After Rockets guard James Harden averaged 37 points per game against the Lakers last season, the most he averaged against any opponent other than the 62 he scored in his one game against the Magic, he scored 36 in the first meeting this season.
He put up an average of 11 free throws per game against Los Angeles last season and attempted 15 this season, leading to the Lakers’ emphasis on keeping Harden off the free throw line as the first step in defending the league’s leading scorer.
"The way the rules are now, you can’t touch anybody," Lakers coach Luke Walton told the media in Los Angeles on Wednesday. "Harden is as skilled as anybody in our league offensively. He’s a brilliant shooter. His go-to moves are shots you normally want people taking, step-back fadeaways. You got to get all over him to take that away.
"When he drives, it’s natural to get physical with somebody. He’s a nightmare matchup for any team. We have to be disciplined. We got to keep him off the foul line. You’re first job is to get him of the 3-point line. From there, don’t foul him. Then, we can have our team defense help from that point."
The Lakers have excelled defensively in recent weeks, ranking third in the past seven games and ninth overall this season, allowing the sixth-fewest free throws per game. Harden’s average of 9.4 free throws per game is second only to the 76ers’ Joel Embiid.