The Houston Rockets came to town on Friday night for what many are predicting to be a first round matchup in the post-season. The Lakers and Rockets last met on Tuesday, March 20, in a game that was won 107-104 by the Rockets in Houston. The Lakers were looking for a little revenge on Friday, and were hoping to extend their current winning streak to five games. This would tie their longest win streak of the season, a feat they had accomplished twice before.
Heading into the game the biggest story for the Lakers was Andrew Bynum. The recent news that he had been fined by the team was something many people were concerned about. The growing drama in Orlando surrounding Dwight Howard and the Magic didn’t help matters much, as people began to realize the possible problems that can arise with a disgruntled big man. Still, despite the drama surrounding the team, they entered the game knowing they needed a win to keep their momentum going with the playoffs looming.
The Lakers have made a habit of starting games well this season. Often times they force the ball inside and utilize their size advantage early in the game. What we have seen from them is this type of play at the beginning of the game before getting away from their productive game and faltering later on in the game. Tonight seemed to be the opposite. The Lakers opened the game with very little energy, and seemed to have trouble getting things going.
One of the most telling pieces of evidence to support the Lakers lethargy was the amount of loose balls the Rockets’ players were beating them to. It seemed that even when there were three to four Lakers under the basket waiting for a rebound, a lone Houston player managed to get in and get the ball. This was particularly frustrating for Mike Brown, who inserted several different players into the lineup to try and get some energy flowing.
Brown finally found what he was looking for in Metta World Peace. His struggles this season have been well documented, but tonight he was one of the most active players on the offensive end for Los Angeles. He was able to get in the paint and use his size and strength to out-muscle many of the Rockets defenders. By the end of the first quarter he was the Lakers leading scorer, and helped the team begin to get out of their lackadaisical funk. While the Lakers were beginning to get a little momentum towards the end of the quarter, they still trailed the Rockets after the first, 29-24.
After a rather uninspiring first quarter the Lakers finally showed up to play in the second. Perhaps they had a little trouble getting to sleep last night. Regardless, the Lakers were quickly back on top of the Rockets early in the second. However, despite an obvious increase in energy, they were unable to pull too far in front of the Rockets. A lot of this was because of Luis Scola, who scored 11 points in the first half for Houston. Guard Goran Dragic, who always seems to cause the Lakers problems when they play, scored seven points and dished out eight assists.
Again, it was World Peace that helped the Lakers offensively in the first half. He scored 17 points on 6-9 shooting in the first half, more than doubling his season average. The Lakers also got a strong boost from Andrew Bynum, who scored nine points, despite turning it over four times. However, it was Kobe Bryant who once again carried the team on offense in the first 24 minutes. Bryant led all scorers with 18 in the first half, and did so on a rather efficient 6-12 shooting.
Los Angeles was able to boost its lead to double digits late in the quarter thanks to an 8-0 run. In the past this has been trouble for the Lakers, who have squandered big leads on a fairly regular basis this season. They would look to avoid that same fate against the Rockets on Friday, as they entered the half leading the Rockets 59-50.
Despite all the talk about not wanting to blow another double-digit lead that’s exactly what the Lakers did to open the third quarter. The team had the same lethargic attitude that they featured to begin the first quarter, and the Rockets took advantage. Consecutive three-point shots from Dragic and Courtney Lee pulled the Rockets to within one point, and had the Lakers in an all-too-familiar situation.
Eventually the Rockets were able to overcome the Lakers, once again erasing a double-digit Lakers lead. The crowd began to get a bit antsy as the Lakers were unable to reclaim the lead for the rest of the quarter. The biggest reason for Houston’s resurgence in the third was Dragic, who once again proved to be a major thorn in the Lakers’ side. Whether it was Ramon Sessions or Steve Blake, whoever the Lakers put on Dragic to try and slow him down it didn’t work.
By the time the third quarter ended the Lakers once again found themselves trailing the Rockets. There was an exciting moment at the end of the quarter, however, when center Andrew Bynum hit a bit of a circus shot at the buzzer. While the shot was ultimately disallowed, it gave the Lakers a bit of momentum heading into the fourth and final quarter.
After entering the quarter trailing 84-83, the Lakers were looking to find some energy and finish off the Rockets at Staples Center. Their chances took a major hit, however, when Bynum picked up his second technical foul and got ejected from the game. The play was anything but serious, as it was simply Bynum talking trash to the Rockets bench after a made shot. The referees had had enough of Bynum’s shenanigans, instantly calling another technical and sending him to the locker room.
This was a major blow for the Lakers, who suddenly found themselves without their best defender and second best scorer. To make matters worse, the Rockets were relentless in their attack of the basket on the other end. Their continued aggressiveness resulted in the Lakers running out of fouls with 6:27 left in the fourth, meaning the Rockets would get free throws the rest of the game.
A key contributor off the bench for the Lakers was Matt Barnes. While he didn’t put up solid numbers on offense, he was a huge factor on the glass. Considering the Lakers were a team that constantly looked slow and tired, Barnes was a much needed shot of adrenaline. Barnes combined with Josh McRoberts to pull down over 20 rebounds for the Lakers, and were major reasons why the Rockets were unable to pull away in the fourth quarter.
As time began to run out the Rockets got a big three-point shot from Chandler Parsons, which pushed the Houston lead to five with just over a minute to play. Suddenly the Lakers faced the very real prospect that they would once again fall to the Rockets. This time would sting a little worse, however, as Houston was without Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry, two of their best players.
Still, at the end it was two perennial Laker killers that finished them off again. Dragic and Scola combined for 51 points, and were the ones who finished L.A. off late in the fourth. The absence of Bynum proved to be too much for the team to overcome, and the Lakers lost their second straight game to the Rockets, 112-107.