The Lakers (44-37) need to deal with James Harden on Wednesday when they host the Houston Rockets (45-36) in a must-win game that will determine whether they will make the playoffs, finishing in seventh, eighth or ninth place.
With no Kobe Bryant (Achilles’ tendon injury), the Lakers are going to have to try to win the matchup defensively. And without Bryant, the Rockets have a significant advantage over the Lakers at shooting guard.
Shooting guard - probable starters: Jodie Meeks versus James Harden
The Lakers would naturally prefer to have Bryant with the season on the line, but he’s sidelined for at least six months as he recovers from surgery.
Meeks hasn’t played well against the Rockets this season, and he’ll be paired against one of the league’s most explosive scorers in Harden.
Harden is the league’s fifth-leading scorer, with an average of 25.9 points a game. He hits 44% from the field and 37% from three-point range while dishing 5.9 assists a game.
Meeks is averaging 9.3 points a game through 77 games while shooting 39% from the field and 36.1% from three-point territory. In two previous contests against Houston this season, Meeks shot just 29.2% and 33.3%.
Meeks is more of an active defender than a skilled defender. He doesn’t approach Harden’s play-making skills, averaging just 0.7 assists a game.
One of Harden’s strengths is getting to the line -- where he averages 10.1 free throws a game while shooting 85.1%. Meeks is more accurate (90.1%) but he takes just 1.2 a game.
The Lakers have played Harden relatively well despite his 22-point average. He hit just 37.5% from the field and 26.7% from three-point range in three games against the Lakers.
It’s vital the Lakers keep Harden off the line while forcing him to shoot a low percentage. Easier to say than do.
Bench: Darius Morris, Metta World Peace, Andrew Goudelock, Devin Ebanks versus. Carlos Delfino, Francisco Garcia, James Anderson
The Lakers don’t necessarily have a true backup shooting guard. Morris was drafted as a point guard but has evolved into a solid defender at either backcourt position.
World Peace can play shooting guard if needed, especially defensively against Harden. Goudelock was just added to the roster from the D-League but hasn’t played yet. Ebanks is completely out of the rotation. Even Earl Clark may get minutes against Harden.
Meanwhile, Delfino, who plays small forward and guard, has torched the Lakers in two appearances.
He averages 10.7 points a game on 40.7% shooting from the field and 37.7% from three-point range. Against the Lakers, he contributed 17 a night while shooting 44.8% and 47.1%.
Garcia has become a steady part of Houston’s rotation after a trade from the Sacramento Kings. He is shooting 43.5% from the field and 39.7% from three-point range for Houston.
Anderson isn’t a big rotation player for the Rockets.
If Morris can deliver a strong performance off the bench, perhaps the Lakers can survive a difficult matchup at shooting guard.