NBA Basketball

Lakers ready for battle vs. high-powered Houston

The Los Angeles Lakers without All-NBA big man Anthony Davis are a different outfit altogether, but a capable team nonetheless. Roster management will shape the Lakers' season.

On Friday against the Chicago Bulls, in the second game of a back-to-back, the Lakers squeezed out a 117-115 home victory with Davis sidelined by a right adductor strain. The Lakers certainly have the depth to compete when a frontline starter is unavailable, but the challenge remains keeping those expected to fill the void in a pinch engaged when everyone is healthy.

Markieff Morris posted 11 points, six rebounds and a blocked shot substituting for Davis against the Bulls and is a viable option to do so again should his services be needed against the host Houston Rockets on Sunday.

"With Keef, it was managing the roster," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of his decision to insert Morris into the starting lineup. "He's been a little bit shortchanged with minutes and hasn't really had a chance to blow it out and get some big run. Obviously, he was a huge contributor for us last year in a championship run. With AD (Davis) out, it was an opportunity to get him some extended minutes because he's someone we believe in and he had a great performance."

Despite what could be described as an uneven start to their season, the Lakers have won 70 percent of their games and sit atop the Western Conference. There were expectations that the Lakers would be a juggernaut given that the front office strengthened what was already a championship roster, but the Lakers thus far have been just good enough to be very good, yet not quite great.

"Through the first 10 games I think we've played B, B-plus basketball and that is absolutely OK," Lakers star LeBron James said. "We are a team that added basically five new pieces to the rotation, and we're still learning each other and getting accustomed to different lineups and playing with different guys. But I think through the first 10 games we've played pretty good basketball.

"We want to be better. That (B, B-plus grade) lets me know we have room to improve, and that's a bright spot."

The Rockets are still not whole, but their 132-90 win over the Orlando Magic on Friday represented a step in the right direction, even with the Magic missing a handful of vital rotation players.

Houston remains without forward Danuel House Jr. but welcomed back sharpshooting guard Ben McLemore to positive results (15 points on 5 of 5 3-pointers). As Houston continues to develop as a collective unit, the next challenge comes in facing the Lakers twice in three days.

"Your mental focus has got to be at another level," Rockets guard James Harden said. "It's very difficult to beat a team two times in a row, especially back to back like that. It's similar to the playoffs. Your antennae have got to be up every possession. Things that worked in the first game probably won't be as effective in the second game. You've got to find counters, you've got to find ways to still make an impact on games."

--Field Level Media

Updated January 9, 2021

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