After everything that happened over the summer, the Los Angeles Lakers finally face Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets on Thursday night. For 48 minutes, all the off-court drama takes a back seat to a basketball game.
The Rockets have started 4-1, and Howard leads the league with 14.6 rebounds per game. The Rockets’ center is averaging 17.4 points per game, which is not much better than the 17.1 he averaged with the Lakers.
To be honest, Howard’s numbers to this point don’t point to a dramatic improvement from last season. Lakers’ fans were constantly frustrated by Howard’s turnovers last season, and the Rockets’ center is actually averaging more turnovers with Houston (3.4 per game) than he did with the Lakers (3.0 per game).
Through five games, a healthy Howard is shooting a lower percentage from the field, averaging fewer blocks, and coming more turnovers than last year with the Lakers. If the Rockets were not 4-1, Howard would be the focus of some harsh criticism, but Houston is off to a hot start.
The Lakers, unfortunately, come into Thursday’s game struggling. After pulling off an opening night upset of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers have only won one of their last four games. On the road, the Lakers have been embarrassingly poor.
In both road games, the LA suffered blowout losses, and Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni has reacted by changing up his lineup. After the first blowout loss against at the Golden State Warriors, D’Antoni moved Xavier Henry into the starting lineup and moved Nick Young to the bench. After Tuesday’s blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks, D’Antoni expects to replace Shawne Williams with either Jordan Hill or Chris Kaman.
The change to go with a bigger lineup may be designed to matchup with the Rockets’ twin towers of Omer Asik and Howard. However, the Lakers often thrived with Kaman and Pau Gasol playing in tandem during the preseason, so a positive performance may lead to a permanent change.
Fans have been calling for a change that allows Hill to get consistent playing time, and starting the pair of Gasol and Kaman would provide Hill more time with the second unit. Alternatively, if Hill starts alongside Gasol, Kaman would anchor the second unit. In either scenario, the Lakers would take advantage of the size on their roster.
Off the court, Thursday night will provide plenty of storylines surrounding Howard and the Lakers’ public breakup. On the court, the Lakers are still in searching for their identity and figuring out how to win games. The Lakers need a road win, and beating Howard would taste a bit sweeter.
Lakers at Rockets tips-off at 6:30pm PST.