James Harden Drops 39 as Rockets Top Lakers with LeBron James out Injured

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Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) gestures to his team during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)

Kim Klement/Associated Press

A battle between two shorthanded teams ended in the Houston Rockets’ favor as they took down the Los Angeles Lakers 113-97 on Thursday.

The Rockets hit 21 three-pointers on 57 attempts, while the Lakers went just 2-of-19 from beyond the arc.

James Harden and Ben McLemore each hit five threes. Harden also paced Houston with 39 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds on 11-of-19 shooting.

The Lakers were without LeBron James (groin), Alex Caruso (neck) and Rajon Rondo (thumb). The Rockets took the court sans Russell Westbrook (quad) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The 43-25 Rockets are now tied with the Utah Jazz for fourth in the Western Conference. The 51-17 Lakers have already clinched the West’s No. 1 seed.


Notable Performances

Lakers F Kyle Kuzma: 21 PTS, 5 REB

Lakers F/C Anthony Davis: 17 PTS, 12 REB

Rockets G James Harden: 39 PTS, 12 AST, 8 REB

Rockets G/F Ben McLemore: 20 PTS, 4 REB


Rockets’ Defense Takes Center Stage

The Rockets haven’t been known for their defensive efforts during the Mike D’Antoni era, with the high-paced, three-point-happy offense symbolizing the team’s on-court brand.

However, Houston’s defense stood out Thursday, even if it was against a shorthanded Lakers team whose offensive rating is league-worst since the NBA’s restart began on July 30, per NBA.com.

Robert Covington and Harden each had three steals, with RoCo adding three blocks. P.J. Tucker tallied a pair of steals, and Danuel House Jr. provided the defensive highlight of the night.

Even Harden got in on the blocking action:

D’Antoni praised Harden’s defense after the game, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

L.A. scored just 41 second-half points, including 18 in the final quarter. Its 2-of-19 three-point showing didn’t help, nor did the fact that it was without its floor general in James. Anthony Davis also went just 5-of-8 from the field for a relatively quiet 17 points.

Ultimately, Houston’s defense came to play Thursday, begging the question as to whether we can see this effort more often this year and into the playoffs.

Houston is tied for 13th in defensive efficiency, per ESPN.