Lakers' Tyler Ennis steps up in place of Lonzo Ball

Tyler Ennis knew he’d have a chance eventually to show that he’d stayed prepared despite not playing much.

That opportunity came Sunday when Ennis started for point guard Lonzo Ball against the Rockets.

“He’s been begging for an opportunity,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “He finally got his chance tonight, he was great. … That’s why we always preach, whether you’re playing right now or not, as a professional you need to stay ready and do your work because you will get an opportunity at some point and you gotta be ready to take advantage of it and tonight Tyler was.”

Ennis scored seven points in the Lakers’ second overtime to help keep pace with the Rockets. His 20 points were a career high and his 11 assists were one shy of a career high.

“T dot’s worked all year for this moment,” Julius Randle said. “Good things happen to people when they continue to work.”

Ennis missed the Lakers’ last game with flu-like symptoms. He said he was still not feeling 100% healthy on Sunday.

“Moments like this when you get your opportunity, I just wanted to come out and help the team,” Ennis said. “Keep the pace up and make the most of it.”

Dreary December

The Decembers of Luke Walton’s tenure as the Lakers’ head coach haven’t been pretty. Last season, they lost 14 of their 16 games in December, which included multiple losses by 30 or more points and an eight-game losing streak.

This December, the Lakers offered plenty of reason for hope. They started the month with what might be their worst defeat of the season so far: a 15-point loss to a Denver Nuggets team that was ravaged by injuries. But they never got blown out the way they did last season. And two games after the loss in Denver, they beat the surging Philadelphia 76ers, then took the Knicks to overtime and stayed with the Cleveland Cavaliers enough to lose only by single digits.

Next, the Lakers took the Warriors to overtime and beat the Rockets in their first meeting in Houston.

The losing, though, wore on the team.

Their energy dipped and injuries affected their play. They finished the month missing Brook Lopez (ankle), Ball (shoulder) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can’t leave California while he serves a 25-day jail sentence.

Their schedule, though, will get slightly easier in January, a month that could provide evidence of some of the unseen gains the team has made.

Caruso gets a chance

A game in Houston is as close to being a homecoming as Alex Caruso will get. On Sunday night he showed off for the Texas crowd with a high-flying dunk over Rockets guard P.J. Tucker during the second quarter of the Lakers’ loss to the Rockets.

Caruso grew up in College Station, Texas, 100 miles from Houston, and stayed in town to play basketball there at Texas A&M. He was named to the All-SEC defensive team his senior year and second-team All-SEC.

The Lakers originally signed Caruso to their Summer League roster, where the point guard had some impressive games in place of Ball, who sat out several Summer League games with injuries. With his performance he earned a two-way deal with the Lakers and the South Bay Lakers, the team’s development league affiliate. The contract allows Caruso to spend 45 days with the Lakers.

With the Lakers’ dearth of guards for this trip — Ball is out with a shoulder injury and Caldwell-Pope is not allowed to leave California while he serves his jail sentence — the Lakers have both of their guards on two-way contracts with the team for their games in Houston and Minneapolis. Vander Blue also joined Caruso.

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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