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The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Houston Rockets on Thursday by a 126-111 count. It was a prime-time contest on TNT in which the Lakers’ opponent had the best record in the NBA just a season ago.
This alone set the stage for a true test as to where this Lakers team stood 27 games into the season.
The result — fail.
The Lakers looked good at times, yielding to new leader LeBron James and secondary star Kyle Kuzma, finishing with 28 and 24 points, respectively. However, the nuances of being an elite team were hit-and-miss as a the determined Rockets closed out the Lakers, who practically let their frustrations get in the way.
It was noted after last night’s game that the Lakers resorted to placing their hands behind their backs to make a point to referees of the fouling disparity they believed was taking place.
There’s just one problem with that — the Lakers were called for 21 personal fouls compared to 24 for the Rockets.
Do they have an argument for the many times the Rockets went to the free throw line — particularly James Harden who shot 19 free throws? Sure, but that’s basketball, and these things tend to happen on the road, as professional players should know.
When asked about his frustrations and why he and teammates chose this method of protest, James said this to reporters: “Just trying to defend without fouling. That’s a point of emphasis any time you play Houston. They got guys that can sell calls really good, Chris [Paul] and James [Harden], so you gotta try and keep your hands out of the cookie jar.”
What Lakers should have a bigger issue with is the horrid shooting they’ve done at the free-throw line. They went an abysmal 55.6% (15-of-27) from the charity stripe on Thursday. That’s simply not good enough. And let’s not forget the 50-piece triple-double Harden dropped on them.
As a team last year, the NBA Finals champs in the Golden State Warriors shot a blistering 81.5% for the entire season on free throws. Currently, the Lakers are shooting right at 70%. That’s very average.
Not to mention, the Lakers’ road record is meh and they have yet to play and beat the elite teams in the league — save for the Denver Nuggets, who the Lakers snuck up on earlier in the season.
Since that time, the Lakers’ wins have come against teams who hover in the middle of the Eastern and Western conference standings. They beat a Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers team, but were trampled by the Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets — both who sit atop their respected conferences.
So while applause is in order for a turnaround from what the Lakers’ record was just a year ago at this time, there is much room for improvement.
The current four-game road trip will do them some good if they come out of it with their lone loss being the drubbing they took from the Rockets. Then they could be feeling good about their Christmas Day matchup against the Warriors.
Thursday’s matchup with the Rockets was more than just a prime-time game. It was to test the mettle of this team.
There are obvious holes that need to be filled and while this is not the time to panic, the Lakers must find ways to clear these hurdles to go from just being a good team, to elite.