James Harden, Rockets, Beat LeBron James, Lakers After Brawl, Ejections

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends against James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets as he makes his home debut at Staples Center on October 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets downed the Los Angeles Lakers 125-115 in a heated affair as LeBron James made his Purple and Gold debut at Staples Center on Saturday night. 

James Harden paced the Rockets (1-1) with 37 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Chris Paul stuffed the stat sheet with 28 points, 10 dimes and seven boards before he was ejected for his role in a fourth-quarter melee that included Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram. 

James did the heavy lifting for the Lakers (0-2) with 24 points, five rebounds and five assists. In all, seven Lakers scored in double figures, including JaVale McGee (16 points, six rebounds, five blocks) and Lonzo Ball (14 points). 


Lakers-Rockets Looks Like Heated Rivalry

When James bolted for Los Angeles in the offseason, the NBA lost the rivalry between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors—one of the few the league had.

However, that void may soon be filled by the Lakers and Rockets thanks to Paul, Rondo and bad blood that has been percolating for nearly a decade, as the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds and Yahoo Sports' Chris Mannix pointed out: 

Tim Reynolds @ByTimReynolds

“Rajon has requested you not ask anything about Chris Paul now, tomorrow, or any other time.” Those were the postgame words of Celtics PR legend Jeff Twiss the first time things between Rondo and CP3 got ugly. And that was in 2009!

Chris Mannix @ChrisMannixYS

Lot of history between these two. Years ago Kendrick Perkins told me Rondo believes CP is only good because he always has the ball. https://t.co/3xZ1VvUJH0

"I am not surprised at all [that they fought]," ESPN analyst (and former Rondo teammate) Paul Pierce said after the game. "For you people out there who don't know, Rondo and Chris Paul have never liked each other. This dates back to maybe Rondo's rookie year or second year. They've had heated exchanges...I'm surprised this is their first fight, actually." 

With hatred already established and two of the league's most enigmatic personalities at the center of the feud, the Lakers and Rockets should offer tremendous entertainment value every time they step on the floor. 

The sides will meet again Dec. 13 at Toyota Center. 

Get your popcorn ready. 


Lonzo's Value Rests on Willingness to Trust Shot

Ball opened his season in unspectacular fashion with seven points on 1-of-4 shooting from three as he struggled to find a rhythm off the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers.

James, though, had some sage advice for the second-year floor general. 

"He's just got to trust his shot," James said, per LeBronWire's Erik Garcia Gundersen. "He works on his game every single day, before practice and after practice. If they go under, trust your shot, trust what you've been working on. Just trust it."

Those words of wisdom paid off Saturday night. 

Ball appeared far more confident as a spot-up shooter, and he parlayed that approach into 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-8 from three. By comparison, all other Lakers players combined to make four shots from beyond the arc. 

If that performance was a sign of things to come, Lonzo won't be a punchline much longer. 

Kevin Pelton @kpelton

I think people underestimated Lonzo Ball's chances of making a leap as a 3-point shooter this year. Given his age, shot makeover and the superior shots he's likely to get, it's plausible to me he shoots an average or better percentage from 3.

Kevin O'Connor @KevinOConnorNBA

Absolutely agree. Also, Lonzo Ball shot 37.7% on catch-and-shoot 3s since December 8 following his dismal start last season. And he shot over 40% from 3 at UCLA. So it's not like Lonzo has never had a history of shooting the ball well. https://t.co/DKEuSBmabR

Defenses have consistently left Ball with plenty of breathing room since he arrived in the NBA because of his wonky mechanics, but that reputation should aid the Lakers offense. 

To wit: Last season, 51.6 percent of Ball's total three-point attempts came with the furthest defender a minimum of four feet away, according to NBA.com's player-tracking data

If that trend holds and Ball can take advantage, a stellar sophomore season should be in order. 


What's Next? 

The Rockets will close out their L.A. back-to-back with a showdown against the Clippers on Sunday night. The Lakers return to the floor at Staples Center on Monday for a meeting with the San Antonio Spurs


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