After two blowout losses in their previous three games, the Los Angeles Lakers returned home to host the Houston Rockets on Saturday evening. While they had won eight of their previous 12 games overall, their momentum had been choppy, and a win was needed to reinforce their attempts to improve their fortunes after a 3-5 start.
They came out sluggish on both ends of the floor and found themselves down 21-12 just past the midway point of the first quarter. But L.A. clamped down defensively in the second quarter, holding its visitors to just 14 points while scoring 35 points of its own. That gave it a 60-44 halftime lead, and it rode that momentum to a 107-97 victory.
There were some histrionics in the fourth quarter when Houston head coach Ime Udoka exchanged some words with LeBron James and was assessed his second technical foul, causing him to be ejected. But this was a good night for the Lakers, who improved to 12-9 on the season, allowing them to stay within striking distance of a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
The Lakers also showed some defensive prowess by holding Houston under the century mark and allowing it to shoot just 40.4% from the field while forcing 16 turnovers. They’re now ninth in defensive rating, and in their last 13 games, of which they won nine, they rank fifth in that category.
Anthony Davis: A-minus
This wasn’t the most efficient night for Davis, who missed each of his first six shot attempts of the game. But he was hot afterward, and he finished 10-of-22 from the field and 7-of-9 from the free throw line, giving him 27 points. He also not only brought down 14 rebounds, but six of them came on the offensive glass.
Davis also continues to be a terror on the defensive end. He blocked five shots, and he ended the night as the NBA’s leader in both total blocks (56) and blocked shots per game (2.8).
It is starting to look like perhaps he is going after the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Taurean Prince: A-minus
Prince has improved his 3-point shooting of late after a bunch of rough games. He knocked down three of his five attempts from beyond the arc, allowing him to score 11 points, to go along with six rebounds, two steals and one assist.
When Prince is consistently hitting from downtown, it changes the complexion of L.A.’s set offense.
Cam Reddish: B
After missing four of the Lakers’ last five games with a groin ailment, Reddish not only returned to game action, but he also returned to their starting lineup. He shot 4-of-7 and scored 11 points while adding five rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot.
D'Angelo Russell: B
Russell couldn’t really find the range offensively against Houston. He shot 4-of-10 overall and 1-of-5 from 3-point range, which resulted in him scoring just nine points in 26 minutes.
However, he helped L.A.’s cause with seven assists against zero turnovers plus five steals. He’ll never be an outstanding defender, but it seems he is showing more effort on that end of the floor, as he’s averaging a career-high in blocked shots.
LeBron James: C-minus
This was one of James’ worst offensive outings so far this season. He shot 7-of-17 from the field and scored just 16 points while missing all four of his 3-point attempts, missing three of his five free throw attempts and committing five turnovers. It was only the third time this season James failed to convert a trey in a game, and the first time since Nov. 8, when the Lakers got blown out by this same Houston team.
He did have seven assists, one steal and one blocked shot, however, to help his team’s cause.
Jarred Vanderbilt: C-plus
In his first regular season game of the season after suffering heel bursitis for weeks, Vanderbilt played 14 minutes and missed both of his shot attempts while grabbing four rebounds and adding one assist. It will likely take him a while to get back into game shape, but once he does, he should elevate the Lakers’ overall play.
Once Vanderbilt gets back into game shape, it will be interesting to see if head coach Darvin Ham moves him into the starting lineup. After arriving in February’s Russell Westbrook trade, he started 24 of 26 regular season contests and 13 of 15 in the playoffs for the Purple and Gold.
Austin Reaves: B-plus
Reaves has had a rough season so far. But on Saturday, he was effective, scoring 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. He also had four rebounds and three steals in 22 minutes.
If the Lakers are to start looking like true championship contenders, Reaves will have to consistently return to the level of play he was at last season, particularly late in the season and in the playoffs.
Max Christie: A
After starting five consecutive games, Christie returned to the bench on Saturday. He played 22 minutes and scored a dozen points by shooting 4-of-7 from the field and hitting all three of his 3-point attempts. He also contributed with seven rebounds and two assists.
In 11 minutes, Wood missed his lone shot attempt and scored only one point to go along with two rebounds and one assist.
He has certainly not been the offensive spark plug many expected him to be, at least to start this season. In his 21 games, he has scored in double figures just seven times, and he’s averaging just 7.0 points in 20.2 minutes a game. His paltry average of 12.5 points per 36 minutes is his lowest since the 2016-17 season, when he played a total of just 107 minutes in 13 contests.
Jaxson Hayes, Maxwell Lewis, Jalen Hood-Schifino: Incomplete
Hayes scored a dunk on an alley-oop, but that was the only positive contribution any of the three made on the stat sheet.