LOS ANGELES (AP) — Before his official head coaching debut, Luke Walton cautioned the Los Angeles Lakers about the long, difficult road from the start of this rebuilding season to sustained success.
"The outcome is less of a concern than how we play, and how we get after it," Walton said.
Although these young Lakers won't be judged by wins and losses, their first victory together still felt awfully sweet.
Jordan Clarkson scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers held off the Houston Rockets 120-114 on Wednesday night to win Walton's debut.
D'Angelo Russell scored 20 points and Julius Randle added 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists as the Lakers got off to an exciting start in the franchise's first season without Kobe Bryant since 1995. With a revamped roster coming off the worst season in the 16-time champion team's history, Los Angeles surged in the fourth quarter while the Rockets tired.
"It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done," Russell said. "Everybody did their part tonight, and it showed in the results."
The Lakers played an up-tempo offensive game under the 36-year-old Walton, and nobody seized the moment better than Clarkson, who came off the bench in his first game since signing a $50 million contract. His 3-pointer put Los Angeles up 116-112 with 1:48 left, and the Lakers hung on while the Rockets missed a series of open shots in the final minute.
James Harden had 34 points, a career-high 17 assists and eight rebounds for the Rockets, who lost in former Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's debut on the Houston bench. The Rockets missed 15 of their 16 3-point attempts in the second half on admittedly weary legs.