HOUSTON -- It was as “must-win” as a game on Dec. 1 can get and the Lakers went out and dug their hole even deeper, extending their three-game losing streak to four and falling to an undermanned Houston team.
“The strength of our team is our depth,” is the tag line that you’d hear Lamar Odom utter in the postgame locker room anywhere from 200-300 times a season during the last couple years and he personified the claim Wednesday.
With Pau Gasol coming into the game with weary legs and Kobe Bryant entering with a suspect shooting stroke, it was nice of Odom to go from No. 3 to No. 1 for a day.
And hey, if everybody else on the 5-12 Rockets were going to step up with Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks out of the lineup with ankle injuries and give the Lakers all they could handle, the least the back-to-back champions could do is have some secondary players do the same.
Three Up: Let’s start by keep talking about L.O. because he was the only bright spot really…
1. Lamar Odom. He averaged 13 points and 10.7 rebounds during the three-game slide, so it wasn’t like Odom was the cause of the hiccup or anything, but he wasn’t the telling the team how to drink water upside down and cure it either. He played inspired, scoring a season-high 25 points to go with 11 rebounds and two blocks. But, he was scoreless in the fourth, so it wasn't all good from Odom.
2. Matt Barnes. It was the start of the fourth quarter. Pau was in the locker room. Kobe was on the bench. The Rockets took the lead and Barnes scored on two tough baskets in the lane on back to back trips. He finished with 14 points and eight boards.
3. Pau’s minutes. Hurray! He "only" played 39 minutes! As bad as the Lakers losing streak was to their current place in the Western Conference standings, Gasol’s 45.3 minutes per game average during the three games threatened to hurt their seed in the playoffs when it really matters if it ended up wearing him down and leading to an injury. (Yes, BK, some things do “really matter” more than others). He got a brief respite Wednesday, with rookie Derrick Caracter playing a chunk of minutes where he actually looked like a serviceable backup.
Three Down: Before the game, Phil Jackson said there were "about 35 things" he went over with the team that it can improve. I'll pick three of my own and get the other 32 from Phil later ...
1. Perimeter defense. You thought it was bad against Memphis on Tuesday when they let the Grizzlies go 8-for-12 from downtown? How about giving up back-to-back open looks to Shane Battier at the exact same spot on the court to turn a three-point lead into a three-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining? Or worse, Derek Fisher fouling Battier on a 3-point attempt with less than a minute to go to turn that three-point lead into six. Bryant has been a major culprit in not closing out, whether that’s still knee related or not, we don’t know. But the rest of the team hasn’t been finding shooters when defending fastbreak opportunities either.
2. Pau’s hamstrings. He’s the player the Lakers can least afford to lose right now with Andrew Bynum out for another two weeks at least (and probably at least 4-6 weeks away from regaining his rhythm and sometimes dominant form) so that little trip to the locker room at the end of the third quarter was pretty scary to see. He didn’t miss much game time, but he didn’t do much in the fourth quarter when he was out there either going 0-of 2 with two rebounds, slogging up and down the court and grabbing at his left hammy during breaks in the game. He missed 17 games last year because of the same injury. This could be bad.
3. Underestimating their opponent. No Brooks, no Yao, no problem? Hardly. The Rockets bench scored 48 points, led by Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger with 10 points apiece. Somebody read a scouting report.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.