On Sunday night at STAPLES Center, the Houston Rockets handed the Los Angeles Lakers their fifth straight loss and one that came in convincing fashion. James Harden led the rout with 36 points, nine assists and four rebounds on a night where the Rockets led by as many as 24 points.
"The turnovers, again, killed us," Lakers coach Luke Walton lamented following the game. "We talk about it every day in practice. We literally are doing drills that the players joke are like high school drills, but that's what it's come to."
On this night, the Lakers turned the ball over 21 times, off which the Rockets scored 27 points. A night earlier, they also turned the ball over 21 times, and LA is tied with Philadelphia for last in the NBA in giving the ball away at an average of 17.5 turnovers per game.
The Lakers also struggled to keep up with the Rockets at the foul line, in the paint or from three-point lands, as this was a comprehensive beat down.
Walton stated, "In my opinion, Houston's playing the best basketball in the NBA."
In searching for positives, Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers in scoring off the bench with 22 points and 12 rebounds to record a double-double. The reigning Western Conference Rookie of the Month has managed double-doubles in back-to-back games and for the seventh time in 21 appearances during the 2017-18 season.
Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. also had positive individual performances. Ingram scored 18 points to go along with nine rebounds and five assists on the night. Nance scored 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the loss.
Lonzo Ball had a notably quiet night, as the 20-year-old struggled with sore calves. Ball missed all four of his shots and finished with two points, three assists, two blocks and three turnovers in 22 minutes on the court. Walton said the lopsided score and the sore calves kept him from calling on the rookie late in the game.
"I've got two knots in my calves right now, so it's kind of like this (balls up fists), two rocks every time I run and jump," Ball said after the game. "You could play through it, but it just hurts a little bit."
In terms of game flow, the Lakers played the Rockets even for the first quarter, but the second quarter took a tie ball game and turned it into a 15-point halftime lead for the visitors. Sixteen points from Harden in that second period and nine points from Eric Gordon highlighted a 34-point quarter for the Rockets.
The Lakers did come out of the intermission with focus and momentarily clawed to within only three points just about midway through the third quarter, but the Rockets refueled and led by 12 points entering the final 12 minutes.
Chris Paul and Harden combined for 21 points in the fourth quarter to put the game to bed, and 16 of Kuzma's 22 points on the night came in that final quarter when the Lakers were going down in flames. In that quarter, the Lakers were outscored 33 to 22, and Kuzma's plus/minus for the night was a team worst negative-25 points, though the rookie did make seven of his 11 attempts in those final 12 minutes.
On Monday, the Lakers will have a day off for treatment following the back-to-back. Then, the team is scheduled to practice in El Segundo on Tuesday before taking off for a four-game East Coast road trip with stops in Philadelphia, Charlotte, New York and Cleveland before returning home to face the Golden State Warriors. After that, the Lakers have a trip to Houston and a game at Golden State to round off what is arguably the most daunting and difficult stretch of schedule for any team at any point during the 2017-18 season.
With the loss, the Lakers dropped to 8-15 on the season, and the quick peek ahead has to make one wonder if the Lakers will win 10 games before they collect 20 losses. For the Lakers, the cold winter has already arrived and, seemingly, only darkness lurks ahead.
Notes: Asked if he has ever lost five games in a row at any level, Ball responded, "Probably not, no."