Five takeaways from Lakers’ win over Rockets: Emphasis on defense is paying off

Lakers guard Russell Westbrook passes the ball behind Houston Rockets center Christian Wood.
Lakers guard Russell Westbrook passes the ball behind Rockets center Christian Wood on Sunday at Staples Center.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Here are five observations from the Lakers’ 95-85 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday at Staples Center:

1. Scary stuff

The Lakers were as good defensively Sunday as they have been in years, holding the Rockets to the fewest points Los Angeles has allowed since early in the 2019 season. The number could’ve been even lower had the Lakers not let up some in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets managed 31 points in the fourth. In each of three previous quarters, they scored 20 or fewer, including a paltry 15 points in the first.


“Our communication was good tonight. Our schemes, we followed our game plan to a T tonight. Held a team to 85 points. Besides the last quarter, we did a really, really good job,” Anthony Davis said postgame. “… So we were just able to work as a unit, do what we were supposed to do. But our defensive communication was very on point tonight, which helped us in a lot of our coverages where you can have some struggles.”

Davis pointed to a lack of communication as a key reason the Lakers had been one of the NBA’s worst defenses so far this season. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he was happy to see the results because improved defensive play has been such a priority lately.

After struggling on defense almost all season, LeBron James and the Lakers put up their strongest defensive performance yet in a 95-85 win over the Rockets.

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But pregame, Houston coach Stephan Silas wrote off all of the Lakers’ struggles to small sample sizes and early-season rough edges.

“I’m deathly afraid of their defense. They’re so big and long and experienced and can cover for each other,” Silas said. “...When you have that size, when you have DJ [DeAndre Jordan] and Dwight [Howard] and then you have LeBron [James] and AD and then Russ [Westbrook], it’s hard not to be a really disruptive defensive team.”

2. Put your threes up

The Lakers had hoped by adding Carmelo Anthony that they were getting a veteran floor spacer. They couldn’t have predicted, though, that they were getting this version of him.

Through seven games, Anthony has been one of the best bench players in the entire league, hitting 52.2% from three while averaging 16.7 points per game. Among reserves, only Montrezl Harrell, Tyler Herro and almost-Laker Buddy Hield are scoring more.


“I think people don’t really understand me. I think there’s a misconception out there about me and not being able to adapt to situations,” Anthony said after scoring 23 off the bench. “But I’m easily adaptable, man, to any situation. I always try to adapt to every situation that I’ve been in. Some better than others, but this is just an easy adaptation for me. Just being here, being around the guys, basketball minds that I’m around and also unselfish — just being ready. Just staying ready, understanding what’s needed from me on a night-to-night basis and just being prepared.”

3. LeBonkers

Lakers forward LeBron James tries to move past Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

LeBron James had a bunch of highlights Sunday — the crazy spin move that left rookie Alperen Sengun reaching for a compass and the over-the-head shot that refs waived off. But neither compared with a two-handed reverse that was so impressive James posted the play on his Instagram page.

“I don’t surprise myself because I know how much work I put into my craft and my body and preparing myself for the game,” James said. “So I’m able to go out and do some things that other people are still questioning how I’m able to still do.”

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4. New look Lakers

Vogel exercised his ability to switch things up with his starters Sunday, shifting guard Avery Bradley into the first five and moving Jordan to the bench. The change moved Davis over to center.


“We’ve been talking about certain points in the season to explore our roster flexibility,” Vogel said. “And the way Houston plays, it seemed like an opportunity to look at that. I also liked the way we finished the fourth quarter against Cleveland having [Kent Bazemore] and Avery out there guarding the other team’s two best perimeter players and AD at the five. Just something we wanted to look at as a starting group.”

Jordan, in particular, took to the change, scoring eight points to go with two blocks in 17 minutes. Howard, the normal back-up center, missed the game with neck stiffness.

Vogel wouldn’t commit to the same lineup starting on Tuesday when the Lakers host the Rockets again.

5. Far from perfect

While the Lakers were able to get a win Sunday, they did it on a night when their offense (outside of Anthony) wasn’t close to performing near its best levels.

The Lakers hit only 40.6% from the field, worse actually than Houston. But because their turnovers were so low — 14, including just two from Westbrook — the Lakers were able to overcome their struggles on the offensive side of the court.


“It could still be lower,” Vogel said. “Our second-half offense was not good. I mean, we have to be better with the basketball. But [an] overall positive from the standpoint of ball security and the glass. We’ve been getting beat with the possession game — giving up too many second shots and not getting a shot at the goal because of our turnovers. So both of those areas were better tonight.”