Rockets vs. Lakers: 3 lucky breaks that put each team in position to join NBA elite
The Lakers kept their picks, the Rockets nailed one of theirs and more fortuitous happenings
The Los Angeles Lakers will travel to Texas to face the Houston Rockets on Thursday, Dec. 13, and it will be a battle of two teams that could possibly make it to the Western Conference finals, and beyond. Both teams got off to rough starts to the season, but as the continuity issues are being worked out, they're both playing better basketball as we pass the one-quarter mark of the season.
The Rockets-Lakers matchups look a lot different this year thanks to the monumental addition of LeBron James to the Los Angeles roster. Reigning MVP James Harden still leads the Rockets, along with his running mate Chris Paul, but Houston's roster has also changed with the departure of Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and the strange situation with Carmelo Anthony.
But neither team would be considered a contender out West were it not for several lucky occurrences along the way. Here's a look at three for each team.
Rockets' lucky breaks
CP3 joins up
Sure, Chris Paul was traded to the Rockets, but the deal never would have gotten done if Paul hadn't told the Clippers that's where he wanted to go. Paul decided he wanted to join James Harden in Houston, so he opted into the final year of his deal, allowing Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to work his magic and bring CP3 to the team. The result was a 65-win team that came within one game of beating the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
D'Antoni is available
After firing Kevin McHale and finishing the 2015-16 season with interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff, the Rockets had a choice to make about who would lead their franchise. Once considered one of the league's most forward-thinking and successful coaches, Mike D'Antoni found himself without a head coaching gig due to disappointing stops with the Knicks and Lakers. In June of 2016, the Rockets hired D'Antoni, setting up the system that allowed Harden, and eventually Paul, to thrive. Had D'Antoni already been coaching elsewhere, perhaps the Rockets never find the right coach to utilize their personnel.
Striking gold in Capela
Adreian Payne. Bruno Caboclo. Mitch McGary. Those are just three of the players taken ahead of Clint Capela in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Rockets swooped up the Swiss big man with the 25th pick, and he has since turned into a cornerstone of the franchise, evident from the five-year, $90 million contract Capela signed this offseason. Of course it took some foresight on the part of the front office, but the Rockets were lucky that nobody else took the 7-footer before it was their turn to pick.
Lakers' lucky breaks
Taking his talents to L.A.
When LeBron returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, many assumed that it would be for the rest of his career. But The King fulfilled his promise to bring an NBA title to Cleveland in 2016, paving the way for him to seek greener pastures this past July. Were it not for the fortuitous timing of LeBron's free agency, combined with Kyrie Irving's game-winning shot in Game 7, LeBron may never have made it to the Lakers.
Keeping all those picks
Talk about luck -- in the most literal sense of the word. Due to the 2012 trade with the Phoenix Suns to acquire Steve Nash, the Lakers were in jeopardy of losing their first-round pick in 2015 if it fell outside the top five. It ended up No. 2, and the Lakers selected D'Angelo Russell. The pick then conveyed to 2016, where the protection shrank to the top three, and the Lakers once again struck gold with the ping-pong balls, earning the No. 2 pick once again and selecting Brandon Ingram. It was the same situation in 2017, when the Lakers yet again lucked out, earning the No. 2 overall pick and taking Lonzo Ball.
If not for some lucky lottery results, the Lakers would be without foundational pieces in Ingram, Ball and Kyle Kuzma -- who was taken with the draft pick the Lakers got from Brooklyn when they traded Russell.
The Suns lend a hand
The Lakers have been a completely different team defensively since Tyson Chandler played in his first game with the team on Nov. 7. Before Chandler arrived, the Lakers had the 23rd-ranked defensive rating in the NBA at 111.5, and since acquiring the big man they've been second in the league at 101.7. Chandler suddenly appeared on the buyout market after the Suns decided to part ways with the 18-year vet (reportedly with some urging from LeBron's camp), and it's safe to say the Lakers defense wouldn't be where it is were it not for that lucky turn of events.
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