James Harden Drops 48 in Rockets Win vs. Lakers; Lonzo Ball Suffers Ankle Injury

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJanuary 20, 2019

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 19: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets dunks the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 19, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

James Harden had 48 points on 14-of-30 shooting as the Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 138-134 on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Kyle Kuzma scored 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting for the 25-22 Lakers. The Rockets improved to 26-19.

Houston was down 112-103 with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Harden scored 11 points to help pull the Rockets within 118-117. After two free throws from Lakers center Ivica Zubac, Eric Gordon drilled a three-pointer with two seconds remaining to force overtime. 

Both teams played short-handed. Starting point guard Lonzo Ball suffered a left ankle sprain in the third quarter, according to team reporter Mike Trudell. The Rockets outscored the Lakers 84-65 after Ball left the game.

The Lakers were also without LeBron James, who suffered a strained groin on Christmas Day against the Golden State Warriors. Backup point guard Rajon Rondo has also been out with a right ring finger sprain since Dec. 25.

Rockets point guard Chris Paul and center Clint Capela were out with a Grade 2 left hamstring strain and right torn thumb ligament, respectively.

             

Faried's Arrival in Houston Can't Come Soon Enough

Midway through the second quarter, 7'1" Lakers center Ivica Zubac found himself being guarded by 6'4" Rockets guard Austin Rivers in the paint.

That wasn't Houston's design, obviously, although the movement on the possession forced the matchup. Naturally, Zubac was fed the ball, made a quick move and scored.

The low-post numbers emerging from the Lakers-Rockets game are ugly. Not only did Los Angeles outscore Houston 68-34 in the paint, but the Lakers also outrebounded the Rockets 56-39. At one point in the second quarter, Lakers center JaVale McGee had just one fewer rebound (nine) than the entire Rockets team (10).

That's not a good situation for Houston, who is trying to cobble together a backup plan in lieu of losing Capela for more than a month.

Reinforcements are on the way in the form of Brooklyn Nets forward Kenneth Faried, however; ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he's headed to Houston after a buyout.

Faried's playing time has been so sporadic during the past few years that it may be hard to remember what he brings to the table. Drafted in the first round by the Denver Nuggets in 2011, Faried averaged 12.3 points and 8.7 rebounds over his first five years.

The ex-Morehead State star lost his starting role in 2016-17 as he fell out of favor with the Mike Malone-led coaching staff, though, and he averaged just 14.4 minutes per game the following season. Faried hasn't been able to crack the Nets rotation this year.

The 29-year-old isn't about to shoot three-pointers like most of his new teammates, but he's an excellent fit in other ways.

First, he can be a beast on the boards, as evidenced by his previous success in that realm. He ranked 22nd in total rebounding percentage in his last full year as a starter, per Basketball Reference.

Second, Faried can run with the Rockets on the fast break, much like Capela. As Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted, Faried is adept in the pick-and-roll as well, which should also make him a fit.

Third, he's an efficient player. The average player efficiency rating is 15.0, and Faried has never fallen below that mark. In fact, he has a 19.6 PER for his career, with a high of 21.9 in his rookie season. In eight seasons, he has also made 54.4 percent of his shots.

At 6'8" and 220 pounds, Faried may encounter some trouble defending against more traditional big men like Zubac, but he'll have a better chance at stopping them than Rivers. He'll also prevent a single player from nearly outrebounding the Rockets for a prolonged stretch.

        

Lakers Need Alpha Kuzma Even Once LeBron Returns

It didn't take long for fans to realize that Kuzma meant business on Saturday night.

The second-year forward started the game with a layup after a cut through the lane. One minute later, he knocked down back-to-back threes. Before the first quarter ended, he had 20 points, which was the most by a Laker in the opening 12 minutes since Kobe Bryant in 2011, per SportsCenter. Remarkably, Kuzma scored those 20 on just nine shots.

The Lakers' public relations team (h/t Dave McMenamin of ESPN) also reported Kuzma is just one of six NBA players this season to have multiple 20-point quarters.

Kuzma is assuming the alpha role on the team with James out for an extended period, but the Lakers still need this version of him when the four-time regular-season MVP returns.

First, the Lakers don't have much of a chance competing in the Western Conference without at least two dominant scorers. Let's throw the Golden State Warriors out of the equation, as they have the look of an invincible team with center DeMarcus Cousins back in the lineup.

The rest of the conference, which is likely playing for second, offers some unique challenges for Los Angeles.

The Denver Nuggets' depth is among the best in the league, with six rotation players averaging double-digit scoring.

The San Antonio Spurs are shooting a bewildering 40.4 percent from three-point range, which is 1.5 percent better than any other NBA team.

The Utah Jazz with Donovan Mitchell running the point and Rudy Gobert manning the paint look unbeatable on both ends, and the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder each have All-Star-level duos leading their teams.

The Lakers don't have the scoring depth to match Denver or the three-point shooting range to keep up with the Spurs. They aren't well-rounded on both ends like the Jazz, and they don't have a two-headed scoring machine like Portland and Oklahoma City.

But the Lakers can at least join Portland and Oklahoma City with this version of Kuzma, who shouldn't be shy about taking the 18.6 shots per game he has since James suffered his injury. (That number was 14.6 attempts before Dec. 25.)

If Kuzma starts consistently scoring 20-25 points per game, he could help vault the Lakers deeper into the playoffs.

Granted, James will still be the one taking the most shots and assuming the most usage with Kuzma on the floor. But James always had a 1b. to his 1a. on championship teams, whether it be Dwyane Wade or Kyrie Irving. Kuzma needs to be the next in line.

               

What's Next?

Both teams play next on Monday. The Lakers start a four-game homestand against the Golden State Warriors, and the Rockets head east for a two-game road trip that starts in Philadelphia.

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