Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel recently compared his veteran team to a complex renovation project, one that might be a mess early on before coming together at the end.
Vogel’s design work continues Sunday when the Lakers host the Houston Rockets, who are in the midst of a different, long-range construction plan.
After blowing a 26-point lead in a loss to Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Lakers evened their record at 3-3 on Friday with an encouraging 113-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James returned to action after missing two games because of a sore right ankle and scored 26 points in 38 minutes, while Russell Westbrook added 19 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Lakers also received another strong performance from Carmelo Anthony, who continued to impress with 24 points while making six 3-pointers. Anthony is averaging 15.7 points while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range.
“He is a sniper, what we call in our league guys that don’t need much airspace to get it off because of his quick trigger,” James said. “It creates so much space for myself, Russ (Westbrook) and A.D. (Anthony Davis) to work our pick-and-roll magic when you have guys like Melo and guys that space the floor and keep guys honest on the perimeter.”
Sunday’s matchup features a battle between the NBA’s oldest team in the Lakers (average age: 30.9) and one of the youngest in Houston (25.0).
The Rockets have dropped four of their first five games but boast a promising core led by forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Christian Wood and rookie guard Jalen Green.
Green is averaging 17.7 points over the past three games and has been a perfect fit for the Rockets’ high-tempo offense.
“Our pace is good, but our organization with our pace isn’t great,” Houston coach Stephen Silas said. “I’m pleased with the pace up and down the floor and the amount of possessions we’re getting, we just have to get the most out of those.”
The Rockets are beginning a five-game road trip and could be without shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr., who missed the second half of Thursday’s loss to the Utah Jazz with a left ankle sprain.
Porter had five points and two assists in 19 minutes of the 122-91 loss to the Jazz, who led by as many as 36 points and held Houston to 20.5 percent shooting (9 of 44) from 3-point range.
“The one thing that we’re doing is playing hard,” Silas said. “We’re not doing the right thing all the time, but we’re trying and that’s a good first step.”
Houston’s fast pace could result in a high number of turnovers against Los Angeles, which turned in its best defensive effort of the young season against Cleveland on Friday.
The Lakers held the Cavaliers to 16 points on 22.2 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and received a spark from rookie guard Austin Reaves, who is averaging 19.8 minutes off the bench.
“He’s been outstanding for us on both sides of the ball,” Vogel said. “Teams think that they can target him, but he really moves his feet well, puts his body in front of the ball and plays with a toughness and scraps in loose-ball situations. Just plays a scrappy brand and then, obviously, the poise that he plays with offensively is very surprising for a rookie.”