Russell Westbrook scored 41 points and Robert Covington hit two clutch late 3-pointers while getting 14 points and eight rebounds in his auspicious Rockets debut, leading Houston to a 121-111 over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.
James Harden managed just 14 points while the Rockets unveiled the latest version of their commitment to small ball by not playing anybody taller than 6-foot-7 against the hulking Lakers.
Anthony Davis and the Lakers capitalized inside, but Houston still rallied from a late four-point deficit and ended the game on a 19-5 surge highlighted by two of Covington's four 3-pointers. The veteran shooter was acquired from Minnesota on Wednesday in a four-team trade.
Davis had 32 points and 13 rebounds, and LeBron James had 18 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds in a meeting of first-place teams with sharply contrasting approaches.
Harden took just 10 shots in his follow-up to back-to-back 40-point games, but Westbrook returned from a one-game absence with a sprained thumb and had a huge performance in the Rockets' fourth straight win.
Houston gave up big man Clint Capela to acquire Covington, leaving the club with an uncommonly small roster even by the Rockets' standards. They still have 7-footers Tyson Chandler and Isaiah Hartenstein on the roster, but neither got playing time at Staples Center.
Danuel House Jr., who is listed at 6-foot-6, was the tallest player in the Rockets' starting lineup. Harden stepped into the center circle to lose the opening tip, while 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker occupied the nominal center spot and attempted to guard the Lakers' big men, but immediately got into foul trouble.
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Although Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee had a relatively easy time getting shots down low and grabbing rebounds in traffic, the Rockets' small lineup created the offensive spacing and ball movement desired above all else by coach Mike D'Antoni. The Lakers adapted their own lineups, with Howard and McGee playing only a combined 20 minutes.
The Lakers got plenty of simple baskets down low, but the Rockets went 15 for 29 on 3-pointers in the first three quarters to keep it close.
Covington came up with a key block of Davis' shot with about 3:30 to play after Houston reclaimed the lead, and he hit a clutch 3-pointer from the corner with 2:42 to play.
The Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline, preferring to stick with the roster that has spent nearly five months building the chemistry necessary to post the Western Conference's best record.
They might not be done adding to the roster, however: Darren Collison watched the game next to Lakers owner Jeanie Buss in the second half. The Rancho Cucamonga native and UCLA product is reportedly weighing an NBA return after retiring from his 10-year career in June.
The Lakers beat the Rockets 124-115 in Houston last month without an injured Davis.
Rockets: Westbrook scored his 20,000th career point during the game. He joined James and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history with 20,000 points, 7,000 assists, 6,000 rebounds. ... Bruno Caboclo wasn't available a few hours after Houston acquired the Brazilian shooter from Memphis in a trade for Jordan Bell.
Lakers: Davis went to the locker room shortly before halftime. He sprained his right index finger, but returned to start the second half with a wrap on his hand. ... LA didn't make a trade near the deadline for the first time since 2016. ... James got fans on their feet with a double-pump, two-handed reverse dunk when he got out alone on a break in the third quarter.
Rockets: Visit the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
Lakers: Visit the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.