After a rather uninspiring performance against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday the Lakers were back in action Tuesday night to take on the Houston Rockets. This was the first meeting of the season between the two teams, who have been Western Conference foes for many years, and have squared off in some rather legendary battles.
But entering Tuesday night both teams may be facing a season of transition. While Los Angeles was on a three game winning streak before Sunday, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the team. Likewise, Houston is a team with a strong set of guards but lacks enough up-front length to really be taken seriously as a contender in the Western Conference.
Still, Houston is the type of team that will give anybody trouble if they aren’t taken seriously. Los Angeles would have to play hard and utilize their size if they wanted to defeat Houston at Staples Center on Tuesday night.
After a rather dismal shooting effort on Sunday (6-28) Bryant came out of the blocks looking to shoot himself out of his slump. The idea worked well at the start, as Bryant connected on his first few shots to give the Lakers the early momentum and the lead. Unfortunately, as we have seen far too often, Bryant continued to shoot even when his hot hand turned cold.
This had a two-pronged negative effect on the team as a whole. With Bryant stuck on the outer rim shooting jump shots the Lakers were failing to use their biggest advantage. It became even more frustrating for head coach Mike Brown when the team would pass to Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol and watch them score with relative ease. But those instances were short and far between for the Lakers in the first half.
Another area where the Lakers struggled was on defense. Despite their massive size advantage, the Rockets were able to quickly get past the perimeter defenders and attack the basket. While Bynum’s length did play a factor on several plays, too often he was stuck on the wrong side of the paint helplessly watching Houston’s guards get to the rim.
Still, L.A. managed to keep the Rockets at bay for the most part, holding onto the lead for the majority of the quarter. After the first 12 minutes of play the Lakers were leading Houston 31-25.
The second quarter was one that would have had head coach Mike Brown pulling his hair out if there was any left to pull. Los Angeles found themselves settling for contested, outside jumpers on far too many possessions. It got to the point where even Bynum was noticeably frustrated with the lack of ball rotation and touches he was getting in the paint.
Still, Bynum’s frustration didn’t prevent him from taking care of business on the glass. By halftime the Lakers’ center already had a double-double, and had pulled down 14 rebounds. He did have some trouble holding on to the ball when he did get it, as he turned it over four times in the first two quarters. However, even with the turnover problems there was no excuse for Los Angeles not to get him the ball more often in the paint.
Once the Lakers went into shooting mode on offense they began to struggle on the defensive end as well. This was somewhat a direct impact of the team’s turnover problems as Houston was able to turn those mistakes into transition opportunities on the other end. The Lakers turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, and Houston turned it into eight points on the offensive side of the floor.
The Lakers saw their lead build and evaporate on multiple occasions. Much like their weekend against the Nuggets, the Lakers had trouble sustaining any sort of extended momentum. Houston connected on several outside shots, quieting the already timid Staples Center crowd on multiple occasions. Still, despite the turnovers and the poor shot selection on the offensive end, L.A. led Houston 50-46 at halftime.
After a tough second quarter Bryant came out in the third with much more composure and a better shot selection. Instead of forcing bad shots he made a point to pass the ball and wait for higher percentage looks. It paid off tremendously, as Bryant scored 13 points in the third quarter alone.
As has been the case for much of the regular season thus far, Bynum and Gasol weren’t too far behind in the statistical category. Along with the rest of the Lakers, the two big men helped L.A. jump out to an advantage on the glass, 37 to 28, through three quarters.
The thorn in the Lakers’ side Tuesday night was a familiar one. Rockets forward Luis Scola, who is most known for taking the business end of a Derek Fisher elbow back in 2009, scored 20 points through three quarters while pulling down four rebounds as well. Despite the obvious size advantage that Gasol possessed, Scola used his physicality to disrupt Gasol on both ends of the floor and have a strong impact on the game.
For both teams the third quarter was a back and forth affair. There were 14 lead changes heading into the fourth, with each side trading baskets. Neither team was able to hold a lead for more than a minute or two, as poor defense on both sides translated into easy scoring opportunities for both offenses. This was a bit surprising considering that neither Houston nor Los Angeles entered the game with a strong offensive reputation.
Heading into the fourth and final quarter the Lakers held a slim lead at 76-75. However, during the first four minutes of the quarter L.A. began to build their lead just slightly. One of the reasons for this was a much higher percentage from beyond the three-point line. Their struggles over the past three games, which culminated in a 6-47 effort in back-to-back games against Denver, were clearly not as imminent against the Rockets.
One of the main reasons for this was that the team was simply shooting less from beyond the arc. The team passed on multiple open looks from outside and instead drove to the basket to attack the undersized Houston frontline. This was something they didn’t do as much of in the first half but were able to capitalize on in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers built one of their first sizable lead in the fourth. Once again they could thank Bynum for the additional momentum. Houston also lost a bit of their energy after reserve Courtney Lee went down with an ankle injury early in the quarter. Instead of rallying around their fallen teammate, Houston began to look a little flat. Multiple missed jump shots from Scola and Kevin Martin allowed Los Angeles to build their lead on the offensive end.
But, just like we witnessed on opening day against the Chicago Bulls the Lakers lead, which was 10 at its highest, quickly evaporated. That will be one thing the team will need to work on in the future, and something that has been a problem in the past. After getting slightly comfortable the Lakers took their foot off the gas pedal, allowing Houston to sneak back into the game.
However, unlike Christmas, this game wouldn’t end up as a lump of coal for L.A. After struggling to find his shot for the majority of the first half, Bryant closed out the game in typical Black Mamba fashion. Several perfectly placed jumpers soared through the net, allowing the Lakers to ensure their lead wouldn’t completely disappear.
In the end the Lakers were able to withstand Houston’s last attempt in the fourth thanks to Bryant and Bynum, and held on to record their fourth victory of the season, 108-99.
Key to the Game
The key to this game was shot selection. While the team did struggle a bit in the first half in terms of settling for long-distance shots, they quickly fixed the leak in the third quarter. The team shot just a total of 14 three-point attempts, a far cry from the mid-20s that they put up during their back-to-back with Denver. The team played a strong game that was under control on the offensive end.
-Tonight’s game was the first time the Lakers surpassed 100 points this season (108).
-Kobe Bryant surpassed 30 points (37) for the first time this season.
-Andrew Bynum recorded his first 20/20 game with 21 points and 22 rebounds.
New Era Cap Contest
We didn’t have a winner tonight. Make sure to try your luck on Thursday when the Lakers play the Portland Trail Blazers.