Rockets falter against Lakers late, losing streak reaches five games

Much has changed since the Rockets gave up a two-point thriller to the Lakers in the second half of a back-to-back game in Los Angeles over Halloween weekend. The Lakers arena has changed its name. The Rockets lost and then regained their starting backcourt to Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green turning a 15-game losing streak into a seven-game winning streak. COVID-19 has tightened its grip on the NBA.

To hell with the changes, the Rockets clashed with the Lakers but ultimately failed in a 132-123 loss Tuesday night at Toyota Center. The result ended a five-game losing streak for the Lakers and extended the Rockets’ losing streak to five games.

Led by 11 points at the start of the fourth quarter, the Rockets fought back and tied the score twice with less than five minutes to play with Porter and Green leading the attack alongside Josh Christopher, David Nwaba and Christian Wood.

3 POINTERS: Takeaways from the Rockets’ loss to the Lakers

With 2:38 remaining, the Lakers successfully challenged and canceled a goalie call on LeBron James, denying Green a go-ahead basket after his explosive run past the All-Star 17 times.

Carmelo Anthony then nailed a 3-point pointer, a bucket that gave Los Angeles a four-point lead but seemed like a lot more momentum. A dunk and layup from James, both assisted by Russell Westbrook, put the Lakers in 126-119 and spell the end.

“It’s a veteran team and they beat us on the home stretch,” said Rockets coach Stephen Silas.

Little defense was played as the teams combined to shoot 53 percent from the field, the Rockets 44 of 83 and the Lakers 48 of 92.

Green scored 20 points in consecutive games for the first time in his booming career, leading the Rockets with 24 points. Porter returned from injury after missing 12 games and scored 22 points with nine assists. Wood added 22 points.

SOLOMON: Another loss, but a valuable experience for the Rockets

For the Lakers, James achieved a triple-double with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Westbrook also had a triple-double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Faced with the daunting task of choosing who would keep James and with stranded defender Jae’Sean Tate unavailable, Silas picked veteran forward David Nwaba, who started for the second night in a row. While Nwaba’s four-inch height deficit didn’t make it easier for James to constrict, he did an admirable job cutting off traffic lanes for James and others – Nwaba blocked shots from Anthony, Westbrook and Malik Monk – without fouling.

The rest of the Rockets, hampered by youth more than size, continued to struggle as a defensive collective despite the individual efforts of Porter, Nwaba and Eric Gordon. Often times a Rockets player had to scramble to recover in the corner where his teammates frantically gestured towards a wide open Lakers shooter. Other times, the Rockets simply failed to box and gave the Lakers additional offensive possessions via rebounds.

Los Angeles won the rebound battle 48-30 and racked up 14 offensive boards.

The Rockets started 4 of 6 from beyond the arc behind two 3-pointers each from Wood and Porter, who combined for Houston’s first 14 points. Seven minutes into the game, the only other Rocket to attempt a shot was Green.

That quickly changed as James led the Lakers in an 11-2 run before sitting down. The Rockets responded with good minutes from Green as well as reserve guards Christopher and Armoni Brooks, the latter having scored nine points to help Houston take a one-point lead after the first quarter.

Wood and Porter led Houston with eight points apiece in the first quarter, although each scored just one basket in the second quarter and the Lakers quickly passed the Rockets on 3-point shooting.

After shooting 13 of 20 from the field and scoring six 3-pointers in the first quarter, the Rockets cooled off for the remainder of the half. They only made two more 3 points, made hasty mistakes in the transition and struggled to reach their points in the paint.

The Rockets shot just 8 of 23 in the second quarter and missed their last three shots before halftime. The Lakers punished them by scoring in transition and hammering the glass en route to a nine-point lead, their game-longest, shortly before halftime. At the break, the Rockets were trailing 67-59 and were passed 26-15.

The lead wavered for much of the third quarter until the Lakers used a slew of free throws and transition buckets to open an 11-point advantage early in the fourth quarter. That’s when Green took over, draining back-to-back triples to ignite Toyota Center and Houston hopes.

Another 3 points from the Greens and a free throw from Nwaba drew 111-111 with less than seven minutes to go.

James took over from the Lakers, scoring 10 points in the final two minutes while playing alongside Anthony and Westbrook. Whatever the outcome, Silas said he was proud of the fight his young team showed against a list of perennial stars.

“We expected to win,” said Silas. “We had no problem standing up to these guys, not backing down.”

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