Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Players to watch, keys to victory

Houston Rockets Robert Covington (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Robert Covington (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /
Houston Rockets Robert Covington (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Robert Covington (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

As a conference showdown with the Lakers looms, some players will need to step up for the Houston Rockets, and they’ll need to do some key things to win.

The Houston Rockets got off to a hot start in Orlando with a couple of close victories, but they have some work to do to get back on track after being burned by Portland. Houston went cold in crunch time while also allowing for a 3-point barrage from Gary Trent Jr.

In a hard-fought battle in the middle of the Western Conference, the Rockets need every victory they can get to assure they remain in the four or five seed, which would be preferable toward future success.

The team may catch a break against the Los Angeles Lakers, who may rest some key players having already locked up the number one seed, but they could want to keep their stars in shape and rolling into the playoffs. Here are some players to watch in the big matchup.

Houston Rockets – James Harden & Russell Westbrook

The Rockets rely on their superstar duo for scoring more than any other team in the league. Their performance against the Trail Blazers was horrendous by their standards, so they should be looking for a big turnaround. The duo combined for only 38 points, a far cry from their usual 61.7. Harden and Westbrook need to get back to business for the Rockets to have a chance.

Next: An Important backup center

Houston Rockets Jeff Green (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Jeff Green (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Jeff Green

When Jeff Green came into the league, he thought he was going to spend his career playing next to Kevin Durant at small forward. Thirteen years and ten teams later, he finds himself playing center with two of Durant’s former teammates.

Green didn’t experience a growth spurt before changing positions, but he has been exceptional for the Rockets at center this season. In his role, he is experiencing career bests in just about every offensive metric and was Houston’s best player against the Trail Blazers.

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Green is a difference-maker for the Rockets with his ability to spread the floor on offense and hold his own in the paint.


Los Angeles Lakers – Dwight Howard & Javale McGee

The Lakers like to live large, and on a night when Anthony Davis may get additional rest, Javale McGee and Dwight Howard should feature even more prominently. Howard and McGee are one of the NBA’s best center partnerships, averaging a combined 14.1 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game.

Both relish setting nasty screens for LeBron James in the pick and roll and are shooting over 63.6 percent from the field. Can Houston’s micro-ball lineup run the two off the court, or will the behemoths feast on the Rockets centerless lineup? The answer might determine the game.

Danny Green

The Lakers are second in the league in corner-three percentage, with Danny Green receiving the lion’s share of attempts. The Rockets will need to be active defending the post, but they cannot forget about Danny Green and his 40.2 percent shooting percentage on corner-threes.

Green has been ice cold from distance since the restart. The easiest way to break out of a slump is on wide-open attempts. If Green gets a few open looks early, he could quickly shake off the rust and regain his shooting touch. Houston also needs to watch him in transition, because the pull-up three is one of his favorite weapons.


Next: Keys to victory

Houston Rockets Robert Covington (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Robert Covington (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Keys to Victory

Keeping the rebounds in check

It hasn’t mattered much that the Rockets have been completely pummeled on the glass since they decided that centers were so 20th century. The Lakers, however, are built to capitalize on this weakness. They have a deep stable of athletic big men that will have no trouble dominating the glass. The Rockets know they are going to lose the rebounding battle, but they need to be competitive and limit the number of offensive rebounds the Lakers grab.

Post defense/Foul Trouble!

The Rockets’ post defense has been better than anticipated, but it has come at a cost. The Rockets have been fouling like crazy since the restart, and it’s largely been done to prevent easy buckets.

The most significant advantage a 7-footer has is that they can contest shots without leaving their feet, and when defenders leave their feet, they foul. The Rockets need to find a way to continue to be tenacious on defense without racking up fouls. This is especially important because it is clear that Mike D’Antoni is going to ride with an eight-man lineup.

Run the Lakers’ centers off the court

Houston has to make it more painful than productive for the Lakers to trout out a traditional center. If the Lakers are allowed to play a conventional center paired with Anthony Davis all game, their offensive rebounding advantage may become too much to overcome.

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Nothing hurts like a great defensive possession undone by a simple putback. Jeff Green, P.J. Tucker, and Robert Covington need to be accurate from downtown and push it in transition to officially render the center position a thing of the past.