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Game Day Preview: Lakers’ Bryant’s final game vs. Houston Rockets

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Apr 8, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) gives a thumbs up following a video presentation of his career during the first quarter of a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) gives a thumbs up following a video presentation of his career during the first quarter of a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
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With Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour drawing to a close he arrives for his final appearance vs the Houston Rockets.

In the 68 years the Lakers franchise has been in existence only one prior season ended in less than 20 wins, and that was so long ago they were still called the Minnesota Lakers. This season they’ll repeat that mark as they sit with 16 wins and just 3 games remaining. In fact the Lakers have only registered season under 30 wins on four occasions in total. Perhaps then it seems only fair the odds of fate caught up with them.

This season will mark the third consecutive season of under achievement. Now for all you non Laker fans, don’t get too excited. By virtue of finishing with a record of 19 wins at best they’ll finish 29th and retain their top 3 protected pick. Further, with T.V. revenues due to kick in expanding the salary cap no doubt the lure of L.A.’s bright lights and fame will return the Lakers to prominence shortly.

The Lakers are one of the most successful franchises in League history, so the fact this could be there worst season on record ironically won’t be what 2015-16 is remembered for.  Rather it will be remembered as the swan song of Kobe Bean Bryant who formally announced November 29th it would be his last. Fittingly the fact the Lakers are abysmal has played perfectly into his plans. It’s unimaginable to think Bryant could have stomached the losses were it not for his retirement tour.

All but four teams (the Nets, Knicks, Heat and Orlando) were offered the opportunity to say goodbye to Bryant in their own way. Around the league even teams with huge rivalry’s like the Boston Celtics put aside their vitriol for an evening to thank the man who carried the league after Michael Jordan left.  Seeing Bryant smiling as he was received with standing ovations and sold out arenas filled with fans who came to see him for his final curtain call just felt right.

His health for the most part cooperated as he wasn’t afflicted by a major injury like the past two seasons. With just 3 games remaining the Lakers and Bryant arrive in Houston for a matinee today. Bryant’s farewell tour finishes on Monday in Oklahoma City facing UCLA product Russell Westbrook and one of his greatest admirer’s Kevin Durant. His swan song appropriately will culminate with the final night of the regular season on his home court.

Undoubtedly the Staples Center will be crammed to standing room only as Lakers fans will arrive en masse to bid Kobe farewell. I suspect the Buss family will say adieu Hollywood style with some special ceremony highlighting his 5 championships, indomitable spirit and his unequaled work ethic.

The curtain call is sure to be emotional and as such is earmarked as one of three games the NBA is featuring on the final night of the regular season.

In an odd twist of fate, Red Nation may be praying for a throw back performance by the Black Mamba as circumstances may work out that the outcome of their final game could determine whether the Rockets prepare for the playoffs or go fishing.

The problem is I’m wary to expect the Rockets to do what they should anymore. They finish the season facing three lottery bound squads:

  • today’s matinee vs the Lakers
  • Monday on the road in Minnesota facing the young T-Wolves who shocked the Warriors this week
  • And finish at home versus a Sacramento Kings squad who’ll suit up without Boogie Cousins.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my resistance to have faith the Rockets will simply take care of business by beating the teams they should. Especially after their lack luster effort versus an undermanned Suns  squad which resulted in them being booed off the court. Yet, for the die-hard Red Nation fans who have remained committed the Jazz  back to back losses opened a door.

Houston remain a game back in ninth, but a door was opened when the Jazz lost back to back games to the Spurs and undermanned Clippers.  Utah has a tougher road playing the Nuggets in Denver, the Mavericks and the aforementioned Lakers on closing night. And, the Rockets hold the tie-break over Utah.

Again it requires belief the Rockets can win out, but if they do it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Bryant trotting out one last Mamba-esque performance as he bids farewell to the NBA.

First, let’s focus on the game at hand which takes place this afternoon in an early matinee. With that, let’s preview the match:

The Details

Venue:   Toyota Center, Houston, Texas

Game Time: 3:30 PM EST – 2:30 PM CT

TV: NBA League Pass, ROOT in Houston and TWC SN / TWC D in LA

Radio: 790 AM in Houston, 710 AM ESPN / 1330 A in LA and Sirius:81 (Internet H:890/A:893)

Recent History:

The Rockets have won all 3 previous meetings this season:

December 17 HOU 107 – 87 LAL

December 12 LAL 97 – 126 HOU

January 17: HOU 112-95 LAL

Walking Wounded:

Lakers:

  • Kobe Bryant – he played 22 minutes on Friday with a shoulder irritation. He’ll be a game time decision, but expect to see him take some minutes if at all possible given he has 3 games remaining
  • Lou Williams   was a healthy scratch Friday leaving the question has Scott shut him down
  • Brandon Bass   – was also a healthy scratch Friday
  • Anthony Brown – foot, will miss rest of season

