On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers went to Houston to face a Rockets team that had won 14 games in a row and won 21 of its last 22 games, and LA was without its starting shooting guard and its starting center. Added to that, James Harden scored 51 points.
Still, the Lakers won, 122-116, inspired by a career-high 38 points from rookie Kyle Kuzma and 21 points from Corey Brewer off the bench.
Kuzma made his first nine shots of the night, scoring 16 points in the first quarter alone, as the Lakers took a short-lived 22-point lead in the first half. However, Harden led the Rockets in a predictable comeback and Houston tasted the lead before three minutes had elapsed in the second half.
With Brook Lopez expected to miss three weeks with an ankle sprain, Lakers coach Luke Walton inserted veteran center Andrew Bogut into the starting lineup and switched Kuzma in for Larry Nance Jr. Also, Walton put in rookie Josh Hart in place of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is unable to leave California due to a temporary court order. Nance is a solid defender and rebounder, but Bogut's addition required more offensive balance, which Kuzma provides. Kuzma is a three-point shooting threat able to space the floor and provide more offensive production than the former Wyoming Cowboy.
On the night, Kuzma hit 7-10 from three-point land, making him the only rookie in the NBA to make seven three-pointers in the 2017-18 NBA season thus far. Overall, the 22-year-old out of the University of Utah made 12 of his 17 shot attempts and also snagged seven rebounds and four assists in the victory.
Brewer, who joined the Lakers in a trade with Houston at the tail-end of the 2016-17 season, stepped up to put in a performance worthy of the title of "revenge game." Brewer finished as the second leading scorer on the Lakers with 21 points on 7-9 shooting, five rebounds, three steals and an assist in 25 minutes. He would have finished the game for Walton, but Brewer fouled out with 1:02 remaining in the contest and the Lakers leading by nine points.
The Rockets did cut the Lakers' lead down to six points in that final minute and made it an interesting finish, but LA managed to hold on and collect a deserved victory over the team that holds the best record in the NBA.
Along with Kuzma's special night, the Lakers uncharacteristically took care of the basketball and only committed six turnovers over the first three quarters of the game. They eventually finished with 10 turnovers on the night, but even that number was well below their season average.
Had LA been able to hit foul shots, the Rockets would likely have stood no chance. The Lakers missed 16 free throws on the night, as seven of the eight Lakers to step up to the charity stripe on the night missed at least one free throw. Bogut stood apart from his fellow Lakers as the only Laker to not clank a foul shot in Houston.
Of course, Harden's 51 points, nine assists and three rebounds helped keep Houston in the game, but Houston was hampered by an injury to Chris Paul. Paul left the game in the second half with a sore leg. The veteran point guard scored eight points and had five assists and five rebounds in 25 minutes on the court, but the long time LA Clipper has a habit of getting points in the fourth quarter, when points are at a premium.
Regardless, the Lakers earned the victory with Kuzma acting as the leading man deserving of any accolades coming his way. On a night when Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball combined to shoot 9-29 and Jordan Clarkson only made two of his 10 shot attempts, Kuzma and Brewer stepped up to carry the Lakers to an unexpected victory.
Next, the Lakers will look to shock the world again when they face the world champion Golden State Warriors on Friday night in Oakland.