Game Notes: Rockets at Lakers
Gasol sits, Odom shines.
No Pau. No Problem.
The Lakers entered Tuesday night’s game against the Houston Rockets well aware of the fact that they’d be without the services of big man Pau Gasol, who is expected to miss multiple games due to a strained hamstring, perhaps as many as six contests.
That said, someone else needed step up and take on added responsibility in the depleted frontcourt for the Lakers. Turns out, that someone was Lamar Odom.
Despite missing practice the day before with the flu, Odom narrowly missed a triple double in the 88-79 victory, finishing with 17 points, 19 rebounds and 9 assists. Not a bad night considering there were questions about his availability less than 24 hours beforehand.
Having Andrew Bynum around, patrolling the middle, certainly helped matters for the Lakers. Odom, however was possessed, grabbing 13 boards in the first half alone. It was more of the same after intermission as he scored 11 points and dished out 6 assists.
Rest assured, scoreboard watchers couldn’t help but notice Odom’s performance. Seriously, if the guy keeps playing this way, and Gasol returns to form, everyone in the League had better watch out because the Lakers could end up repeating as NBA Champions.
And no one wants to see that. Isn‘t that correct fans in Boston, Cleveland and Orlando? People from Denver, Phoenix and San Antonio, feel free to chime in.
*** During the press conference, Phil Jackson is bombarded with questions about the extent of Gasol’s injury. The Zen Master handles things well. Then again, he has plenty of practice. Remember, Gasol missed the first 11 games of the year with a similar setback. “We were hoping this injury was going to be day-to-day thing,’’ Jackson said. “Pau knows his body. The idea is, we don’t want anything extenuating to happen to him.’’
*** Making his second appearance at Staples Center since being shipped off to Houston in the offseason, Trevor Ariza hits the court early to get in some extra work. Suppose shooting a few added jumpers couldn’t hurt. After all, he was 2-12 from the field and 1-7 from beyond the three-point arc the last time he was here, back in mid-November.
*** There’s no sign of Tracy McGrady. Can’t seem to find that dude anywhere. Perhaps he’s avoiding the media on purpose. Maybe he didn‘t end up traveling out West with the Rockets. Whatever the case, at this stage of the game, deflecting the negative attention surrounding his playing time this season, or lack thereof, is probably a wise decision.
*** The Lakers’ brass must be pleased to see that Ron Artest is back in uniform. He’ll be in the starting lineup after missing five games with a concussion.
*** On the Rockets opening possession, Ariza hustles down the floor, beating Artest to the hoop for an easy layup. One has to think that Ariza takes a small measure of satisfaction scoring the basket. Let’s see if he keeps it up because Artest doesn‘t look very happy.
*** Chuck Hayes matches up against Bynum, giving away several inches in the height department. Not surprisingly, the Lakers pound the ball inside. Bynum backs down his undersized counterpart and scores six quick points to give the Lakers a 14-6 lead at 7:05.
*** Kobe Bryant gets in on the act. He knocks down a 16-footer, hands out an assist to Derek Fisher, makes a pair of free-throws and buries a 21-footer to extend the advantage to 12 points with 2:45 left. At the end of one, the Lakers are up 22-15.
*** Crowd favorite D.J. Mbenga enters at 8:19 to a stirring ovation. He picks a quick foul, is called for traveling and turns the ball over before heading back to the bench, where he belongs, for the remainder of the game. Good guy. Sadly, doesn’t have much game.
*** Kobe vs. Shane Battier is always a battle. This game is no different. At the top of the key, Bryant uses a spin move to lose Battier, and once he’s in the lane, the Black Mamba floats in a nice left-handed shot. In the meantime, Battier launches up a pair of airballs.
*** Seemingly every shot Houston throws up at rim fails to find the bottom of the net. Tough night to be a Rockets fan, no doubt. Odom, of course, is there to clean things up on the glass. Three of his rebounds lead to seven points and 39-27 advantage at the 2:13 mark.
*** Carl Landry is a beast. He comes off the bench and makes two layups. Minutes before the break, he scores seven consecutive points to keep things close as the Rockets trail 39-31 with 1:37 left. This guy has Sixth Man of the Year written all over him. Believe that.
*** Fittingly, with Battier draped all over his shoulder, Bryant manages to get to the hoop for a layup with 20 seconds remaining. The Lakers are up eight points at intermission.
*** Houston opens up the second half with a sense of urgency, Ariza in particular. Dribbling past Kobe, he gets into the lane and unleashes a thunderous dunk to cut the deficit to 46-40 at 7:24. Odom doesn’t challenge Ariza. If he did, things wouldn’t have ended well.
*** Following an Artest miss, Odom skies for the rebound and finishes the play with a follow slam. The highlight reel play gives the Lakers a 10-point lead at 6:07.
*** The Rockets make a run and their timing couldn‘t be better. Ariza scores, is fouled and completes the three-point play. Shortly thereafter, Scola does the same and then adds a perimeter jumper. All of sudden, Houston is down 59-55 at the end of three.
*** On the Rockets’ first possession, Ariza is playing above the goal again. He blows bye Sasha Vujacic and dunks on Josh Powell to make it a 59-57 game. That’s right, Houston is back in the game, down by two points. There’s plenty of time left in this one.
*** Bynum starts to flex his muscle. Over a three-plus minute stretch, he scores eight points and the lead balloons to 10 points with 5:16 left in the game. Bynum plays well throughout and finishes with 24 points on 10-16 shooting and 8 rebounds.
*** Odom puts the finishing touches on the victory. Down the stretch, he scores three points to go along with four assists and two boards. Lakers win 88-79.
*** Everyone gathered around Odom‘s locker afterward to find out just how sick he was. “Interview at your own risk,’’ he said jokingly, even going so far as to offer up a fake cough. “I feel a little bit better. Got some sleep.’’ Whatever he did worked. Obviously. Perhaps he should go out and play when he’s feeling underneath the weather more often.
*** Battier did an admirable job, holding Bryant to 22 points on 9-23 shooting from the field. Problem is, Kobe had help. “To beat the world champs you have to play well and we just didn’t play well enough,’’ Battier said. “To beat the Lakers in L.A. you have to play really, really well and we didn’t have that sort of effort tonight.’’