PASPN® Mobile Site - Rockets 97 at Lakers 107, Final Dec 9, 2023
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Rockets, seeking first road victory, face inconsistent Lakers

During those games when the Los Angeles Lakers flash their full potential, the notion that they rank among the top contenders in the Western Conference doesn't seem at all far-fetched.

But on nights such as Thursday when the Lakers blew a double-digit lead en route to a 133-110 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder that capped an up-and-down four-game road trip, their vulnerabilities are glaring, the foremost being their ongoing roster attrition.

The Lakers, who will return home to host the Houston Rockets on Saturday, played without five rotation players on Thursday: Rui Hachimura (nose), Jaxson Hayes (elbow), Cam Reddish (groin), Jarred Vanderbilt (heel) and Gabe Vincent (knee).

Vanderbilt, who is ramping up for a season debut he has yet to make, and Vincent, who has logged only four games, have been mostly unavailable. The Lakers have come to depend on Hachimura, Hayes and Reddish, so their collective absences were felt against the Thunder.

Hayes and Reddish were listed as probable for Saturday, while LeBron James was listed as questionable due to a left calf contusion. Vincent remains out.

"It was a tough road trip," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said after the four-game split that included a 44-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. "We don't have a 'settle' mentality, but we have to call it like it is. We knew this was going to be tough at the end of a road trip. Our guys fought to the best of their ability.

"Obviously, there are some things we need to clean up, things we could have done better. But we competed, tried our best under the circumstances."

The inconsistency of those circumstances continues to undermine the Lakers' plan for roster cohesion following an offseason roster overhaul. When the Lakers are whole, or at least something resembling whole, they are solid, as evidenced by their 4-0 finish in group play in the NBA in-season tournament. The Lakers will play the Phoenix Suns in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

However, gaining traction is a difficult endeavor when the rotation remains in flux. The sooner the Lakers can cobble all their pieces together, the sooner their developmental plan can come into focus.

The Rockets, meanwhile, continue to search for their first road victory (0-7). They dropped back-to-back games in Dallas and Denver this week, with the loss against the Mavericks preventing Houston from securing an in-season tournament quarterfinal spot.

Houston was without starting guard Fred VanVleet (thumb) and reserve swingman Jae'Sean Tate (knee) against the Nuggets on Wednesday. That doesn't account for the team's defense, which allowed Denver to post a 60.5 effective field-goal percentage in a 134-124 victory.

The Rockets remain a Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit relative to their defensive splits. Overall, Houston ranks sixth in the league with a 110.4 defensive rating, a number bolstered by its 102.1 rating at Toyota Center which ranks second in the NBA. On the road, the Rockets' 120.8 defensive rating is 26th.

"We're fighting, we're scrapping," VanVleet said. "You can see it, we're right there. We're bumping, we're clawing, we're playing hard enough, we're competing at a high level.

"But it takes a little bit more than that to take that next step, especially on the road."

--Field Level Media

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