Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers have an opportunity to help eliminate the Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets from playoff contention. The Rockets are currently one game behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth seed in the Western Conference with just three games remaining in the season. Virtually every game is a must win for the Rockets as they hope the Jazz can lose at least one more game.
Eliminating the Rockets from playoff contention would be delightful for Lakers fans, who still have not forgiven Dwight Howard from leaving Los Angeles in 2013 to team up with James Harden. The Harden-Howard marriage has not been very harmonious as of late as they battle for survival in the Western Conference. Revenge could be sweet for Kobe and the Lakers with a win tonight in Kobe’s last game in Houston.
The Lakers were bothered early in the game by the Rockets’ smothering defense, turning the ball over three times in just two minutes. On the other end of the floor, the Rockets scored all of their points in the paint and at the free-throw line. After a 7-0 Houston run, Kobe scored five unanswered points to cut the Lakers deficit to just two points. Julius Randle made a midrange jumper to tie the game at 9-9, but the Rockets quickly answered with four unanswered points of their own. With 3:58 remaining in the first quarter, Kobe was fouled on a three-point attempt and was sent to the line to give him 10 points in the first quarter. The Lakers turned the ball over an unprecedented eight times, but Kobe played the entire first quarter, scoring 15 points despite Trevor Ariza’s hounding defense. After one, the Lakers trailed 27-29.
Mehta World Peace entered the game, and air balled a corner three, but on the following possession he drilled a three from the other corner. The Lakers finally took their first lead of the game with Jordan Clarkson’s layup in transition with 10:09 left in the half. The Rockets tied the game back up at 36, but Tarik Black made an impressive move in the lane and floated the ball home over the outstretched arms of Dwight Howard. The Rockets scored eight unanswered points in an unconventional way. Howard drew a foul and had a chance for a three-point play, but missed the free throw as Patrick Beverly came in from the perimeter to get the rebound. The second chance opportunity was cashed in by Josh Smith from the three-point line. The Lakers turned it over, and Harden made a layup in transition to give the Rockets a 46-40 lead. The Lakers picked up their energy and played at a fast pace, but they still trailed by three points with two minutes remaining in the half. Kobe did not play the entire second quarter, and the Rockets extended their lead. Julius Randle finished the half with a tenacious dunk in transition, plus the foul, off of a nice around the back pass from Jordan Clarkson. At the half, the Lakers trailed 53-55.
The Lakers continued to turn the ball over in the second half, and the Rockets took advantage, extending their lead to seven points. D’Angelo Russell knocked down his first three of the game from the top of the key to cut the deficit to four points, but the Rockets quickly answered with four points of their own. The Rockets extended their lead to 10 points, and the Lakers were looking for answers on the offensive end. With the Lakers struggling, Kobe Bryant drove to the basket and finished with his left hand for his first points of the second half. Kobe followed up his layup with a deep three and then another reverse layup to cut the Lakers deficit to five points with 3:43 left in the third quarter. Kobe was unbelievable in the third quarter, scoring nine straight points for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant pushed his point total to 29 with a vintage third quarter, capped off by a deep three over Trevor Ariza. Despite Kobe’s heroics, the Lakers trailed 80-88 after the third quarter.
The Lakers cut their deficit to two points with a 14-2 run, including two three-pointers from Clarkson and one from World Peace, and the Lakers have put themselves in a great position to win this game. Larry Nance Jr. provided yet another highlight with an athletic tip dunk over Clint Capela. The Rockets regrouped after a timeout and pushed their lead back up to nine points with 7:15 to play in regulation. James Harden got red hot from three-point land and had a quiet 36 points in the game, scoring 16 of those in the fourth quarter. Behind Harden’s hot shooting, the Rockets increased their lead to 13 points with 5:07 left to play. The Lakers and Rockets exchanged three-pointers for four straight possessions. Kobe was two three-point attempts within a minute and made all of his free throws to give him 35 points in the game. With Houston up by 14 points, World Peace checked in for Kobe Bryant, who played an incredible game today, and Houston paid their respect to the legend. Houston’s win keeps their playoff hopes alive, and Kobe only has two games left in his 20-year career.
Final Score: Lakers 110 Rockets 130