It's been an up-and-mostly-down season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
They fired Mike Brown just five games into the season and replaced him with Mike D'Antoni, but they continue to struggle, sitting at just 15-18. The Lakers have lost their last three games, as well as their two big men—Pau Gasol with a concussion and Dwight Howard with a torn labrum.
And without their two main cogs in the middle, the Lakers could be in for another long night against the Houston Rockets.
Houston is led by James Harden, one of the most talented scorers in the league, capable of hitting outside shots and attacking the basket. Harden leads the team in scoring, averaging 26.4 points and 5.6 assists per night. Since being acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden has emerged as a reliable go-to scorer and should be headed to the All-Star game.
The Rockets employ a rotation at power forward, giving both Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson playing time at the position. Neither player is capable of taking a game over on the offensive end, but both players make the most of their minutes. Right now, the Rockets front court is in better shape than that of the Lakers.
Houston center Omer Asik is a nightly double-double down low for the Rockets. Asik averages 10.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
Without Howard in the lineup for the Lakers, the Rockets will likely try and get the ball to Asik in the post with regularity.
And even though the Lakers are relatively healthy in the backcourt, Houston's combination of Harden, Jeremy Lin, Toney Douglas and Chander Parsons will frustrate Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the defensive end. Parsons is averaging 14 points in 36.2 minutes this season, compared to 9.5 points in 28.6 minutes last season.
Defensive specialist Metta World Peace will likely see a lot of time defending Harden, which means Nash and Bryant will be relied upon to guard Houston's other perimeter threats.
Kobe undoubtedly can still play in this league. He leads the NBA in scoring at age 34. But he's not a defensive stopper at this point of his career. He'll struggle to match up with Parsons on the perimeter if that's his matchup.
The Lakers will need to keep Lin and Harden from penetrating into the lane, especially without their rim protector Dwight Howard in the lineup. If the Rockets can penetrate and get everyone involved near the rim, Houston could run out to a comfortable lead.
Losers of their last three games, the Los Angeles Lakers need to start turning things around. Early-season struggles are one thing, but it's January now. It's time for this talented team to get things sorted out.
On Tuesday night, we'll see how the Lakers adapt without two key pieces in the lineup. And, in the Houston Rockets, the Lakers may have a problem.