Apr 2, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) handles the ball against Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets had a chance to play spoiler on Sunday but instead turned in a lackluster effort as they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 134-109 at Toyota Center. The Rockets scored on the game’s first possession, but D’Angelo Russell answered with a three, and the Lakers never trailed again, pushing the lead to as high as 27. LeBron James finished with a triple-double in only 29 minutes. All five Rockets scored in double-figures, led by Jalen Green’s 24 points. Alperen Sengun added 18 points and 15 rebounds.
Giving away the paint
The Rockets have been one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams this season, but it hasn’t been because they give up a lot of points in the paint. In fact, they allow the 10th fewest paint points in the league. Instead, they get beat behind the 3-point line, but the Lakers only shot 5-of-17 from behind the 3-point line, so it was the paint that did the Rockets in.
The Lakers scored 68 points in the paint on Sunday, way up from the 48.7 points the Rockets allow per game, and they shot close to 70% in the paint. It just gave a glimpse of how poorly the Rockets defended on Sunday.
Anthony Davis does whatever he wants
Davis missed the Lakers’ first two games against the Rockets this season, and boy, did he make up for lost time. The Lakers center scored 13 points in 5-of-9 shooting in the first quarter and only got more dominant as the game went on. Davis finished with 40 points and converted on 10-of-11 field goal attempts in the game’s final three quarters.
“We tried to double on the catch, Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. said. “We tried to to play him straight up and just try to beat them by them just scoring 2s and trying to make it tough on him, then we tried to double when he gets to the scoring area, tried to front a little bit. We tried to throw a lot at him, but he’s just so tough.”
The Rockets couldn’t keep Davis off the free throw line, allowing him to attempt 12 free throws for the 10th time this season, and he also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked two shots.
“He’s been doing this to everybody,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. “We’re not alone. Last game against Minnesota he had 37 and 18, and he’s just playing at such a high level
Bench struggles again
The Rockets bench was largely ineffective during Friday’s win over Detroit, combining for 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting, and that trend continued on Sunday. Silas only went to four reserves, Tari Eason, Usman Garuba, Josh Christopher, and Daishen Nix before garbage time. Those four combined for 13 points while shooting just 6-of-19 before the Lakers called the dogs off with 5:07 to play.
“I don’t want to play our starters, so many minutes,” Silas said. “I have to play the guys off the bench. We didn’t get the productivity tonight, but that’s not something that we can harp on we just got to do better.”
After a 1-for-11 night on Friday, Eason shot 4-of-14 against the Lakers. Nix missed all four of his shots in 11 minutes, and Garuba didn’t even put one up while only playing three minutes. Christopher’s nine points on 4-of-6 shooting was really the only bright spot for the Rockets’ bench unit.
Jae’Sean Tate missed his eighth consecutive on Sunday due to knee soreness, and his presence has really been missed, just as it was when he missed almost the entirety of the first half of the season.
The Rockets will play their final home game of the season when the Denver Nuggets visit Toyota Center on Tuesday night.