Rockets:

  • Montrezl Harrell – will be available today given he’ll have served his 5 game suspension
  • Sam Dekker – back surgery November 20 , will be out 3 months

Projected Starters:

Lakers: D’Angelo Russell,  Jordan Clarkson Kobe Bryant,   Julius Randle, Roy Hibbert

Rockets: Patrick BeverleyJames HardenTrevor ArizaDonatas Motiejunas,  Dwight Howard

Key Reserves:

Lakers:    Nick Young,  Larry Nance Jr.,  Robert SacreTarik BlackRyan Kelly

Rockets: Corey BrewerJason Terry, K.J. McDaniels,  Terrence JonesClint Capela,

The Key Match-up:

With so many players listed as questionable the better question may be who’ll be available to play. The fact Bryron Scott rested Lou Williams and Brandon Bass seems to speak to two things. The Lakers are looking to get some run from their youngsters and are ensuring they retain a bottom 3 lottery seed. That said I won’t be surprised to see Bryant play at least a shift or two as his games are drawing to a close. If the shoulder is hurting he’ll limit his minutes in an effort to be fresh for Wednesday’s closing night. That works well for Houston who’ll hope the Lakers and Bryant can finish on a high note to end his career.

Even the Rockets match-up is unsure given Bickerstaff continues to keep everyone guessing with his rotations. His use of Motiejunas, Howard and McDaniels has been the most varied. Then again, expect all hands on deck as the Rockets will need to atone for letting the Mavericks come back to win and their brutal effort versus the Suns.

Lakers vs Rockets 2
Lakers vs Rockets 2

Comparison:

Even with the Rockets inconsistencies the above chart tells the story as Houston are by far a better team on both ends of the court. As per the above chart the Rockets will need to keep an eye on the boards and the Lakers don’t foul a ton so they’ll need to be cognizant of that fact.

Keys To Winning:

Don’t Play Down to Competition: I’m not sure how many times I’ve written that this season, but I’m sure it’s in double digits. Then again when the Rockets play like they did Friday versus an undermanned Suns team it’s understandable why. Its important the Rockets stop allowing bottom tier teams to stick around late in games which has frequently led to losses this season. These types of teams should offer the Rockets an opportunity to get their bench players some run because they are already sporting a comfortable lead by the end of the third quarter.

Don’t Get Caught Up in the Kobe Show: Expect Rockets fans and the organization to give Kobe a proper Rockets tribute including an ovation and whatever festivities they have planned. But, Houston need to make sure they don’t allow another Black Mamba showcase. For those interested in his best moments Coty Davis’ article today offers Kobe’s best moments versus the Rockets. It’s a great retrospective from a big Kobe fan.

Lead With Defense: The Lakers have been showcasing the youngsters of late and they’ve surprised a few teams along the way. The counter to that is to come out with energy and play tough-nosed defense. The last thing the Rockets want or need is to get into a fast paced shoot-out that would allow the Lakers youth to gain confidence and pull off a shocking upset.

Be Professional:  Time is of the essence and though the Houston Rockets currently sit a full game back of the Jazz they hold the tie-break, and have a decidedly easier schedule. Anything can happen at this time of year, and while the Rockets will be keeping a keen eye on the Jazz, they have to remained focus and get the win. The best way to do that is to simply be professional via effort, focus and professionalism.

Prediction:

More from Space City Scoop

The odds makers have the Rockets heavily favored with a 14 point margin, an over – under of 212 points, but given the Rockets inconsistency the Lakers actually are the early favorites to cover the spread.

Harden’s post game comments are yet another song to the same tune the team has sung all season. One would think at some point they’ll actually have their actions mirror their words. Time is running out though, so it’s shut-up and put-up time.

"“ .” – Harden We’ve been doing too much talking,” Harden said. “Now we’ve got to go out there and actually play well"

Prediction: The Rockets have beat the Lakers this season by an average of 22 points. I’m expecting them to replicate that effort given they should finally understand what ‘desperate’ means. Further, I doubt any of the players feel very good about being booed off the court Friday. If for no other reason than to show their fans they care, I expect a much more professional effort. Then again, those are strong words given the team has given me no reason to have confidence in them.

 Rockets by 15

For more exciting news and stories on the Los Angles Lakers visit our affiliate FanSided site: Lake Show Life Plus check our our Preseason Team Preview of the Lakers where the SCS team foresaw Bryant’s final season :

Next: Bryant's Swan Song

Next: In Defense of James Harden

Next: How Houston Rockets can make playoffs

Next: Should Rockets Tank?

Next: 5 Players Rockets Should Target

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