This is the final month of the regular season for the Lakers (35-20) until the opening round of the playoffs begin. Their victory over the Clippers last Wednesday pushed them 2 1/2 games in front of their crosshallway rivals for the 3rd seed in the west.
With only 11 games left, including 5 home games, a string of wins is exactly what the Lakers need to make sure they get homecourt advantage in the first round.
Tonight, they'll try to capture the season series against the visiting Houston Rockets (29-25) and their third 5th win in a row.
The Rockets are without Kyle Lowry (bacterial infection), Kevin Martin (strained right shoulder), and Marcus Camby (left wrist sprain). So there's a sense of trap awaiting the purple and gold in cruising through tonight's matchup instead of putting away their undermanned opponent early in the game.
Hopefully, that won't be the case but nothing is ever certain even for the simplest of wins for the Lakers this season.
Kobe Bryant may have something to say about it since he's been carrying the Lakers for the past 3 games with his efficient shooting.
Bryant is averaging 31.7 points per game while making 61.9% of his shots.
Obviously, Kobe won't maintain his hot shooting the rest of the season which makes it extremely important for the rest of the team not be too concerned with it and keep playing at a level to survive in the post-season to prepare for the playoffs.
To secure a win tonight, the Lakers will need to take care of Goran Dragic. Like Bryant, Dragic has stepped up his offense the last 3 games, including an impressive performance against Chicago in their previous game.
Goran led the Rockets with 21 points and 5 assists versus the Derrick Rose-less Bulls to a 99-93 win on the road. Dragic is averaging 10.2 points and 4.7 assists per game this season but is putting up 21.7 points and dishing out 6 assists per outing the prior 3 games.
The Rockets defeated the Lakers at the Toyota Center 107-104 back in March 20th. Dragic had a big role for his team that night when he orchestrated the Rocket offense with his 13 assists and adding 16 points to his total.
It's no secret the 3rd-year guard from Yugoslavia can play the game. Ramon Sessions didn't start against Houston last time these teams met since he was playing just his 3rd game as a Laker. He's a starter now and has been playing very well since taking over the job.
Expect this matchup to be an entertaining one.
The Rockets are currently 7th in the west. They have the 9th highest scoring offense in the NBA but owns the 10th worst defense. They're 2-3 in their last 5 games on the road.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are ranked 17th in the league on offense and 11th defensively. They've only lost 5 times at home this season and have taken 3 of their recent 5 games at Staples Center.
The Lakers won last season's series versus Houston 2-1 and have not lost in the regular season at home since Nov. 15, 2009.
Matchup of the Game
Goran Dragic vs. Ramon Sessions: With Lowry and Martin out, Houston will rely a lot on Dragic to control their offense. Sessions will need to make sure Goran doesn't direct the pace of the game in favor of the Rockets too much and defend him on the other end of the floor. If Ramon has another big scoring night, the Lakers should easily win.
Keys for the Lakers
1. Pace: Undermanned and undersized, the Rockets will try to speed up the pace of the game each chance they get. They'll do that by double-teaming in the post and playing zone defense from time to time, especially with Kobe on the bench. The Lakers just needs to make sure the game is played on the halfcourt and get back defensively.
2. Interior: Like 99% of their opponents, the Lakers should run their offense through their 7-footers and punish the Rockets in the paint.
3. Turnovers: The Rockets love to play the passing game and harass the opposing post-players by constantly sending an extra defender. The Lakers have to be extra careful with their passing and read the defense before making their moves inside.
vs. Houston Rockets
Tonight at 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: Prime Ticket (not FoxSports)
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Click HERE for tickets