The 2014-15 NBA season begins tonight with the Los Angeles Lakers facing the Houston Rockets. Two of the biggest storylines going into this game; the feud between former teammates Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, Dwight Howard leaving the Lakers and joining the Rockets in free agency. The so-called feud of 2012-13 is ancient history. Ideally so is Howard’s decision to leave big money ($30 Million) on the table in Los Angeles in order to become the biggest name on the marquee in Houston a franchise that has won two championships, but has less Hall of Fame centers in their lineage.
The Lakers, coming off their worst season in 54 years, their expectations are extremely low. The moment the Lakers roster was constructed it was clear that the purple and gold were going to lean heavily on the health, experience and leadership of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, Head Coach Byron Scott establishing an identity, developing the young players and insuring that the Lakers compete on the defensive side of the court. One of those pillars thought strong enough to lean on has crumbled; despite the fact that Steve Nash did everything he could to make it back. The overall health of the Los Angeles Lakers is not good to start the season; due to injuries, the Lakers will only have ten bodies for the opener.
There is also a strong chance that the purple and gold will have to trade for another point guard. The Lakers will play at a slower pace offensively, relying on ball movement, player movement, solid pick and roll action allowing the offense to dictate the best available shot and getting back on defense. The Lakers will take far less shots from behind the arc this season. As Kobe Bryant stated “We’ve got to really tighten up defensively, which is a different style than we’re used to playing.” Bryant said “we’re going to play smash-mouth basketball.”
The Rockers are in a different category. After a 54-win season, Houston felt that their season ended prematurely. The reality is that the Rockets are doing all they can to remove the sting and bad taste in their mouths of Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard’s 25-footer at the buzzer that gave the Trailblazers a 99-98 win and ended their season. The Rockets shot more three-point shots than every other team in the league last season.
Although the NBA’s second-highest scoring offense also allowed 103.1 points per game, which ranked 23rd in the league. Houston signed another former Laker, small forward Trevor Ariza to replace Chandler Parsons who left for the Dallas Mavericks in free agency. The Lakers and the Rockets both determined to play better defensively, only the Philadelphia 76ers allowed more points per game that the Lakers (109.2) did last season.
Los Angeles beat Houston 99-98 in the first meeting of 2013-14, but the Rockets won the remaining three games of the four game series by an average of 18.3 points. That includes a 134-108 blowout in Howard’s return to the Staples Center. James Harden has averaged 32.7 points in the last six games against the Lakers. Jeremy Lin played well in the pre-season and has earned the right to start against his former team.
Due to the injuries Jordan Clarkson will have an opportunity to play. Due to injuries Kobe Bryant will have to shoulder a lot of the scoring load. To compete the Lakers need to play solid defense. The purple and gold need to stop the dribble penetration, control the tempo, do a good job defending the pick-and-roll play and get back in transition.
It will be interesting to see how many minutes coach Scott allows Kobe Bryant to play as well as what type of impact Julius Randle, Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson can have. Tonight’s season opener marks the first time that Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard will face each other since Howard’s days as a member of the Orlando Magic.
Lakers: J. Lin, K.Bryant, W. Johnson, C. Boozer, J.Hill
Rockets: P.Beverley, J. Harden, T. Ariza, T. Jones. D. Howard
Tip-off: 7:30 PM PST
• Los Angeles: TNT
• Houston: TNT
• Los Angeles: 710 ESPN (John Ireland & Mychal Thompson)
• Houston: KBME SportsTalk 790 AM (Craig Ackerman & Joel Blank)
• Jordan Hill (Neck Strain) Day-to-Day
• Steve Nash (Root Nerve Damage) Out
• Nick Young (Thumb) Out
• X. Henry (Knee/Back) Day-to-Day
• Wayne Ellington (Concussion) Day-to-Day
• Ryan Kelly (Hamstring) Day-to-Day
• Ronnie Price (Bone Bruise in Knee) Day-to-Day
• Dwight Howard (Forearm) Day-to-Day