(Photo credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
The host Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets will meet on Sunday for an early-season meeting in which both of them look to show that they can be serious threats in the Western Conference.
The aging Lakers, who planned to reduce the on-court minutes of star LeBron James this season, are out tobuild on last season, when they rallied from a dreadful start to the campaign and made it to the Western Conference finals.
The Rockets, under new coach Ime Udoka, were expected to be rebuilding, but showed they are ahead of schedule with a six-game winning streak that just ended Friday with a 106-100 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Rockets will make it back-to-back games in Los Angeles when they face the Lakers, whom Houston rolled past 128-94 on Nov. 8 at home for the fourth victory in their six-game run of success.
The balanced Rockets offense received 28 points from Jalen Green in the previous victory over the Lakers, while Alperen Sengun had 19 points. Houston shot 54.8 percent from the field and 14 of 33 (42.4 percent) from 3-point range, while also dominating the rebounding battle 57-34.
On Friday, the Rockets became the first victim of the James Harden-led Clippers, who ended a six-game losing streak. Harden delivered a four-point play with six seconds remaining to give the Clippers the lead for good.
Sengun scored 23 points against the Clippers, while Green had 20 and Fred VanVleet scored 19 points with 10 assists. Three Clippers stars -- Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George -- combined for 73 points. Los Angeles outscored Houston 21-14 at the free-throw line.
The Rockets are one of the better defensive teams in the NBA, allowing 105.8 points per game, tied for second in the league.
"They had incredible, talented players over there and I thought, individually, one-on-one defense was pretty good," VanVleet said after the Rockets' first defeat of the month. "But we just weren't able to keep them off the (free-throw) line. ... And then coming down the stretch it's a three-point game, two-point game, and they made a couple extra plays."
The Lakers come in after a 107-95 victory on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, their fourth win in the past five games after a three-game losing streak.
James scored 35 points with nine assists in 35 minutes, tied for the team high, while playing through a calf injury. Anthony Davis scored 16 points and added 14 rebounds in 35 minutes after dealing with a hip injury as of late.
Davis missed the previous game at Houston with the injury and said it bothered him while scoring nine points in a home loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.
The Lakers are 4-1 since Cam Reddish was moved into a starting role and Austin Reeves was placed within the reserve unit. Reaves had seven points Friday in a season-low 18 minutes.
"Just trying to figure out the rhythm, trying to figure out the synergy with different lineups," Los Angeles coach Darvin Ham said. "(We have) our core principles of guarding the ball, being great in transition, finishing possessions with a rebound. And offensively, playing with force, playing free, playing fast."
--Field Level Media