Things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (28-17) visit the Houston Rockets (24-22) Tuesday at the Toyota Center.
1. The Lakers need to take advantage of Houston's depleted lineup. On paper, the Lakers shouldn't have a problem handling the Rockets. Point guard Kyle Lowry will miss his seventh consecutive game because of a bacterial infection. Shooting guard Kevin Martin will sit for his fifth consecutive game because of a strained right shoulder. After waiving Derek Fisher, the Rockets lack a backup point guard.
In reality, the Lakers could easily lose this game. They played horribly in a loss Sunday to Utah, despite the Jazz missing Al Jefferson, Earl Watson and Raja Bell, yet still looked outhandled. Before a two-game road skid, the Rockets had won three of four games without Lowry. And with the Lakers-Rockets game marking the team's most expensive contest this season in Houston, it's clear the atmosphere will be electric. The Lakers simply can't afford to overcome road double-digit deficits against Houston like they did last week against Memphis and New Orleans. With how tight the Western Conference standings are, the Lakers can't afford such blotches on their résumé.
2. Will The Lakers sharpen up on defense?
For how inconsistent the Lakers have looked all season, they could always rely on their defense.
The Lakers have conceded 101.3 points per game on 46.1% shooting in the last seven games, a far cry from their normal average of a seventh-best 92.9 points per game on a second-best 42.4% shooting. The Lakers easily glossed over this partly because they had entered their game Sunday against Utah with a five-game winning streak. But after making the Jazz's reserve guard Alec Burks and backup center Enes Kanter look like All-Stars for 17 points apiece, it's likely the Lakers will immediately tighten in this area.
3. How will Ramon Sessions fare on the road? Sessions has instantly galvanized the Lakers with his driving ability, explosiveness and quick acclimation despite only having one practice and one shoot-around. So much that many Laker fans are clamoring for him to start in front of Steve Blake, whose zero points has overshadowed his solid performance in organizing the offense.
This game will be a telltale sign on how quickly Sessions takes the starting spot. There remains a strong disparity in his performances this season in home and road games in points (11.7 points per game at home, 8.8 per game on road, ), field-goal percentage (44.5%, 33.1%), three-point shooting (48.8%, 27.3%) and assists (6.1, 4). Sessions has gotten by so far on adrenaline and talent. It's possible his learning curve in knowing the system will catch up to him on the road.
4. Will the Lakers cut down on their turnovers? The Lakers' 24 turnovers Sunday against Houston marked their highest total since committing 27 in a win
5. How will Kobe Bryant rebound from a poor shooting effort against Utah? Very few times have we seen Bryant go three-of-20 from the field on attempts that were both open and close to the basket. He took the correct approach in staying aggressive and finding high-percentage shots. The shots just didn't fall. It's critical that Bryant takes the same approach instead of merely gunning or suddenly becoming just a facilitator.