HOUSTON — If Monday was a step toward figuring out the Lakers’ struggles on the road, then Wednesday’s 128-94 loss to the Houston Rockets was – at least – two steps in the opposite direction.
The Lakers (3-5) were dominated in nearly every facet by the Rockets (4-3) in a game that highlighted several of the issues that have plagued them early in the season.
“No one comes in wanting to be flat or a step slow or whatnot,” Coach Davin Ham said. “Our guys came in to compete. They had it going a little bit early. A couple [of] miscues, wasn’t really good on the ball defensively. Our off-ball defense needed to be better. It’s tough. We’re juggling different circumstances – guys being in and out of the lineup. But at the end of the day, no one is gonna feel sorry for you.”
There was another slow start, with Houston opening the game on an 8-0 run before pushing the margin to a 22-12 lead and then a 32-19 advantage by the end of the first quarter, making it six times in eight games that the Lakers have trailed by double digits in the opening period.
There were the three first-quarter offensive rebounds by Houston that produced eight second-chance points, with the Rockets ultimately finishing with 24.
And with the Lakers missing multiple rotation players, including big men Anthony Davis and Jaxson Hayes, there was the continuous exploitation of the team’s lack of interior size. The Rockets had 44 points in the paint in the first half, leading them to a 66-45 lead midway through the game, before finishing with 68 after a non-competitive second half.
“They played downhill a lot,” Ham said. “Hard cuts. Drives. And they played the way they’ve been playing this year: a lot of ball movement, a lot of off-ball cutting, off-ball screening. They’re gonna be a handful to deal with this year. If they keep up at this rate, they’ll be a handful for not just us but the other 28 teams besides us.”
Even when it seemed like the Lakers were finding a rhythm, the scoreboard offered a sobering reminder that the game was out of reach for more than half the matchup, with the Lakers trailing by at least 20 for the entire second half and 28 after three quarters.
“We can’t build cohesion if we don’t have our unit,” said LeBron James, who had a season-low 18 points to go with six rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes. “It’s that simple. We’re very depleted on the injury side. We did a good job of sharing the ball offensively early on. We just couldn’t get in a rhythm offensively and they were shooting the ball extremely well.”
One of the few bright spots for the Lakers was the return of forward Rui Hachimura, who led them with 24 points (10-of-14 shooting), eight rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes off the bench after missing four games because of an eye contusion and the concussion protocol.
“[Wednesday] we weren’t great,” guard D’Angelo Russell said, “but he was good.”
Russell also had 22 points (9-of-18 shooting, 4 for 7 from 3-point range) and four assists, but most of his scoring production (15 points on 6-of-8 shooting) came during a third quarter in which the game was out of reach.
Jalen Green led the Rockets with 28 points (11-of-15 shooting), seven rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes.
Alperen Sengun had 19 points (8 for 10 from the field), seven rebounds and four assists, taking advantage of the absence of Davis and the Lakers’ lack of size in the middle.
The Lakers, who are 0-5 on the road for just the third time in franchise history, will once again look for their first victory away from home on Friday against the Phoenix Suns in their first in-season tournament matchup.
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