Lakers steamroll, show up Rockets for third straight win – Orange County Register | #dating | #datingcovid | #covid

 

The Lakers were having so much fun on Tuesday night, there were times when it didn’t matter that the Houston Rockets were on the court at all.

In the second quarter, as the lead had long since ballooned to double digits, LeBron James ran to the corner near the Lakers’ bench and got the ball with plenty of space. In the heat of the moment, Dennis Schröder bet him $100 that he wouldn’t make the shot. In the motion of the 3-pointer, James turned around to face the bench, saying “bet” a split second before the ball swished through, sending the reserves leaping to their feet.

“A bet isn’t official until you look a man in the eye,” James said smugly afterward. “So I had to look him into the eye, and I was able to win that.”

If the court were a playground, the host Rockets would be looking up at the Lakers, their lunch money ripped from their pockets with dirt on their faces. It was less a basketball game than old-fashioned bullying, the Lakers (9-3) robbing the Rockets (3-6) of their dignity in a 117-100 rout that saw the defending champs exuberantly show up their hosts.

The Lakers have made a habit of emasculating Houston: Dating to their 4-1 playoff series win in September, they’ve now won six consecutive games against the Rockets. The latest surely didn’t sting as much as the second-round closeout blowout that sent them packing from the bubble – but as far as regular-season games go, they don’t get much more hurtful.

The embarrassment of the two-game sweep was enough for the Rockets’ James Harden, who shot just 5 for 16 with 16 points, to apply renewed pressure to be traded – the fight apparently beaten out of him.

“I’ve literally done everything I can,” Harden said before a dramatic exit from the postgame podium. “This situation is crazy. I don’t think it can be fixed.”

The win was the Lakers’ third straight and left them alone atop the league standings.

Anthony Davis (19 points, 10 rebounds) led the second consecutive strong defensive effort against the Rockets, recording a season-best five blocked shots. The last came on a fastbreak attempt by Rockets guard Sterling Brown, which Davis – a Defensive Player of the Year hopeful – followed up with a menacing scowl that seemed to question Brown’s audacity.

It was a sentiment that broadly applied to Houston, which shot just 39.2 percent overall two days removed from an 18-point loss. The Lakers collected 12 blocks and 10 steals, repeatedly slipping into the seams of a Rockets team that seemed disconnected and at times befuddled. Christian Wood had a team-high 18 points.

It was hard to know exactly what was thanks to the Lakers’ connectivity and what could be chalked up to the Rockets’ dysfunction (said John Wall: “When you have certain guys who don’t buy in, it’s hard.”) But it was surely a step in the right direction for the Lakers, who have picked up their defense considerably since a now distant-seeming loss to San Antonio.

“We started to find ourselves defensively, find out the team that we want to be: a team that plays harder than the other team,” Davis said. “We gotta keep this going, keep being a defensive-minded first team. And then the rest will come easy for us.”

It would be hard to look easier.

James led the early going, hitting four of his first five shots and adding two assists to give the Lakers a 28-10 lead in a blink. By the end of the first quarter, the Lakers led by 21 and never looked back.

It was an even effort throughout the rest of the supporting cast, with Dennis Schröder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each adding 14 points and Montrezl Harrell adding 13. Starting center Marc Gasol scored just five points but added five assists.

Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso, both recently returned to the lineup, had three steals apiece to bolster the defensive effort. While the Lakers walloped the Rockets in the playoffs last year with a double-teaming strategy specifically geared toward Harden, the win on Tuesday was mostly played out of the base defense – an indication of how strong their individual defenders are, Coach Frank Vogel said.




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