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Three things to know: Lakers’ loss to Pistons speaks to challenges of season, not team

Michael Smith and Michael Holley love the fact that WNBA DPOY Candace Parker is heading home to Chicago from Los Angeles.

The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Relax, Lakers loss to Pistons says more about challenges of season than team

For the first time this season, the Lakers dropped two games in a row, falling Thursday to the struggling Detroit Pistons. There’s a long list of good reasons for that:

• Blake Griffin had a soak in the Hot Tub Time Machine and came out scoring 23 points and looking more like his vintage self (complete with a flop to get a call).
• Detroit is actually better than their 5-14 record would indicate (they have the point differential of an 8-11 team — not great, but much better than the record suggests). Detroit beat Philadelphia earlier this week, just like the Lakers.
• Anthony Davis was out with a bruised thigh.
• Wayne Ellington had one of those nights and was 6-of-9 from three.
• The Lakers are on the second night of a road back-to-back and it showed in their tired legs: LeBron James hit his first seven shots but went 1-of-12 the rest of the way.

Another sign of those tired legs: The Lakers gave up a 16-0 fourth-quarter run. The Lakers usually own the fourth quarter.

Of course, some segments of Lakers Twitter handled consecutive losses with all the grace and thoughtfulness of Q-Anon protestors.

The Lakers are not immune to challenges and pitfalls that this wonky season has thrust upon every team. Coronavirus testing (two or three times a day now) and condensed schedules have led to very little practice for teams (in a league where teams practiced less than casual fans realized in the first place). It’s hard to develop rhythms and rotations with barely time for film sessions or shootarounds, with lineups being forced to change nightly because of players being out, because of everything all of us have been dealing with for the past 10 months.

Kyle Kuzma said this after the game, where he scored 22 and had a quality offensive night: “We’re a brand-new team. We’re playing like 14 people. It’s a tough situation. Obviously, we’re working through things. The coaching staff is trying to figure out rotations and figure out what works with what best, what players can play certain lineups. That’s just the point of the season we’re in.”

The Lakers overcame a lot of those challenges in the bubble and deservedly won a title, but they are not immune.

Give the Pistons credit, they played their best game of the season on Thursday. They earned this win. For Detroit, this game and this week are something to build upon (if you ignore that loss to Cleveland).

Good teams lose games to bad teams. It happens. The best team ever, Jordan’s 72-win Bulls, lost to an expansion team. That’s life in the NBA. The Lakers know the focus is not on a game at the end of January but on the games in July, and this one night will be long forgotten when they are deep in the playoffs again.

Nothing to see here, move along.

nothing to see here

2) Houston is finding a groove, wins fourth straight beating Blazers behind 25 from Oladipo

Those disruptions and challenges that caught up to the Lakers Thursday? No team has been hit harder by them than the Houston Rockets.

Their first game of the season was canceled for coronavirus reasons. Then there was the James Harden wants to be traded saga, with him being a terrible teammate. Throw in an assortment of injuries and a brand new coach, and Houston wobbled to start the season like it was hit with a haymaker.

Now the Rockets seem to be finding their groove.

Houston won its fourth straight game on Thursday, knocking off a very shorthanded Portland team 104-101. Christian Wood is the best player on this team right now and shot 8-of-12 on the night for 22 points and 12 rebounds. However, it was 25 from Victor Oladipo that sparked Houston on the night.

There are positives this season in Houston: Wood has emerged, John Wall is healthy and playing well (much better than Russell Westbrook, ask Wizards fans), Oladipo is playing like a guy trying to prove he deserves a big payday, and as the roster has settled down the Rockets have been picking up wins.

The long-term plan will be to revamp this roster using the roughly 2,147 draft picks they got in the Harden trade, but in the short term, this Rockets roster has settled down and started to win some games. There are good reasons to be optimistic in Houston.

3) Gregg Popovich gets vaccine shot, encourages others to do the same

At age 72, Gregg Popovich is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus and COVID-19, and that puts him near the front of the line to receive the vaccine as it is rolled out.

Popovich received his first dose of the vaccine and used the opportunity to record a PSA with NBA Cares encouraging others to follow his lead.

“I’m going to get the COVID-19 vaccine shot. It will keep me safe, keep my family safe and keep other people safe. Wearing masks is important and to get the vaccine does give you an added level of assurance. Science-wise, it’s a no-brainer. It’s the right thing to do so we can all get on track again. Let’s do this together.”

Popovich is the first NBA coach to get the vaccine. The league is working on an education program for its players and coaches encouraging them to get the vaccine, then using them as role models to motivate others. Popovich is one of the first steps in that process.