Lakers (14-21) at Rockets (22-13) Game Preview – 1/8/14

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Fresh off a loss in Dallas, the Lakers are immediately back in action tonight as they play in Houston for the second time this year. The previous meeting was one of the most fun games of the season that ended with a Steve Blake buzzer-beater.

The Lakers have yet again lost back-to-back games, and are now 2-7 in their last nine games. They cannot continue to play the way they have been playing if they want to win tonight. Their defense has been bad all year, but as of recently it has been terrible after giving up 137 and 110 points to the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. The Lakers are now 28th in scoring defense – just ahead of Sacramento and Philadelphia.

Things aren’t going to get easier for the team, either. The Rockets are one of the best offensive teams in the league. They are currently top-four in scoring, shooting and offensive efficiency. They have the ability to score in bunches in multiple ways. The Rockets could have a field day if the Lakers continue to play a lazy, nonchalant style of defense.

Kendall Marshall finally came back to Earth. He was on fire in his first two starts: 32 assists. The trip to Dallas brought him his most inefficient game as a passer from the last three starts – he had his fewest assists (6) and most turnovers (6). It was the first time he started on the road, and the offense just wasn’t clicking like it was at home. There were many fumbled passes and missed open shots – Marshall didn’t look worse. I expect his assist count to rise back up tonight, as long as his teammates help him out. However, Marshall still had a very solid performance by scoring 20 points on 70 percent shooting. So much has impressed me, and everyone, about Marshall. The Lakers hope, for their sake, that Marshall keeps this up.

Jodie Meeks had yet another big game with Marshall as the starting point guard. Although his shooting percentage wasn’t good, Meeks still had a big impact during the Mavericks game – 24 points (38 percent shooting), six assists, four rebounds and four steals. In the three games of Marshall starting, Meeks is averaging 21.7 points (44.7 percent shooting), 4.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Marshall has Meeks playing extremely active on the offensive end by putting him in scoring oppertunities, and this has made Meeks more active overall. It’s very nice to see Meeks keep up his improved play from last season. I don’t see see his production taking a drastic drop anytime soon.

The bench had one of their most poor performances of the season by scoring only 16 points. The biggest reason for this: Nick Young. Young revealed that he suffered a back injury at some point against the Nuggets, and it’s really bothering him. Young had his worst game of the season against the Mavericks: two points on 14 percent shooting. After the game, Young sounded like a person that didn’t think he should play, but he said he didn’t want to leave his teammates hanging since they are already short-handed. No one should expect Young to be very effective tonight, so hopefully players like Ryan Kelly and Jordan Hill can give them a boost off the bench.

Key Players

Dwight Howard has been the best center in the Association this year – and frankly, he looks much better than he did when he was a Laker. Howard is averaging 17.8 points (58 percent shooting), 12.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on the season. However, Howard has been struggling in his last five games: averaging 13 points (52 percent shooting), 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Despite chocking at the line multiple times to help the Lakers win, Howard had a very solid game against them the last time out: 15 points (50 percent shooting) and 14 rebounds. I’m sure he hated losing to his former team, and I expect him to come out very aggressive tonight.

If there’s a Rocket that might totally dominate the Lakers, it’s going to be James Harden. Harden is a very dynamic player who causes many problems for the Lakers’ defense with his aggressive play. Harden went off in the last meeting with L.A. by putting up 35 points (38 percent shooting), nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks. A similar game might be in store for Harden – in his last two games he is averaging: 37.5 points (49.5 percent shooting), 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

Chandler Parsons is quite the talent for being the third-best player on his team. Parsons can knock down three-pointers from any spot and attack the rim at will. He is averaging 17.2 points (52 percent shooting), 5.4 rebound and 3.6 assists on the season. Parsons had a solid 16 points on 55 percent shooting in the last game between these two teams. However, Parson’s will sit this one out due to injury, so the Lakers will catch a break there.

Jeremy Lin and Terrance Jones should not be forgotten by any means. This Houston team has a starting lineup with a lot of power, and these two players definitely contribute to it. Lin might not be on SportsCenter all the time like he was at one point, but he is still averaging 14.1 points (48 percent shooting) and 4.2 assists. Jones is having a breakout season with averages of 10.1 points (51 percent shooting) and 6.8 rebounds. Jones has proven to be one of the better fits to play alongside Howard.

Pau Gasol had been playing at a very high level, but he finally had a rough game against the Mavericks. Despite having a nice double-double (15 points, 13 rebounds) Gasol shot 36 percent from the field and struggled on the defensive end at times. He arguably had his worst game of the season against Houston when he scored only two points on 10 percent shooting. He did bring in 12 rebounds, though. Hopefully he is looking to right that performance with a good game tonight.

Expected Starting Lineups

Lakers:
Kendall Marshall
Jodie Meeks
Wesley Johnson
Pau Gasol
Robert Sacre

Key reserves: Nick Young and Jordan Hill

Rockets:
Jeremy Lin
James Harden
Omri Casspi
Terrance Jones
Dwight Howard

Key reserves: Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia

The game starts at 5:00 PM PST and will be broadcast live on TWC SportsNet.

This was an article by Andrew Ross. You can follow him on Twitter here: @AJRoss94

Written by Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is an 19-year-old student at Delaware State University (DSU), where he is pursuing a mass communications degree, concentration convergence journalism. At DSU, Ross is a sports writer for the paper, and also has his own sports radio show on campus. Ross aspires to one day be a successful sports writer, and to possibly even have his own radio show. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @AJRoss94