Lakers December Schedule Preview: Holiday Hoops

As the holiday season approaches, the Lakers prepare to face off against the Warriors and Rockets a combined six times. The Lakers will try to shake off the disappointment of last December as they head into the most difficult stretch of their schedule.

As the holiday season approaches, the Lakers prepare to face off against the Warriors and Rockets a combined six times. The Lakers will try to shake off the disappointment of last December as they head into their most difficult stretch of the schedule. Adding to the urgency of the situation is the Lakers contention for a possible playoff seed. Even with the daunting task of taking on Houston and Golden State several times during this holiday season, Los Angeles must make it a priority to not lose ground in the playoff race.

Taking on the Champs

After suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the cross-town rival Clippers, the Lakers "head home" to take on the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors on November 29th. This game actually comes at a good time, considering the recent injury news. The Warriors limp into this matchup after stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant both sat out last game against the Kings. Adding to the Lakers fortune is the return of forward Larry Nance Jr. who just came back from a broken hand. Upending the Warriors means the Lakers need circumstances like this to fall into place. The combination of these injuries gives L.A. a much more realistic chance of defeating the champs on Wednesday. In four contests last year, Golden State got the better of a young Lakers team three times, including a 149-106 thrashing last November.

Should Durant and Curry miss this game as well, the Lakers can expect to see more minutes from the likes of Omri Casspi, Patrick McCaw and Shaun Livingston among others. It's not right to mention the Warriors bench without a sarcastic shout out to former Laker Nick "Swaggy P" Young. Swaggy P will more than likely come out chucking threes in his return to Staples Center. Fortunately for Los Angeles, Young's departure has led to more responsibility for sixth man Jordan Clarkson. The former Missouri Tiger has responded well, nearly equaling his career high in points per game with 15.1, despite playing the fewest minutes per game of his career. Clarkson poured his heart out in Monday's rivalry game against the Clippers, putting up 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists in 26 minutes.

  Jordan Clarkson (6) is guarded by Otto Porter (22) of the Wizards. Photo taken by Keith Allison

For the Lakers and Warriors, Wednesday presents the first of three matchups to take place before the new year. After facing the Dubs on Wednesday, the Lakers host them again on December 18th, before traveling to "The Town" on December 22nd, for a nationally televised showdown. That game will mark the Lakers first trip to Oracle Arena since April. In that game, Larry Nance Jr. had a double-double while reserve point guard Tyler Ennis surprisingly led the team in minutes played.

Battling the Beard

The Warriors aren't the only elite Western Conference foe that the Lakers have to face three times in the coming weeks. The Houston Rockets, led by MVP candidate James Harden, bring their talents to Staples Center on Sunday, December 3rd. The Rockets also host the Lakers twice more before month's end, with games on the 20th and the 31st. These games are a huge part of why the Laker's holiday-season schedule seems so difficult. In this series last season, the home team won all three games, with Houston outscoring Los Angeles by a margin of 387-315. If you thought James Harden was scary good last year, take a look at what The Beard is doing this year. The Rockets are currently holding off the Warriors for best record out west, with a 16-4 mark. Playing without all-star addition Chris Paul for 14 games has done little to slow Head Coach Mike D'Antoni's high powered attack. James Harden has wiped away the concerns that arose from last year's playoff meltdown and re-established himself as the front-runner for NBA MVP. The Beard is having an all-world season, setting career highs in points per game (34.1), usage rate (36.0%), and assist to turnover ratio (2.03).

While his defense could still use some improvement, it is impossible to deny the dominant impact that Harden has on each and every game he plays in. Lakers shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be tasked with defending Harden for the majority of these matchups. Despite averaging career highs in rebounds per game (5.2), assists per game (2.6), and three-point shooting percentage (36.2 %), Caldwell-Pope continues to be best known for his on-ball defense. The Lakers will be relying on exactly that as they try to put a stop the eye-popping box scores that Harden typically offers. KCP will hope for a better result than last year, when his Pistons squad was crushed by Harden and the Rockets. In two games against the Pistons defense last season, James Harden did James Harden things, averaging 30.5 points and 8.5 boards per game, along with 11.5 assists per game to go with. However, during the 2015-16 season, things were quite different. When Harden was isolated on Caldwell-Pope, KCP held The Beard to a paltry 35% shooting. KCP reportedly has Harden listed as his third hardest player to individually guard, so there is a lot of incentive to play well in this matchup for the Lakers guard.