The Houston Rockets’ winning streak has come to an end.
The Rockets hadn’t lost a game since Chris Paul came back from injury on Nov. 16, winning 14 straight, but the young Los Angeles Lakers jumped out to a 15-point lead after one quarter Wednesday night. It proved to be too large of a deficit to overcome.
Houston, behind a ridiculous 51 points from James Harden, cut the Lakers’ lead to four at halftime and briefly led in the third, but the young Lakers, with rookies Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball leading the charge, were able to pull out a 122-116 win.
Kuzma scored a career high 38 points on 12-of-17 shooting, including an impressive 7-of-10 from long distance. Kuzma scored 16 in the first quarter, hitting his first nine shots in the process, to help LA open its lead while Ball, the No. 2 overall pick, contributed 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Ball entered the game shooting just 48.7 percent from the free-throw line, but he connected on four straight in the fourth quarter to help his team put away the NBA-best Rockets.
And beyond his free throws, Ball contributed perhaps the top highlight of the night late in the third quarter. Harden tried to post up the 20-year-old, but Ball held his ground and rejected Harden emphatically. Ball then grabbed a rebound on an ensuing Rockets miss, quickly pushed the ball to the other end and drilled a 20-foot jumper.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 21, 2017
Ball’s block was a rare failure for the NBA scoring leader on the night. Harden’s 51 points on 15-of-27 shooting (17-of-21 FT) were his second-highest output of the year (56 vs. Utah on Nov. 5), but he didn’t get much help.
Eric Gordon contributed 21 points off the bench and Trevor Ariza notched a double-double with 18 points and 11 boards, but Paul scored just eight points on the evening and left the game early in the fourth quarter with what the team said was a “sore left leg.” Paul missed 14 games after injuring his left knee in the season opener against Golden State. His early exit Wednesday has to be of some concern, but coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game the injury was not connected to the knee.
Mike D'Antoni said Paul had an adductor strain, not an issue with the knee. Did not know about Friday.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) December 21, 2017
On the other side, the Lakers, who snapped a three-game losing streak (including two overtime defeats) are clearly improving. Kuzma, the No. 27 overall pick, has been one of the biggest surprises in the first few months of the season while Ball, the more hyped prospect, struggled mightily with his shot. But Ball seems to be coming around. The assists and rebounds were always there, but the UCLA product now has scored in double figures in five of his last six games.
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