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Lakers look to get up to speed vs. Rockets: 5 takeaways from Game 1

Rockets guard James Harden draws the double-team defense of Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forward LeBron James.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

LeBron James said what the Lakers learned about the Houston Rockets was how their speed looked up close.

He offered a football analogy to make his case.

“It’s kind of like the early 2000s, when the St. Louis Rams — the Greatest Show on Turf,” James said. “And people always said how you’d scout ‘em and scout ‘em and scout ‘em. Until they got on the field and they seen Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk and Az Hakim and all those guys and then it was, ‘OK, we need to play them again.’ There’s no way you can simulate that speed, so getting out on the floor and having a Game 1, you get a good feel for it.”

His message: The Lakers know what they’re up against and they’ll be able to counter it.

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Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 112-97 Game 1 loss to the Houston Rockets:

1. The Rockets made an effort to keep Anthony Davis out of the paint and the man with that job was a guy built like a tree trunk: P.J. Tucker. “He tried to just keep me away from the rim,” Davis said. “He tried to beat me off screens and things like that, but that’s their defense. Even when I’m there, they’re front to the post and then they got guys on the backside to try to cover up for them. I think we make a couple more shots it kind of opens it up.” It’s something the Lakers will certainly review and plan for in Game 2 on Sunday.

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Highlights from the Lakers’ loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday.

2. Kyle Kuzma had the worst plus-minus rating of the game, and James had the second worst. Kuzma’s was minus-21 and James’ was minus-15. The Lakers have been insistent that in order for them to meet their championship aspirations, Kuzma will need to be their third-best player. “He had some good looks that he didn’t knock down and it’s a different defense that we’re playing with or playing against,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Your shots are going to come a little bit different than usual and hopefully we get a little more comfortable each game that we play in this series.”

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3. If you were surprised that the Houston Rockets were defending as well as they did last night, you haven’t been paying attention to them in the bubble. Their defensive rating has been the best in the league in the playoffs and they allowed the fewest points off turnovers of any team. “All their guys are like-sized and they’re able to switch everything kind of how Golden State does,” Davis said. “Switch everything and then just cover each other. They’re really good with their hands, so when you get to the paint or whatever, they’re really good at stripping the ball away and getting steals and deflections. So you gotta be careful with going to the paint with the ball low, and then the passes or lobs we usually have over the top, they’re real good at coming in and getting their hands on them and deflecting those.”

4. Rebounding was a problem for the Lakers on Friday night, which might come as a surprise since they are generally taller than the Rockets. “A team like that, going small ball, they shouldn’t out-rebound us or get that many offensive rebounds as they did,” Danny Green said. “We gotta do a better job on the glass, boxing them out and limiting them to one shot. They had too many attempts, too many opportunities. They get multiple chances on goal, so we gotta do a better job all around.”

5. It’s not just that the Lakers turned the ball over — their turnovers were high but not the highest they’ve ever had. The bigger problem was they couldn’t get defensive stops after those turnovers. The Rockets average 20.9 points off turnovers in the playoffs, but in Game 1 against the Lakers they had 27.

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