It is a distant memory that the Lakers won here two months ago, that they won on a last second shot. The hero of that game, Steve Blake, is out until who knows when. Steve Nash is out too. Nick Young is banged up. Shawne Williams has been released. Jordan Farmar has a torn hamstring. The only newcomer so to speak is Ryan Kelly.
The game began with Jeremy Lin being fouled. From that point on it became a track meet with both teams pushing a fast pace which made you wonder, on a second night of a back to back, and with a short bench, is this the wisest strategy for the Lakers. But the Lakers turned up the pace and made shots, capped off by a Nick Young three point play that gave the Lakers a seven point lead, 18-11, with 8 minutes left. Forget everything you may have heard about all the losing taking away the Lakers passion. For some reason the Rockets bring out the best in them. Perhaps it is because the Rockets defense is predictably dismal. James Harden is a one way player. Jeremy Lin does not defend.
With 4 minutes left in the first quarter the Lakers had 4 turnovers and the Rockets only 1. It kept the Rockets close as they were only shooting 40% and the Lakers were shooting 58%. Still the Lakers lead was only 5. As for Gasol, he was very animated going up against Dwight. He blocked his shot. He was the aggressor on offense. But the Lakers turnovers, once again, did them in, their cross court passes failing time and again. But their itensity was infectious and it all began with defense, blocked shots, hands in the passing lanes. The Lakers ended the quarter with a four point lead 28-24. They were shooting 52% as compared to the Rockets 37%. They were 50% from three and had 7 assists to the Rockets 1.
The second quarter continued at this brisk pace. Nick Young, with his ailing back, was more effective than he had been against the Mavericks. He looked like his old self. He took on the scoring burden. He had 15 points in 16 minutes. With 5 minutes left in the second quarter the Lakers were up by 5 and Pau Gasol was at the line and put them up by 7. With two minutes left they were up by 8 and were doing something they have rarely done in recent games, they took it upon themselves to fight for this game. They fought for rebounds, they contested shooters, they grabbed the game instead of expecting it to come to them. They played with the sort of heart they did the last time they played Houston. Question: why not play like this all of the time? Question #2: what is wrong with playing Kaman in the first half?
Regardless of trying to figure out the reasons D’Antoni thinks the way he does, this was clear. Pau outplayed Dwight in the first half. 15 points as opposed to 8. 6 rebounds to 3. And the Lakers led by five, 57-52. They had more rebounds than the Rockets. They had more assists. The Lakers were tied with Houston in fast break points and had more points in the paint.
You knew it was coming, weaknesses show up on time. The Lakers usually come out passive and lackluster every third quarter of every game. It happened once more. A Pau Gasol turnover. A Wes Johnson missed shot. A Jodie Meeks turnover. With a couple minutes gone Wes Johnson hit a three to extend the lead back to 5. But the Rockets defensive intensity picked up although Dwight Howard was predictably dismal as he tried to post up Pau Gasol and missed. But as is usually the case the Lakers have troubling scoring in the third quarter. That coupled with their turnovers had the Rockets take the lead. A Nick Young 3 gave the Lakers the lead back. And so it went. But the Lakers continued to struggle shooting the ball and with 4 minutes left in the period they trailed by 5. This is the continuing problem with a D’Antoni coached team. Their offense cannot sustain periods of mediocrity because their defense cannot stop the bleeding. Then it becomes a circle. Not making shots. Not defending. Intensity and aggression gone. Blink and the Lakers turned into the Lakers team of the last 30 days, winners of just four games. They looked once again like a beaten team. With three minutes left the Rockets lead was 7 and the onslaught was just beginning. They Lakers could not score and they could not stop the Rockets from scoring. Another turnover and it was a 10 point lead. Pau had no field goals in the third quarter, only two shots. Chris Kaman finally made an appearance with 2 minutes left in the quarter. It was too late then. The Rockets shot 63% in the third as the D’antoni defense predictably was shredded. Harden had 32 points by the end of the quarter from hell. He outscored the Lakers in that period by himself. The Lakers were down by 13, an eighteen point turnaround. The Lakers scored 15 points while giving up 33 points.
The fourth quarter much of the same. The Rockets making shots, the Lakers missing shots. With eight minutes left it was a 17 point lead. Then 20. The Lakers fought back and with five minutes left they cut the lead to 13. But it was too little, too late even as they went to Hack-A-Dwight. Too much Harden and Lin. Too little defense. Plus Howard made his free throws. And when he didn’t the Lakers either couldn’t rebound or couldn’t make shots and forgot James Harden was the best player on the other team. And loss number twenty two was on the horizon. 96-113 was the final score. It was the third straight game the Lakers gave up over 110 points.
Naturally, the expected talking point to explain the loss was that the Lakers were tired, this being a second game of a back to back. And D’Antoni did not disappoint, going to the ran out energy and the team being tired card. Perhaps they were tired. But as D’Antoni acknowledged this is the same movie that has been running the past 30 days. Lead early, get demolished after halftime, exit mental toughness and grit, limp onto the bus. Game over. The Lakers are 14-22. They are 5-16 vs. teams above .500. The Clippers are next.
Pau Gasol: 21 points, 61% fg, 12 rebounds, 83% ft, 4 offensive rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 assists, 3 turnovers.
Jordan Hill: 10 points, 62% fg, 8 rebounds, 0% ft, 5 offensive rebounds, 1 block, 1 turnover
Nick Young: 25 points, 50% fg, 6 rebounds, 100% ft, 1 assist, 0 turnovers
Jodie Meeks: 21 points, 38% fg, 3 rebounds, 90% ft, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers
Wes Johnson: 10 points, 30% fg, 4 rebounds, 3 offensive rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals 2 turnovers