After a scrappy game against the Spurs on Sunday, the Lakers had one of the biggest games of the season. Tonight would be the difference between the seventh seed and eighth seed, as the Jazz lost in Memphis just before the game. The Rockets also had a lot to play for, with a chance to earn the sixth seed with a win and a Golden State loss.
Fortunately, the Lakers were on a hot four-game winning streak, and this momentum would be an immense advantage come postseason. The Rockets and Lakers had opposite game plans tonight, as the Rockets, with a smaller lineup, attacked from beyond the arch, and the Lakers looked to pound the ball into their twin towers.
The Lakers started the game focused. Dwight Howard hustled for a loose ball, and saved it to a wide open Metta World Peace who knocked down the three. James Harden had a size advantage over Jodie Meeks, but started the Rockets offense with a deep three pointer. The Rockets double teamed Dwight Howard on the inside; leaving Jodie Meeks wide open and later committing a defensive three in the key. But slow transition defense gave Jeremy Lin a wide open lay-up. More great ball-movement gave the Lakers open shots, but the outside shots led to long rebounds and Rocket fast-break offense. The easy lay-ups stimulated the Rockets offense, who began sinking more outside shots.
The Lakers were lucky to only be down by six, mid-way through the first quarter, as the Rockets shot 63% from the field, compared to the Lakers 25%, partially due to eight three pointers. After a timeout, Dwight Howard finally found his first two baskets, and Darius Morris entered the game, doing a stellar job containing James Harden. The Lakers gained their momentum and the lead due to back to back Rocket turnovers. Also, an obvious size advantage gave the Lakers seven first quarter offensive rebounds. The Mini Mamba, Andrew Goudelock, took his turn guarding James Harden, but sent him to the free throw line for two. James Harden dominated the first quarter, scoring 13, as the Lakers trail the Rockets by three, 24-21.
The Rockets were first to score, and the Lakers offense struggled. Pau Gasol was the only starter on the court, but his unselfishness led to contested shots late in the shot clock. The Rockets went on a 10-0 run, until Antawn Jamison made a three and two free throws. Darius Morris played tough on defense, but sped out of control on offense, picking up his third foul. The Rockets second unit began to run past the Lakers, and out hustle their way to a nine point lead. The Lakers continued to settle for three point shots, until Pau Gasol finally got inside position on Asik, which spurred the Lakers offense, as Metta followed with a deep corner jump shot.
The Lakers interior defense struggled, until Dwight Howard returned to the game, which clogged the inside, and cut off the Rockets second chance opportunities. But the Rockets began to knock down their outside shots. Metta World Peace began to match up against James Harden, but was slow around screens, giving Harden open shots. The Lakers were down by seven, but contested outside shots and slow transition defense continued to plague the Lakers. Instead of settling for the three, none of the Laker guards penetrated to the basket. Steve Blake was not shy to pull the trigger, as he led the Lakers with 14 points, but James Harden was too much to handle, scoring 18 points. The Lakers were down by six, 50-44, as Jeremy Lin was able to blow past the Laker guards, and get to the basket to draw a foul on Dwight Howard as the first half expired.
The Rockets started the second half with authority as Parsons threw down a break away dunk, and later put in a three pointer. Metta World Peace hit double digit scoring after a three and an inside three point play; taking advantage of Parsons on the inside and demanding a double team. The Rockets were quick to double team the Lakers in the paint, daring the Laker guards to shoot outside jump shots. The Lakers looked to find Dwight Howard early in the second half, only scoring four in the first half. Dwight Howard began to attack the basket once he caught the ball and before the double team arrived. The Laker second unit struggled in the first half, but Pau Gasol looked to be more aggressive. Antawn Jamison was also huge off the bench, who immediately contributed a steal and lay-up. James Harden’s hand cooled, but Parsons made a couple crafty plays to pick up the slack. Darius Morris finally shot the ball, made both of his jump shots. The Lakers woes continued, but a late push brought them back to within five points, 71-66.
A great start was critical for the Laker’s momentum, but a Lakers turnover led to a Rockets showtime dunk. The refs began to call more holding calls on the inside, which provided more room for Pau and Dwight to operate. Antawn Jamison made all the right plays, hustling for two offensive rebounds and 13 points. The Lakers came within two points due to two Steve Blake free throws, but Asik respond by attacking the basket for a lay-up. Dwight Howard wrestled for position on the inside, but the Rockets continued to send Dwight to the free throw line, where he shot two for six tonight. A Beverley lay-up was followed by a Dwight Howard baby hook. The Lakers were brought to within one with a Pau Gasol jump shot, and a deep Steve Blake three pointer gave the Lakers the lead.
Beverley attacked the basket picking up Dwight’s second foul, then flopped around Dwight’s screen for his third foul. But the Rockets finally missed their shots, as an Antawn Jamison three pointer put the Lakers up by three. Asik picked up his fifth foul slapping at Dwight Howard, who sank two rare free throws. Dwight Howard did a great job of running the floor, creating a Rocket turnover. James Hard went cold from the field before stealing the ball from Pau for a break away dunk. Harden then brought the game back to one with a left handed sweeping lay-up. A Laker shot clock violation gave the Rockets the ball with 49 seconds on the clock, but the Lakers played great defense forcing Lin to take a deep three. The Rockets fouled Jodie Meeks with 16 seconds left on the clock, who made both free throws, giving the Lakers a three point lead. The Rockets had the last shot, and after a scrappy loose ball, Parsons found the ball and knocked down a deep three pointer as the clock expired. We are going to overtime.
The Lakers started the overtime looking for Pau on the inside, who was unable to put in the lay-up. The Rockets gained the lead with a Parsons free throw after delivering Dwight’s fourth foul. The Lakers took the lead back with a Pau Gasol fade away. Dwight Howard ripped the ball from Harden’s hands, but the Lakers were unable to convert. Pau Gasol then blocked Parson’s shot, and Dwight Howard put in a hook shot, giving the Lakers a three point lead. But James Hard brought the Rockets back to one with a two step around Dwight. Jodie Meeks responded with a baseline drive around Harden, and an emphatic two handed dunk. Dwight Howard blocked Harden’s shot, and the Rockets sent Jodie Meeks to the free throw line with 14 seconds left on the clock.
Jodie missed the first and made the second to put the Lakers up by four. James Harden drove to the basket, putting in two free throws with 11 seconds remaining. The Rockets then put the pressure on Steve Blake, who responded with two free throws. Parsons missed a final three, and the Lakers gained the seventh seed with tonight’s 99-95 victory. James Harden led the Rockets with 30 points and Parsons added 23. Steve Blake led the Lakers with 24 poitns, seven rebounds, and seven assists, and an exceptional game from Pau Gasol who contributed a triple double with 17 points, 11 assists, and 20 rebounds.