Lakers vs. Rockets preview: Injuries lead to Los Angeles small-ball

Harry How

The Los Angeles Lakers face a high-scoring Houston Rockets team without Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, and that's concerning to the Rockets.

Mike D'Antoni has no other choice. That's what scares the Houston Rockets the most.

Dwight Howard (torn labrum), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip) have been ruled out of action, and that only means the Los Angeles Lakers will be forced to go with a small-ball unit against the Rockets on Tuesday night at the Toyota Center.

It's a tad bit concerning for the Rockets (20-14), because D'Antoni knows darn well how to play with an undersized team. Houston, which comes into the game having won nine of their last 11 games, hopes that injuries haven't given the Lakers' head coach a break.

Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin knows it better than anyone. He blossomed under D'Antoni in New York when the Knicks were without All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, and Lin told the Houston Chronicle that the Lakers will play faster and more free:

"I assume they're going to play small and that kind of fits how (Mike) D'Antoni played before. It can be a helter skelter, up and down kind of game. Steve Nash will have the ball in his hands a lot, which is a problem. Kobe will probably be more aggressive, which is a problem."

Here's a guess at what the Lakers (15-18) may look like.

Circumstance makes it rookie Robert Sacre's job to hold down the paint. The former Gonzaga Bulldog has appeared in 13 games this season, but was recalled from the D-League's L.A. D-Fenders because of the rash of injuries to the Lakers' big men. Sacre, who saw action in the starting lineup during the preseason in place of Howard, will start for the Lakers at center.

It's hard to say how D'Antoni will fill in the other opening spot in the starting lineup.

Darius Morris could start in the backcourt alongside Nash, and Metta World Peace could find himself at power forward as the Lakers go extra-small. Or, little-utilized forward Antawn Jamison could start at power forward. Earl Clark might even see some time.

All-in-all, the Lakers might be more threatening offensively as Bryant and Nash look to be even more aggressive in an offense that will spread the Houston defenders more than usual.

On the other end, the Lakers will have to deal with a Rockets offense that's No. 1 in scoring and is averaging 113.5 during a four-game winning streak. And they'll have to defend James Harden and Lin without a proven shot-blocker protecting the rim.

Time: 8 p.m. ET


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