Five things to take away from Lakers' 108-99 victory over Houston Rockets
1. Kobe Bryant's shooting fluctuated. The Lakers' 108-99 victory Tuesday over the Houston Rockets featured Bryant peaking and struggling with his shot. Bryant made his first three attempts, including one that he threw off the backboard with his left hand and rebounded with a putback on his right. Then he finished the first half with a five-for-14 mark. Then Bryant rebounded in the second half and scored 37 points on 14-of-29 shooting overall.
Bryant's shot chart was much better than in the Lakers' loss Sunday to Denver. That's because many of his shots were more mid-range and baseline jumpers than ones from long distance. Bryant maintains a fine line between making adjustments on his shot and utilizing the bigs inside. Meanwhile, the Lakers worked better with Bryant in finding him looks off the ball and in the post.
2. Andrew Bynum remains efficient, and received more looks in the second half. Bynum appeared so frustrated with not receiving enough looks that Bynum ripped off his tucked jersey as he entered the locker room at halftime. Jason Kapono didn't see a wide-open Bynum under the basket at the end of the half.
Bynum's stat line of 21 points on eight-of-15 shooting and 22 rebounds marks the first time in his six-year career he recorded a 20-20 game. While there were a few hiccups in a few post moves and missed putbacks, Bynum remained mostly effective. Only problem: The Lakers didn't utilize him enough despite the Rockets' insistence on playing small ball in the first half. The Lakers reached a better balance in the second half, thanks to Bryant's improved shooting.
3. Houston's zone defense threw Lakers off. Part of the reason the Lakers avoided passing the ball inside enough pointed to their tentativeness in responding the Rockets' zone in the second quarter. The easy answer involves hoisting more outside shots, but that's usually what teams that run zone want their opponents to do.
4. Pau Gasol has adjusted his game since Bynum's return. Gasol always featured a solid mid-range jumper. But ever since Bynum's return in the past three games, Gasol's offense has largely centered around knocking down that shot than scoring off the post. He scored 14 points on seven-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds against the Rockets. It's a good sign Bynum and Gasol can coexist on the floor and that Gasol appears willing to take a back seat to Bynum.
5. The Peace Corps looked solid. Steve Blake maintained his shooting confidence with an 11-point effort on four-for-eight shooting. Metta World Peace suddenly showed facilitating skills. And Troy Murphy provided decent energy for five points on two-of-two shooting and four rebounds.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant spins away from Rockets guard Kevin Martin before elevating for a shot in the fourth quarter Tuesday night at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / January 3, 2012.