Lakers 102, Rockets 96: Something to talk (and talk, and talk, and talk) about
Sometimes even elite squads need a victory, and Wednesday night in Houston, that's where the Lakers, losers of three straight on the road, found themselves. It wouldn't be easy. No Andrew Bynum (knees will do that sort of thing), no Lamar Odom (suspensions will do that sort of thing), facing a Rockets squad that had won 11 of 13 coming in and 12 straight at home.
Led by Kobe Bryant's 37 points, 18 of which came in the final frame, the Lakers knocked off the Rockets 102-96. The win was big enough to put LA in a chatty mood when it was over, in part because Bryant, who hadn't been all that communicative over the last few days, send all sorts of messages during the game. Rick Adelman threw both Shane Battier and Ron Artest at him, but Kobe still lit up the Rockets and (it's fair to say) won a war of words with Artest that had the Houston forward knocked off his proverbial and always unstable gourd, as noted in last night's postgame.
Double bonus for Lakers fans. First, the smack talk, like tugging on Superman's cape or separating AK from his favorite Kajagoogoo album, didn't exactly do Houston any favors. Second, it made for some great television:
Generally speaking, Artest made some abysmal decisions on both ends as noted by BDL's Kelly Dwyer, and the game illustrated how much an advantage Kobe has in the mental battle between the two players.
But it wasn't just the Kobe/Artest on-court slam poetry fest that had the chattering classes a-twitter (or, for the more technologically savvy, a-Twitter). Josh Powell stepped up in place of the suspended Odom and, as the box score shows, came through big with 17 points and nine boards as the Lakers effectively used his face up game with a bunch of pick and pops. Pau Gasol added 20 points, and also four steals as he helped keep the ball out of Yao's hands in the post.
Good ball denial and effective double teams limited the big Houston pivot to nine shots and two trips to the line.
LA's starting five also prompted a little conversation. Powell was added by necessity (hopefully Lamar Odom, who by rule was not allowed in the arena last night, will have plenty of motivation to play a good game tonight in San Antonio against the Spurs), but Phil Jackson also inserted Trevor Ariza for Luke Walton. The change, suggested by Walton, was designed to add a little more ball movement to a second unit that had become stagnant, and also free up Ariza to get back to his slashing, attack-the-rack style that made him so effective earlier in the season. It's an arrangement that will continue going forward.
More recaps, from The Dreamshake, who agree that Artest went off the reservation against the wrong hombre:
Ron Artest screwed up tonight. He chose to pick a bone with the best player in the world, and as usual, the best player won. Normally I appreciate Ron's passion and will to win. But his passion was misplaced tonight. His focus was squarely placed on the "Ron versus Kobe" matchup, as opposed to the Rockets versus Lakers matchup. And I think it cost his team the game tonight. Many of his shots or reckless drive attempts down the stretch were merely responses to what Kobe had done on the other end of the floor. Ron was playing streetball, when it was anything but. Our All-World center, Yao Ming, returned to the game late in the fourth having shot 7-8 from the floor, and on the next two possessions, Artest missed a three and tried to drive through three defenders, unsuccessfully. Remember those Gatorade commercials, the "anything you can do, I can do better?" ads? Ron had that song playing in his head the entire night. Kobe just played his game, and his game is much better than Ron's game.