Heading into the game, these teams had identical records. On paper, the Lakers are Hall of Fame; the Rockets are Sixth Man of the Year. But when the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets took the floor of the Staples Center Sunday night, there was a playoff-type atmosphere. Both teams were there to win.
For the Lakers, Kobe Bryant led the way with a brilliant overall performance: 22 points, 11 assists, and 11 rebounds, the 18th triple-double of his career.
The first quarter was a tooth and nail battle. Both teams looked to push it inside, the Lakers through their big men Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, and the Rockets thru Patrick Patterson, and slashing drives by Jeremy Lin and others.
After the first few minutes, the Lakers jumped on the Rockets, eliminating an early Rockets’ lead.
Bryant’s jump shot looked confident and smooth, but the Lakers usually moved the ball around and dumped it into Howard. Howard proceeded to devour whoever was guarding him. Kobe drove in and dished to Howard for dunks. Gasol hit Howard on the high-low for dunks. Howard was just unstoppable. Howard led the Lakers with 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots.
The Lakers jumped out to a 40-29 lead after the first quarter. Offensively, the Lakers look freed, out from under Mike Brown’s offensive schemes.
When the Rockets closed the gap to, 42-37, with transition offense in the second period, the Lakers looked a step slow, and the Rockets seemed to have figured out a way to slay goliath.
As the Lakers regained control, a series of monumental slams by rookie Terrence Jones gave the Rockets new life. The steady hand of Chris Duhon, and the poetic play of Pau Gasol helped keep the Lakers ahead.
Highlights of Jones:
Even though the Lakers tried to pull ahead, the Rockets kept coming, kept competing. Offensive transition buckets helped keep the Rockets in the game. The Lakers got 12 points from Darius Morris, and a sluggish first half by James Harden, but still L.A. only led by eight at half time.
The turning point in the game for the Lakers was a series of poorly executed plays by the Rockets and increased pressure by the Lakers that allowed L.A. to open up an 85-69 lead midway thru the 3rd.
The Rockets were never close again; the Lakers led by 10 or more from there on out.
Although James Harden has been amazing so far this season, he looked tight and nervous on his way to 20 points and 7 assists. Chandler Parsons finished with 24.
In the game, Gasol scored his 15,000th point. Gasol finished with 17 points.
Despite the victory, the takeaways from the Lakers are similar to Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns—the Lakers played great offense, but their defense and bench production need to be consistent.
When the Lakers give up 60 points to the Rockets in the first half, the game can hardly be looked at as a great success on the defensive end of the floor.
And the Rockets showed us this as much as anybody, the Lakers can still be beaten in transition.
As the Lakers get their new coach Mike D’Antoni and new point guard Steve Nash integrated, they will have to address these issues.
Rob S. De France is a College and University Instructor of English Composition living in Los Angeles. He has a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Rhetoric and Composition. De France has played, coached, and officiated competitive high school basketball in California for many years. Recently, De France, his wife, and another colleague started an internationally read magazine at Shwibly.com.