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Lakers game begins with shoves and flagrant fouls, ends with a rout of the Rockets

Lakers forward Markieff Morris, right, gets into an altercation with Rockets center DeMarcus Cousins.
Lakers forward Markieff Morris, right, gets into an altercation with Rockets center DeMarcus Cousins. Morris, who already had committed a flagrant foul, was ejected when both were given technical fouls.
(Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle via AP)

When Anthony Davis bluntly criticized the Lakers’ defense Thursday night, giving it an explicit four-letter review that was the opposite of “good,” it didn’t feel like that big of a deal to him.

Maybe he’d spoken out like that in the press before. He definitely did it in private with the guys on the team. And besides, to him, it was the truth — the Lakers hadn’t played with the same defensive force, even if the analytics were still pretty kind.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel wasn’t sweating any lulls on defense, but one of his stars taking teammates to task? He loved it.

“Absolutely,” Vogel said. “As strongly as I can say that.”

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Davis didn’t know whether his words to the media made their way to his teammates, but with him back on the floor Sunday in Houston, he got what he wanted. The Lakers were in transition, running, passing and scoring while the Rockets watched — all because of a swarming defense that had 13 steals and eight blocked shots in a lopsided 120-102 win.

“We want to be the best defensive team in the league and tonight was a good start,” LeBron James said in a videoconference.

The combined 21 steals and blocks were the most for the Lakers this season and 15 more than they had in Thursday’s loss to San Antonio.

“It wasn’t like I was fabricating it. It was the truth — we were really bad defensively,” Davis said Sunday. “We had been bad defensively. Even though it’s a young season and we’re just starting to learn each other, we still can control the defensive end.”

The Lakers had all kinds of energy Sunday, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope back in the lineup after missing four games with an ankle injury. And even though Wesley Matthews was a late scratch with a sore right Achilles, that created more time for Talen Horton-Tucker to have his best game as a pro with 17 points and four steals.

But it was Davis’ hot shooting and the Lakers’ defensive urgency that overwhelmed the Rockets in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semifinals. He finished with 27 points and three blocks, the Lakers plus-29 with him on the court.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 120-102 victory over the Rockets on Jan. 10, 2021, in Houston.

They led by 21 when Davis missed his first shot from the field midway through the third quarter, his team having stifled Houston into a 46-point first half.

Houston made only 12 three-point shots, James Harden scored just 20 (with five trips to the line), and the Rockets turned it over 21 times. The Lakers made the most of those errors, getting out and making Houston pay for misses and mistakes with 32 fastbreak points.

“This game as much as any throughout the year was a Laker basketball type of win,” Vogel said.

If there was one gripe, it came early in the first half when Markieff Morris got ejected after a scuffle with DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins, not to be outdone, was ejected minutes later after a flagrant foul on James.

Otherwise, Sunday was about as good as it gets from the Lakers, who have the NBA’s best record 11 games into the season. And while adversity hasn’t hit this team in nearly the same ways it did a year ago, Davis’ vocal leadership got a response.

Five takeaways from the Lakers’ game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, when role players helped make up for Anthony Davis sitting out.

And that’s good news too.

“A.D. can say whatever he wants because it’s all for the betterment of our team. And we respond to that. So, we thought it was right on point,” James said. “And we were able to finish that off with a very good defensive game against Chicago [on Friday], even though we didn’t score the ball like we’re accustomed to. And then we followed that up tonight with another defensive game.

“So we heard him loud and clear.”


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