There was no lack of headlines heading into the Lakers 2014-2015 season opener against James Harden and the Houston Rockets at Staples Center Tuesday night.
The game represented the first time Kobe Bryant returned to the court 100% healthy since his consecutive injury plagued seasons. It was also the first time key offseason acquisition Jeremy Lin faced his old team and in case that was still not enough, it was yet another return for ex-Laker Dwight Howard.
The Lakers looked to waste no time but might have been anxious as they came in looking out of sync and it showed as Carlos Boozer air balled his first attempt. Dwight Howard went straight to work against Jordan Hill making his first baby jump hook and coming right back down to get fouled and proceeded to make one of two free throws. Wesley Johnson scored the first bucket of the season for the Lakers with a wide open three but the purple and gold got into early foul trouble. Johnson picked up his second with a little more than seven minutes left in the first quarter with the Rockets leading 14-9. Kobe looked like his old self as he scored his sixth point with a nice 12 footer where he was able to dip under Ariza to cut the lead to nine. With three minutes left, Xavier Henry, Julius Randle, and Ed Davis all subbed in for Head Coach Byron Scott. Henry was a big question mark coming into the season as he missed all of preseason. James Harden had his way with rookie Jordan Clarkson as he was the first player to reach double figures with 11 points. The subs were more than capable and showed as they closed the lead to within six but bad shot selection and sloppy play allowed Houston to close out on a seven-nothing run ending the quarter up 31-19.
The second quarter started with Howard going 50% at the charity stripe again and the Lakers continuing to struggle offensively. Randle knocked down a sweet jumper for his first NBA points and Ed Davis followed with back to back beautiful layups to decrease the Rockets lead to 11. Kobe continued to impress with another floater to put him up to eight points in ten minutes. The Lakers started working the inside as they took advantage of rookie Tarik Black in place of Howard. Harden hit back to back heavily contested threes to ballon the lead but fortunately Lin was able to find a cutting Boozer for an and-one. After a missed Howard hook shot, the Lakers pressed with Kobe lasering a pass to Wes Johnson for an easy bucket resulting in a Houston timeout as the lead was cut to 49-38 with three minutes remaining in the half. With not much to root for the Laker fans had to settle with celebrating Howard picking up his third foul. Kobe continued to carry the Lakers with another off the dribble, near-impossible shot but it only eased the blow temporarily as Ariza drained a three on the very next possession for the Rockets. The second half ended with Terrence Jones putting up one more basket giving the Rockets a 62-45 lead going into the half.
The third quarter did not start any better for Los Angeles as they continued to trade twos for threes with Houston but a fourth Howard foul did come with almost 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Boozer scored the first two baskets for the Lakers who went back down to the defensive end and caused a shot clock violation. Two more Boozer free throws cut the lead to 13 with ten minutes to go as the Rockets left the door wide open for the Lakers by committing four turnovers in a row. Lin showed some sign of life as he drove hard to the basket and met Jones at the basket for the and-one basket. Lin’s comfort continued to grow as he found Boozer on a nice pass for a solid finish putting Boozer at 16 points and five rebounds for the game and cutting the Rocket lead to nine. The Lakers continued to chip away at the lead but Harden took a hard drive to the basket for an and-one of his own. Ronnie Price hit a rainbow three with the shot clock expiring but the Rockets many offensive weapons continued to come through for them as Ariza answered with a three of his own. The Lakers had no answer for Harden as he continued to have his way getting to the basket and free throw line at will stopping the Lakers threat at seven. The Lakers ended the quarter on a huge missed opportunity as Xavier Henry showed his rust and missed a wide open reverse layup as the quarter ended.
The Lakers started the final quarter down 85-69 and came right out with a turnover on an offensive foul by the rookie Clarkson. The Rockets continued to drain the three ball giving them the largest lead of the night as they combined for 11 of 22 from behind the arc with ten minutes remaining in the contest. Kobe did make an appearance but didn’t make much of a difference as Houston went on a 10-1 run and continued to torch the Lakers from downtown. Some entertainment did come in the form of an altercation between Kobe and Dwight where Howard elbowed Kobe and was called for a flagrant one foul. Both then shared words with each other leading to Kobe being caught on camera calling Howard soft. Things didn’t get better as Randle went down and stayed down holding his right leg. The paramedics had to come to the court as Randle was taken away on a stretcher with what was eventually reported to be a broken tibia. The injury took all of the energy out of the building. With three minutes remaining the Rockets held a 104-81 lead as the game was just about over. The backups finished off the game as the Lakers fell 108-90 in the season opener.[divide]
Kobe Bryant On His Exchange With Dwight Howard