Preview: Lakers (18-35) vs. Rockets (36-17)

Photo courtesy of Bill Baptist, Getty Images

February 19, 2014 — 7:30PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Former Lakers center Dwight Howard returns to STAPLES Center tonight as his Houston Rockets (36-17) face off vs. The Los Angeles Lakers (18-35) in their first game since the All-Star break.

All eyes are on Howard tonight, as he plays vs. Lakers at Staples Center for the first time since he left the Lakers. Fair or unfair, many have blamed Howard, who averages 18.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, and 1.8 BPG this season, for last season’s debacle of a season. With this season’s disaster that the Lakers have faced throughout this season, we can sense that other major factors caused last season’s struggle and Howard’s eventual departure to the Rockets.

Meanwhile, very high probability exists that tonight will be the final game the Lakers roster would look like their current state. The Lakers will most likely make moves before tomorrow’s trade deadline, which would include getting additional picks for the upcoming NBA Draft, getting under the luxury tax threshold, or rebuild for another championship run with SG Kobe Bryant.

As usual, C Pau Gasol has once again been placed in the trade block, while PF Jordan Hill has been involved in many trade talks, notably Brooklyn Nets. Other candidates to get traded before tomorrow’s deadline include C Chris Kaman and PG Steve Blake, mainly since trading their contracts will get them much closer to get under the luxury tax threshold.

Ironically, the Lakers will be led by C Chris Kaman tonight, who for whatever reason Mike D’Antoni has placed at the end of the bench for the majority of this season. One of the most skilled center in the NBA on the offensive end, Kaman has been by far one of the most consistent Laker since finally receiving any playing time, scoring 22 PPG and grabbing 10.5 RPG in the last 4 games. If this is Kaman’s last game with the Lakers, he will definitely help another team’s cause at going for this year’s NBA Championship.

Projected Starters

PG - Patrick Beverly Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Rockets]
SG - James Harden / Steve Blake [Advantage: Rockets]
SF - Chandler Parsons Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Rockets]
PF - Terrence Jones Ryan Kelly [Advantage: Even]
C - Dwight Howard Chris Kaman [Advantage: Rockets]

Notable Bench Players

Rockets: PG Jeremy Lin, F Omri Casspi, G Francisco Garcia, Greg Smith, Omer Asik 

Lakers:  C Robert Sacre, F Jordan Hill, SG Jodie Meeks

Bench Advantage: Rockets

Injury List

Rockets: Questionable-PG Patrick Beverley, Questionable-F Greg Smith

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-C Pau Gasol, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-G/F Nick Young, Doubtful-PG Steve Nash, Doubtful-PG Jordan FarmarProbable-SG Jodie Meeks

Keys for Lakers Victory

Defense: The Lakers’ defense played well the 1st 3 quarters vs. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, holding them to only 72 points in the first 3 quarters. Hopefully the Lakers will come with the same energy tonight, especially since Howard returns to Staples Center and this game will be broadcasted nationally. The Rockets have a lot of weapons other than SG James Harden and Howard; SF Chandler Parsons and PG Jeremy Lin have shown that they can also take over games if needed, so the Lakers have to play great team defense and communicate well in order to contain the Rockets lineup.

Bottom Line

I expect the Lakers to play very inspired basketball tonight especially during the 1st half. They have to play with the same energy they came out with vs. Thunder but maintain throughout the duration of tonight’s game. Unfortunately, the Rockets’ talent will be very tough to overcome for the very shorthanded Lakers tonight, especially as 4 of our 5 top players are not even in uniform tonight.

Prediction

Rockets: 112-97

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