LOS ANGELES • After the Los Angeles Lakers finished with a franchise-worst 17-65 record last season, guard Jordan Clarkson seemed to relish a victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday as much as anyone else.
"It just felt good to win," said Clarkson, who came off the bench to score 23 of his 25 points in the second half as the Lakers tipped off the Luke Walton era on a high note, beating the Houston Rockets 120-114 in their National Basketball Association (NBA) season opener at the Staples Centre.
Point guard D'Angelo Russell added 20 points, while forward Julius Randle chipped in with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the new-look Lakers, who with Kobe Bryant retired, helped Walton to a win on his coaching debut.
"It wasn't pretty, but we got the job done," said Clarkson, who converted eight of 12 attempts, two of three on three-pointers and all seven of his foul shots.
"It was the first one. I feel like as the season progresses, we'll do a better job of coming together and making the most of each possession."
Rockets guard James Harden finished with a game-high 34 points and a career-best 17 assists. He also had eight rebounds.
SMALL TEAM WINS BIG
Our small line-up worked. We did a good job of talking and switching. Nick (Young) really was our leader on defence. He did a great job on James (Harden) all night.
JORDAN CLARKSON, LA Lakers guard, outlining the recipe for his side's victorious start to their regular season.
Eric Gordon added 19 points, Clint Capela scored 16 and grabbed nine rebounds and Ryan Anderson scored 14 points for the Rockets.
" To get wins, we have to lock in defensively," said Harden, who made nine of 19 shots but only one of seven three-point attempts while hitting 15 of 16 free throws.
"First quarter, first half, shake the rust off," he said. "But that second half we didn't get stops when we needed to; they made big shots."
Two Clarkson free throws lifted Los Angeles to a 108-104 lead with 6min 41sec remaining. But Harden then converted two foul shots of his own with 3:53 left to tie it at 110.
After Russell's pair of foul shots boosted the Lakers to a 113-112 advantage with 2:47 left, the home team never trailed again.
"The guys really fought," Walton a former Laker who cut his coaching teeth as an assistant to Steve Kerr at Golden State, said.
"A big part of what we are trying to do here is develop this identity, this culture."
Clarkson said the Lakers' ability to execute in the final two minutes of the game was the difference.
"Our small line-up worked," he said. "We did a good job of talking and switching.
"Nick (Young) really was our leader on defence. He did a great job on James (Harden) all night."
Overall, the Rockets outshot the Lakers 51.2 per cent to 50.6 per cent. From behind the three-point arc, the Lakers made 12 of 35 (34.3 per cent) to only seven of 29 (24.1 per cent) for the Rockets.
"We just missed, and that's basketball," said Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni, himself a former Lakers coach.
"The only thing I told them was, 'The only thing that has been determined tonight is we're not going to win 82 games.' You throw it away and go to the next one."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
LA CLIPPERS V PORTLAND
Singtel TV Ch110, 10.30am