No one expected this to happen, but the Los Angeles Lakers faced a must-win game early in the month of January. The Lakers are struggling mightily and nothing is going right for the team that had championship aspirations before the season started. Los Angeles came into the match three games under .500 and winless in the new year.
The Lakers’ chances of making the playoffs have been decreasing slowly and they need to beat opponents ahead of them in the standings. The Rockets were one of those teams the Lakers are chasing; however, without Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, the Lakers faced a very tough test in Houston.
Despite the fact that Los Angeles was without two of its main stars, the atmosphere in the arena was electric and the fans were ready for a Western Conference showdown. The Lakers always create a buzz when playing in opposing arenas, and whenever Kobe Bryant is on the court, the games tend to be closely contested.
The Lakers surprisingly had a fast start to the game and the players were trying to beat the Rockets by running the floor. Despite the fairly old roster, the Lakers made it a priority to get in the open-court. Nevertheless, the Lakers began the game very well and they held an 11-4 lead with 8:45 remaining in the period.
LAL are playing as hard as they need to minus 3 big men, & World Peace’s 3 gave ’em an early 11-4 lead. Time out, Houston.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 9, 2013
Los Angeles continued with the fast start and the team was playing well on both ends of the court. The Lakers were forcing some great turnovers and were also knocking down perimeter jumpers. Robert Sacre provided the Lakers with much needed energy and he gave them many second chance opportunities. Metta World Peace had an early eight points for the Lakers and he helped put them up 18-6 with 6:12 left in the quarter.
As the quarter progressed, the Lakers continued to play well and the offense was running quite smoothly. The smaller lineup fit Mike D’Antoni’s system and that allowed Los Angeles to open up a nice lead in the first quarter. However, the Lakers’ defensive pressure and the intensity they played with at that end of the court was most impressive.
After 12 minutes of action, the Lakers were up 34-28 as the Rockets closed the period out on a 10-3 run. Eight different Lakers scored in the opening period and as a team, the players shot 44 percent from the field.
The Rockets kept their foot on the gas pedal in the second quarter and their run at the end of the first period carried over. The Lakers began the second quarter with their reserves on the floor, and with neither one of the stars in the game, the second unit had to keep up the high level of play. With 8:34 left in the opening half, the Rockets cut the deficit down to two, 38-35.
Once Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant got back onto the court, the Lakers regained control and momentum shifted their way. The Lakers’ stars dominated the ball and they were making shots only the elite players could. Nash was taking advantage of the younger, less experienced Jeremy Lin on the offensive end, and that allowed him to give the Lakers a bigger cushion.
However, the Lakers began to start slacking on the defensive end and the Rockets’ dynamic back-court shifted into a different gear. James Harden took matters in his own hands and he did what he could to give the Rockets the lead. After a Carlos Delfino three, the Rockets took their first lead of the game, 47-46.
Lakers have had 3-4 shots bounce around the rim and fall out. And Houston has finally overtaken the Lakers, 47-46, for their first lead.
— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) January 9, 2013
The Lakers responded well to the Rockets’ surge and Bryant and Nash were the two main forces behind the Lakers’ attack. The two stars were scoring with ease on the offensive end and they were also doing a great job finding teammates for open baskets.
Just before the first half ended, Lakers guard Steve Nash recorded his 10,000th career assists after he found Antawn Jamison cutting to the basket.
As for the Lakers, they headed back to the locker-room with a 62-59 lead thanks to 13 points from World Peace and 14 points and five assists from Nash.
The Lakers had a nice start to the second half and the starters continued with their strong play. Metta World Peace was still hot from the field and the Lakers were trying to find him clean looks at the basket. Los Angeles was very aggressive in the opening minutes of the third quarter and the team opened up a 67-62 lead with 9:30 left in the period.
Los Angeles prevented the Rockets from going on another run as the quarter progressed and for the most part, the Lakers controlled the tempo of the game. Both offenses hit a snag mid-way into the period and shots were not falling like they were at the start of the third. At the 6:30 mark of the quarter, the Lakers were up 69-66.
Nash w/ the Kobe special, getting Lin in the air and jumping into him to draw the foul. Perfect.
— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) January 9, 2013
The Rockets limited Kobe Bryant to only six points through two quarters, but Bryant became much more aggressive on the offensive end in the third period. Bryant was not having a great scoring night, but he wanted to find a groove against the younger Rockets defenders. However, even though Bryant did seem to find his shot, the Lakers had trouble creating a cushion against the Rockets. With 3:49 left to play in the quarter, the Lakers held a mere one point lead, 78-77.
The Lakers relied too much on isolation play towards the end of the third quarter and that allowed the Rockets to surge ahead. The ball began to stick in Bryant’s hands and there was no ball movement on the offensive end. The Lakers needed to execute on that end of the court or else the game would get out of hand quickly.
Through 36 minutes of play, the Lakers were facing a nine point deficit, 97-88, after the Rockets scored 38 points in the quarter.
The Lakers’ offense was not very efficient to start the fourth quarter as most of their points came off desperation threes at the end of the shot clock. On the other end of the court, the Lakers had trouble preventing the Rockets from scoring, something that thwarted them from cutting into the deficit. Delfino continued to torch the Lakers from behind the arc and he helped Houston take a 105-94 lead with 9:23 left in the game.
Los Angeles was finally able to find open looks on offense, but once again the defensive intensity was not high enough to create a run. Houston was able to attack the basket with ease and the Lakers did very little to stop the Rockets from scoring. With 6:30 remaining in the game, the Lakers were facing a 107-98 hole.
The Rockets asserted their dominance as the quarter went on and they slowly took over the momentum. Houston just had too many athletic players and the Lakers had trouble containing their explosiveness. Los Angeles tried to crawl back into the game, but Houston created too large of a lead for the Lakers to overcome. At the 2:50 mark of the period, the Lakers were down 114-103.
Once the final buzzer rang, the Lakers walked off the court losers for the fourth consecutive game. The Rockets played a stellar second half and beat their Western Conference foes, 125-112. World Peace led the Lakers in scoring with 24 points, followed by Bryant with 20 and Nash with 16 points and ten assists.
Things will only get tougher for the Lakers as they will play the Spurs in San Antonio on Wednesday night and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.