HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets came into Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers tied with the Detroit Pistons for fewest wins in the NBA this season with 16. They proceeded to go up by as many as 18 points in the first half en route to a 114-110 victory.
“We’ve talked about it and I’ve said it before games, after games, non-game days: energy, effort and urgency,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “And I thought coming out of the gates that kind of was nonexistent.”
The Lakers were without LeBron James (right foot), Anthony Davis (right foot) and Mo Bamba (left ankle), leaving Ham with limited options in the middle. He elected to start the 6-8 Rui Hachimura in Davis’ place.
Hachimura jumped center and didn’t win the opening tipoff against Houston’s Alperen Sengun. Things didn’t get much better from there.
The Rockets made eight of their first 11 field goal attempts, getting to the rim with ease. By the end of the night, Houston outscored L.A. 78-46 in the paint.
“It’s a product of us not being good on the ball,” Ham said. “That individual pride it takes to keep the ball in front and guys behind you knowing that the paint is the priority. This team lives in the paint. The Houston Rockets live in the paint. … And we preached that to them before the game.”
The Lakers made a push to cut it to four with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Rockets reeled off a 9-0 run in the next 1 minute, 27 seconds to blow it back open.
“We just got to play the game like it’s our last,” said forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in the loss. “We’re running out of time. I mean I know we got 12 games left? We have no more freebies. We never had none to begin with. We need all these games.”
It was the Lakers’ second loss in their past three games after they went 6-2 in their first eight out of the All-Star break.
At 34-36, they remain in the 10th and final play-in spot in the Western Conference, but missed an opportunity to improve their lot with two of the teams ranked in the Nos. 5-9 spots — Minnesota and Golden State — also losing Wednesday.
A night after playing in sync on the offensive end in New Orleans, leading the Pelicans by as many as 40 points, the Lakers were abysmal on offense in Houston, shooting 37.8% as a team and 25% from 3.
Ham said the offensive showing was caused by L.A.’s lackluster defense.
“When you struggle defensively and you’re playing against a set defense, the offense is going to struggle,” Ham said. “You’re not going to be able to be in a good rhythm.”
Point guard D’Angelo Russell also pointed out how personnel changes played a part.
“I mean, I’m not going to go against Coach. He obviously sees that as well. I agree,” Russell said. “But when LeBron is playing, we’re a different offensive team. When AD is playing, we’re a different offensive team. I compare it to with Kobe [Bryant]. …
“He was on his way out and he didn’t practice a lot and we had a practice group in there at practice and ran the plays and did all that. But when Kobe would play, everything we practiced on kind of went down the drain. We kind of had to adjust. So, it’s similar to that.”
The Lakers host the No. 8 Dallas Mavericks on Friday, and Davis is expected back in the lineup for another game that could be the difference between L.A. making the postseason or not when it’s all said and done.
“I mean, it’s the NBA,” Ham said. “If you’re not cut out for this, you’re in the wrong business. I love it, personally. Would I rather have a sound and secure spot in the postseason? Yeah. Who wouldn’t? But our circumstances are what they are.”