throw themselves at the Lakers. The Rockets are 4.5 games behind the fourth worst team in the league (Charlotte Hornets) with 14 games left to go so they’re going to do their worst. Or best. I think you know what I mean.
Alperen Şengün is questionable as of this writing. He was easily the shining star for the Rockets in their first game (33 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists, four blocks). But as of late, Jabari Smith Jr. has been lighting it up. His last three games have him averaging 24.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals. And he’s also shot .625 from three in 5.3 attempts per game. The Lakers should definitely watch out for him.
The one big worry for the Lakers is that with Davis and Mo Bamba out, their only bigs are pretty much Wenyen Gabriel… and Jarred Vanderbilt. But the Rockets main rotation isn’t that big, either (especially if Şengün isn’t available). Hopefully, this doesn’t become a factor in the game (although, yes, Houston is full of board men).
I’m not shy to say that this is a very winnable game for the Lakers even without Anthony Davis. But this is also a Houston Rockets team that beat the almighty Boston Celtics last Monday. In any given night, any team can beat any other team in the National Basketball Association.
The Lakers should not treat this as “any given night.”