ON THE EDGE

The Rockets are now on the brink of elimination after falling to the Lakers, 110-100

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Rockets fell to the Lakers 110-100 on Thursday night giving the Lakers a 3-1 series lead. Houston struggled for three quarters with points in the paint and defending the fast break. James Harden also shot 2 of 11 from the field and only had 21 points, that came mostly from the free throw line. The Rockets also struggled in the rebounding category, which the Lakers led 52-26, with Houston only recording one offensive rebound.

The Rockets allowed the Lakers to disrupt the interior of their defense by giving up 62 points inside the paint. Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 29 points by going 10 of 18 from the field. Even though Davis was not effective from the perimeter, as he is usually, 11 of his points were inside the paint and lived on the free throw line Thursday night. Davis also collected 12 rebounds versus the Rockets, which three of the rebounds came offensively.

Besides Davis having a great night, the Rockets allowed way too many open looks inside the paint. The communication looked completely absent for the Rockets defense, which made it much easier for Rajon Rondo and LeBron James to create for their teammates, as both combined for 17 assists. As Rondo and LeBron created, teammates like Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso flourished. LeBron even found Caruso in the corner for a three-point shot, which closed the game out.

The Lakers dominated the Rockets in fast break points, 19-2, but 17 of those points were scored off turnovers. The last time the Rockets turned the ball over like this was Game 2 when they lost 117-109 with 17 turnovers. Harden led the Rockets in turnovers with five, which was another problem for him, despite the double teams.

Mike D'Antoni was asked about double teams Harden constantly sees every game.

"They're double teaming every time. Those are stats that really don't mean anything, just as long as somebody scores," said D'Antoni.

Harden constantly tells his teammates to come to the middle of the court when the Lakers trap him in their 3-2 defensive set. When Harden is doubled, the middle of the paint becomes wide open for teammates to cut and find open shooters. The Lakers defense made it completely hard on Harden, which is probably the main reason why he did not take as many shots. LeBron made it completely known during his press conference after the game.

"James is probably one of the best offensive players we've ever seen in this league," LeBron emphasized after a win on Thursday night. "We're trying to not put him on the free throw line, and he's so clever that he still was able to get 20 free throw attempts. We're just trying to eliminate anything we can from him. Because he gets into the paint with his runners/floaters, he has his step-backs and threes in transition. He has his catch and shoot threes when off the ball. He's very tricky with his moves in the paint."

The only bright spots from the loss to the Lakers were the performances from Russell Westbrook, Ben McLemore, and Austin Rivers. Westbrook had 25 points on 8 of 16 shooting, including going 3 of 6 from three. McLemore had a perfect night by shooting 3 of 3 from the perimeter in 15 minutes of play. Rivers who had 14 points in 28 minutes, was the main anchor on the Rockets 17-2 run in the 4th quarter. Even though these guys played well, it was still not enough against the Lakers.

Despite LeBron only scoring 16 points, the Lakers still dominated the Rockets. Hopefully, the Rockets make the right adjustments and bounce back for game 5.


Follow me on Twitter @RenzoTheDon and Instagram @RenzoTheDon for updates on the Rockets.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome