Mar 15, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) reacts with forward Jae’Sean Tate (8) after a play during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets have won back-to-back games after Kevin Porter Jr.’s 27 points led them to a 114-110 win over the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers, who played without LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the second night of a back-to-back. D’Angelo Russell split free throws on the game’s first possession, but Alperen Sengun, back in the lineup after missing Monday’s game with a groin injury, made a seven-foot hook on the ensuing possession to give the Rockets a lead they’d never relinquish.
Kevin Porter Jr. puts on a show
Porter did his damage as a distributor during the Rockets’ win over the Celtics on Monday, finishing with 13 assists and one turnover, but on Wednesday, it was his scoring that was the difference. Porter scored 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with nine rebounds and six assists.
“He was great,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. “Right from the start he was aggressive, he was getting to the rim, he was making plays for his teammates. The pressure applied (by the defense) didn’t bother him at all.”
The Rockets’ point guard suffered a cut over his left eye in the second quarter that required two stitches at halftime, but he remained aggressive after the break. Like the rest of his teammates, the Rockets guard attacked the rim, with nine of his made field goals coming from inside the restricted area, and all of his attempts came from behind the 3-point line or in the paint.
“I’m not good with blood, especially coming from my face,” Porter said. “I haven’t been leaked like that, so the blood, I couldn’t really open my left eye, so I was I was kind of confused at first, and then I got really mad that I had blood on my face, but I just turned that into fuel.”
Attacking the paint
With Anthony Davis and Mo Bamba unavailable on Wednesday due to injury, the Lakers played the Rockets without a center, and the Rockets took advantage by attacking the paint at will. They finished the game with 78 points in the paint, four points off Thursday’s season-high in Indiana, and built a 62-48 halftime lead by shooting 69% inside, accounting for 48 of their 62 points.
“We were thinking that we’re going to be a 3-point shooting team, and we’re paint team,” Silas said. “We get the ball into the paint, and 78 points in the paint tonight, so we’re taking that identity as far as driving the ball, offensive rebounding, and getting out in transition, and running with it.”
The Rockets entered the game averaging 62 points in the paint over their previous 10 games, most in the NBA and for the season. The Lakers allow 52.5 points in the painted area, eighth most, so the Rockets took advantage of one of their strengths being the Lakers’ weakness, especially with Davis and Bamba off the floor.
“We knew (Davis) was out, so we knew that we would most likely be able to get downhill and then to the paint with not much shot-blocking on the floor, but we’ve been doing it all season regardless of who we’ve been playing, we’ve been getting a bunch of points in the paint a bunch of rim attempts. And that’s what we’ve become.
Strong game for Josh Christopher
Christopher only played 13 minutes, but they were 13 quality minutes, especially the nine minutes he was on the floor during the first half. Christopher scored 12 points on the night while converting on 5-of-6 shots, and he made multiple 3-pointers for just the fourth time this season.
“Josh stay ready,” Porter said. “He comes in here and be the last one (to leave) and the first to show up. He’s just a gym rat, and he’s always gonna be ready. His opportunity’s come in, and you see he’s been fulfilling it, so each game, he’s gonna stay consistent.”
The second-year guard has continued to play well with a consistent role. He scored in double figures just once in the Rockets’ first 49 games of the season, in which he saw action in 31, but he’s scored at least 10 points in 10 of the last 20 games while shooting 51% from the field and 40.5% from behind the 3-point line.
“He’s a gifted scorer,” Porter said. You guys haven’t seen his whole bag, but Josh can score that ball, and he’s been opening his wings a little bit.”
The Rockets will play the fourth game of their six-game homestand when the New Orleans Pelicans visit the Toyota Center on Friday night.