Game Notes: Lakers at Rockets
L.A. hands Houston its fourth loss in a row.
by Maurice Bobb / @reesereport
So the Lakers took their show on the road to Houston to face former teammate Trevor Ariza and the scrappy Rockets, who were without Kevin Martin and Shane Battier. With the way the defending champs have been playing of late, most notably the way OKC embarrassed them, they needed a W in Space City. But if Kobe is the Lakers’ Superman, Aaron Brooks has Kryptonite laced in his sneaks, because he goes off every time he faces the Lake Show.
The first quarter easily went to the Rockets. With Brooks’ blinding speed and Fisher’s lack thereof, the Rockets were able to capitalize on dribble penetration and kick the ball out to the open man. Brooks racked up 12 points and four assists in the first 12 minutes of play. Lamar Odom seemed to be the only spark for the Lakers, netting six points and pulling down seven rebounds to help give his squad an 11-9 advantage on the boards for the period. The Rockets picked the Lakers’ pockets for three thefts, one of which allowed Ariza to break away for a nasty two-hander on the other end. Jermaine Taylor, who recently got the call from the D-League, had 10 points on some sweet outside shooting.
“I felt real comfortable out there,” Taylor said. “First NBA game, first start. I was starting on Kobe Bryant. It was something that I didn’t want to do but I had to. Just because it’s Kobe Bryant.”
Bryant opened the second with a three ball from the wing to try to get in his rhythm. During a timeout, Jack Yates, the No. 1-ranked high school team in the nation, went out to center court to take a bow. The Lions broke the national record for most 100-point plus games in a row for a season, went undefeated and repeated as Class 4A state champs. Nice to see them get some love from the soldout crowd. Jordan Hill got in on the action and came up with some nice hustle plays. Bryant hit the go-ahead layup for the Lakers’ first lead of the game, 44-43. Artest nailed a three ball from the top of the key to stretch the lead to four. Derek Fisher nailed another three and the Lakers were in control of the game with 3:16 left in the half, 52-43. Kobe had five assists and six rebounds at this point. It’s obvious he wanted to facilitate early on. The Lakers’ 20-0 run was the momentum changer for the quarter.
“They started hitting shots and we weren’t,” Ariza said. “They started playing well and we didn’t. We had good shots that didn’t go. We kind of got a little bit stagnant.”
The third quarter found the Lakers trying to pad their double digit lead. Artest and Ariza got into another tangle. Seems to be par for the course for those two when they match up. Not exactly a Bird vs. Magic rivalry, but you take what you can get these days. Kobe started looking for his shot, and had 12 points and was two assists and one rebound shy of a triple double. Lakers stretched their lead to 16 at the 4:32 mark, as the Rockets seemed out of rhythm on offense. Brooks started forcing the action with some ill-advised outside shots. Chase Budinger hit a long ball, but the Lakers still had a 14 point lead.
“It was nothing,” Artest said. “I fell funny. When I fell, I fell on my heel and I just had to walk it off.”
In the fourth, the Lakers began to pull away. The Rockets rallied for nine unanswered points to cut the lead to 11, but Artest nailed a long ball to halt Houston’s momentum. Bryant needed one assist to get a triple double and seemed to go for it after passing on a layup to hit Farmar for the final dime. Farmar came up snake eyes and the Black Mamba failed to finish his Magic Johnson-esque performance. Afterwards, I asked Kobe if he realized how close he was to the trey double and did he go for it. These are his exact words: “I been in the League 14 years. You think I give a damn about a triple double?” Bryant finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Pau Gasol led all scorers with 30 puntos y ocho rebounds, prompting the Zen Master to say he was “nifty.” Luis Scola and Aaron Brooks finished with 28 and 26 points, respectively, and Artest and Ariza cancelled each other out with QB representer netting seven points and his nemesis managing only nine.
So there you have it. The Lakers leave the Toyota Center with a 109-101 victory and improve to 54-19, not far from that magical number 60.
“It’s a goal, anytime you do that it’s a very nice accomplishment,” Bryant said. “We’ll see what happens. This is the time of year we have to continue to tune things up.”
With the L, the Rockets fall to 36-36 and sit firm in 10th place in the Western Conference standings, seven games behind San Antonio for the final spot in the Playoffs. And with that, I’m out of here like Kentucky.