Lakers respond in appropriate fashion in 109-101 victory over Houston Rockets
"What a difference a day made/Twenty-four little hours/Brought the sun and the flowers/Where there used to be rain" - Dinah Washington
That was the song ringing in Lawrence Tanter's ear as the Lakers became a different team once again in their 109-101 victory Saturday against the Houston Rockets. But at least for the Lakers' sake, their 180-degree turn didn't go from great (win Wednesday against San Antonio) to bad (double-digit loss Friday to Oklahoma City). Instead, the transformation went from bad to better.
What this means big picture? Not much.
Sure, there is the usual standings update, with the Lakers (54-19) leading Denver (48-25) by six games as well as Dallas (47-25) and Utah (48-26) by six-and-a-half games for the top spot in the Western Conference with nine games remaining in the regular season. Other than that, there aren't many things to take away from this game beyond the fact the Lakers rebounded against an opponent in Houston (36-36) that won't clinch the playoffs. The Lakers should be credited for not allowing the problems they left in Oklahoma City to travel with them to Texas, but the next step entails making sure those problems don't reroute to New Orleans Monday when the Lakers play the Hornets (34-40). In the meantime, the Lakers can take comfort that the their loss to the Thunder didn't have a trickle effect, much like what happened during the team's winless three-game trip earlier this month.
At first, however, it appeared the Lakers couldn't shed their bad habits. Though the Lakers shot 54.5% in the first quarter, they committed 12 turnovers, allowed speedy point guard Aaron Brooks to drop 12 points and former D-Leaguer Jermaine Taylor to score an already career-high 10 points and fell to a 34-27 first-quarter deficit.
That proved to be the only worry beyond the initial scare over Lakers forward Ron Artest, who reportedly had a bruised left heel after he chased a loose ball with 6:29 remaining in the third quarter with Rockets forward and former Laker Trevor Ariza.
"Nothing happened," Artest told KCAL-9's John Ireland.
So if you do replay the game and see that incident, it's actually just a glitch in your DVR. Replaying the rest of the game will feature a lot of positive things the Lakers put together.
Inside game: The Lakers may be without center Andrew Bynum (strained left Achilles' tendon) for the fourth consecutive game, but the Rockets don't much size at all, featuring 6-6 center Chuck Hayes. Lakers forward Pau Gasol exploited the mismatches, scoring a season-high 30 points on 11 of 17 shooting, including an eight of 10 clip after the first quarter. Gasol's effort came a day after scoring only nine points on three of 10 shooting, a performance Lakers Coach Phil Jackson described as soft. And for good measure, Lamar Odom (13 points, 13 rebounds) and D.J. Mbenga (four points in seven minutes) gave the Lakers other options.
Kobe Bryant's triple-threat option: Bryant finished one assist shy of a triple double (17 points, 10 points and nine assists) marking the second time this season he was oh so close to getting that mark. He also nearly reached a triple double in his 27-point, 16-rebound and nine -assist effort Jan. 24 in a 106-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors. Though his five turnovers were far from impressive, he improved from the nine turnovers he committed against Oklahoma City. He also shot better from the field, going seven of 14 after finishing with a four of 11 clip against the Thunder. The most impressive thing regarding Bryant's director role entailed getting everyone on the floor involved. Just take a look at his assists breakdown: 3 to Gasol, 3 to Fisher, 1 to Odom, 1 to Artest and 1 to Lakers backup Jordan Farmar
Team Balance: That was a large reason why the Lakers featured five players in double scoring, which also included Fisher (15 on six of eight shooting) and Farmar (14 on five of seven shooting). In the Lakers' 20-0 run in the second quarter, four different players scored and three different players dropped the dimes. That's a stark contrast to the season-low seven assists and the two players in double figures the team provided against Oklahoma City. The Lakers' holding Houston without a field goal for the final 6:10 of the second quarter also contrasted the 16-2 run the Thunder put together to close out a 33-point lead through three quarters.
Again, though the aforementioned qualities are laudable, you have to consider the opponent. The Rockets lost their fourth consecutive game for the first time since losing six in a row Nov. 13-23, 2007. Houston has also been plagued by injuries, including Shane Battier (hyperextended left knee, normally guards Bryant well) and Kevin Martin (sore left shoulder, has averaged 21.8 points in 17 games since he was acquired in a trade on Feb. 18). Nonetheless, the Lakers put together something to build upon for the rest of their trip, something that couldn't be said just a day earlier.
Photo: Pau Gasol had 30 points, eight rebounds and four blocks during the Lakers' 109-101 victory over Houston in the Toyota Center on Saturday. Credit: Dave Einsel/ Associated Press.