With a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, Anthony Davis turned his index fingers outward and faced the crowd that would be his orchestra.
They chanted, “Let’s go Lakers” and Davis waved his fingers like he was their conductor.
Then he stopped, leaned toward them and pointed at his left ear as if he couldn’t hear them. They grew louder to oblige.
The Lakers beat the Rockets 124-115, starting their five-game trip with a win over one of the Western Conference’s top teams. The Rockets’ dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for 69 points, but the Lakers reined them in during the third quarter to take control of the game.
LeBron James had 31 points while Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope surged in the second half. Kuzma finished with 23 points while Caldwell-Pope added 20. Danny Green also finished with 20 points.
“We hated the loss that we had the other night against Orlando,” James said. “We had a couple days to just reshape, refocus and start the second half of the season the right way and we did that tonight.”
For the fifth consecutive game, Davis didn’t play as he recovers from a bruise on his buttocks. The Lakers did not have an official shootaround, but Davis worked out Saturday morning and did not feel ready to return to game action. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Davis will get on a court Sunday morning before the Lakers travel to Boston to see if he will be available to play on Monday.
Without Davis, the Lakers started Kuzma once again.
In the first half, the Rockets appeared ready to take full advantage of that. The Rockets scored the game’s first six points and then led for the entire first half. The Lakers didn’t score until 9:43 remained in the first quarter, when Green hit a three-pointer.
They struggled to stop Westbrook, who made five of six shots in the first quarter, and allowed themselves to become frustrated by the officiating. Harden attempted nine free throws in the first half, while Westbrook attempted six.
At halftime, the Lakers trailed by five points and when the break ended, their defensive intensity changed. Their defensive plan changed a little bit, too. Kuzma guarded Westbrook at times.
“[Rajon] Rondo kind of pulled me to the side at halftime in the locker room and just asked me if I could guard him, and I said of course,” Kuzma said. “Westbrook was really hurting us in the first half posting up our guards and he’s just tough, he’s a tough load. He’s a big, strong physical guard. In the second half, that kind of got eliminated putting a bigger body on him.”
Said Westbrook: “They picked up the pace in transition and we missed some open shots.”
Consequently, the Lakers outscored the Rockets 32-17, and held the Rockets to just 21.4% shooting. They double-teamed Harden and Westbrook. With 7:52 left in the third quarter, James scored a layup to give the Lakers their first lead of the game, 69-68.
“The third quarter was a tough one,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And that’s [what] kind of determined the game.”
From there, the Lakers controlled the game.
Nine points from James and 10 from Kuzma in the fourth quarter, often assisted by James, helped seal the win.
The players on the Lakers bench made their voices heard throughout the comeback. And as the Lakers pulled away, the segment of fans in the arena wearing their colors began to get louder. They chanted for the Lakers, they serenaded James with shouts of “MVP,” and were acknowledged in turn by James.
“It’s been amazing,” Green said. “It just shows that this is America’s team. Every building, we have a bunch of fans, a bunch of people cheering for us, rooting for us no matter where we go. And it’s a great feeling.”