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Defense-challenged Rockets hope to snap 11-game slide vs. Hornets

Jan 16, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Houston Rockets center Alperen Sengun (28) reacts after a three-point basket against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first half at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The silver linings are becoming increasingly difficult for the Houston Rockets to locate amid their avalanche of losses, with the latest coming on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday.

The Rockets’ 140-132 setback extended their losing streak to 11 games. Houston has dropped 16 of 17 games since opening a seven-game homestand in mid-December with back-to-back wins over the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns.

The Rockets also will carry a nine-game home losing skid into their tilt against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

There was a glimmer of positivity on display against the Lakers. Twenty-year-old Turkish center Alperen Sengun enjoyed the best game of his two-year career, posting a career-high 33 points along with 15 rebounds, six assists and four blocks.

Sengun shot 14 of 17 from the floor (82.4 percent) and was so overwhelmingly dominant that the Lakers switched veteran LeBron James, a six-time All-Defensive Team selection, on Sengun in an attempt to slow his rampage.

“It was a great moment,” Sengun said.

In the midst of their constant losing, the Rockets have struggled with the decision to run their offense through Sengun, whose passing skills continue to gain renown across the league. Among the six Rockets who have logged 1,000-plus minutes this season, Sengun is second only to point guard Kevin Porter Jr. with his 17.9 percent assist rate.

And while Sengun has recorded more than six assists only four times this season, it was his efficiency as a scorer on Monday that resonated.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas, asked what was working for Sengun, replied, “Everything. It was his post-ups, it was his elbow catches, it was the pick-and-rolls — he was really good in the pocket. Our guys did a good job of finding him in the pocket. He was finishing those with his soft, soft touch. He was making plays for his teammates.

“Alpy was sensational on the offensive end.”

Of course, the offensive end wasn’t the problem for Houston against the Lakers. During their losing skid, the Rockets have a minus-15.8 net rating, far and away the worst in the league. Their defensive rating, last in the league over the previous 11 games at 123.9, remains leaky.

“I’m always pleased to see guys have good individual games,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said. “Now we’ve just got to collectively do it together to try to win. If he can get those numbers in a win, that would be big time.”

The only team ranking below the Rockets in offensive rating this season is Charlotte, which dropped its fifth consecutive game on Monday, a 130-118 home loss to the Boston Celtics. The Hornets were without rotation players Gordon Hayward (hamstring), Cody Martin (knee) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (hand) but are hopeful that Hayward and Martin will return sometime soon.

“I think the guys fought hard, made a lot of good plays,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We gave ourselves a chance. Guys played hard (and) we were much more disciplined. In terms of effort and attitude, the guys have been great.

“Hopefully we’ll get Gordon back and Cody hopefully also and try to build on this.”

LaMelo Ball leads the Hornets with 24.0 points and 8.4 assists per game this season. Terry Rozier (20.8) and Oubre (20.2) have also been consistent scoring threats when available.

–Field Level Media