By Tommy Fradenburg
The Houston Rockets traded away centers Clint Capel and Nene Hilario at the NBA trade deadline, committing to play small ball for at least the rest of the season. After the move, one question surrounded the team: can this be a championship formula against teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks?
The game started on somewhat of a humorous note, with Houston’s size issues on display from the jump ball with the 6’5″ James Harden taking the tip against seven-footer JaVale McGee.. No player in the Rockets starting lineup was taller than 6’6″, and the newly acquired Robert Covington was their largest player to see the court at a “towering” 6’7″.
4-team trade deal has been agreed upon, per @wojespn
Rockets: Robert Covington
Hawks: Clint Capela + Nene
Nuggets: Gerald Green + HOU first-round pick
T-Wolves: Malik Beasley + Juancho Hernangomez + Evan Turner + ATL first-round pick
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 5, 2020
Because of the disparity there were two clearly different points of emphasis for the two teams. The Lakers, led by a combined 50 points from LeBron James and Anthony Davis, lived in the paint (outscoring Houston 62-40 in that area).
Houston countered with domination from deep (19-42 vs. 9-31 on 3’s) and were incredibly efficient from the free throw line as.well (16-18). They also surprisingly held their own on the boards, ending the game with just one fewer rebound than the much bigger Laker squad.
Despite the height discrepancy, the contest was still one between top-4 teams in the West and delivered on the hype. The game was closely contested wire to wire, with Houston’s 10 point gap at the end being the widest margin for either side.
After the Rockets lost the opening tip and responded with a 8-2 run, Avery Bradley buried a three to spark a 10-2 response to give Los Angeles its first lead. Just one point separated the teams at the first quarter break and halftime saw them deadlocked at 63.
In the early stages of the fourth quarter it seemed one team was finally taking control.
With 9:16 remaining in the game, Westbrook made two of his six free throws in the game to give the Rockets a seven point lead. But in keeping with the rest of the game’s trend, the Lakers scored the next 11 points to go up 106-102
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) February 7, 2020
Covington said after the game, “It Means a lot, just being able to come in and make a major impact.It just shows that my coaches and my teammates believe in me.”
Davis ended the game for the Lakers with 32 points and 13 rebounds, while James scored 18 while adding 15 assists. The Lakers easily got what they wanted inside, but basic math (three points>two points) they found themselves unable to build a lead or gain separation throughout the contest.
Davis spoke to reporters about the loss saying, “They hit some tough shots down the stretch, and we made some costly turnovers at the end.”
“That’s a blessing,” Westbrook said. “I’m thankful for being healthy. Thankful for having so many great teammates.”
For the game the teams were even in total turnovers (16 each), but the Rockets were more effective on the following possessions, outscoring the L.A. 20-13 after opponent turnovers.
The next test for the small-ball Rockets (33-18) is a trip to Phoenix to face the Suns on Friday, while the Lakers (38-12) visit the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.