Things looked awfully good early, as the Lakers raced out to a lead behind a sterling first quarter. From there, though, the Lakers deteriorated. The big lead built over the first 12 minutes evaporated, as did a six-point lead starting the fourth as the Rockets lit up the Lakers like a Christmas tree. Thirty-four points in the quarter, part of a 49 percent shooting effort including 45 percent from the line. The defensive backsliding Mike Brown has talked about recently certainly didn't stop Tuesday.
Add in a totally boneheaded move by Andrew Bynum -- ejected near the end of the third following his second technical foul, both earned for yapping at the refs -- too many turnovers, a poor effort on the defensive glass and a lack of offensive balance, and you get consecutive losses for the Lakers.
Here are five takeaways ...
1. The offense got mucked up after an incredible first quarter ...
Maybe they were worried about running through their March quota, but after a 40-point first quarter in which they shot an astonishing 69 percent from the floor, the Lakers didn't function very well the rest of the way. Over those first 12 minutes, the Lakers were very precise and the ball moved well, evidenced by 11 assists on 18 field goals. Pau Gasol was active early, not only hitting midrange jumpers from different locations around the court, but also showing the effective post game he doesn't get enough opportunities to use. Drop steps, lefty hooks and all sorts of fundamentally sound goodness. Kobe was hot early, as well, hitting three of his first five shots.
Perhaps most importantly, the Lakers finished the quarter with only one turnover.
From there, the Lakers got sucked into poor possessions. In the second quarter, the Lakers had only five field goals as a team and turned the ball over five times. Kobe was only 2-of-8, a combination of bad offensive flow forcing him into late-clock shots, lack of ball/player movement and questionable choices. The third quarter was a little better, but the Lakes still turned it over another six times.
2. ... Until Ramon Sessions unmucked it, at least temporarily.
After giving the Lakers a six-point lead with a three-footer in the paint to end L.A.'s scoring in the third, Sessions was incredible at the start of the fourth quarter, giving the Lakers an offensive push working with a lineup for which points seemed like they'd be hard to find. He attacked relentlessly, getting two more finishes at the rim, getting a dish to Troy Murphy for 3, canning a long jumper and assisting Gasol for a bucket inside. He was great, and no surprise Brown went with him down the stretch, his first crunch-time minutes as a Laker.
Late in the game, though, the Lakers seemed unable to generate a shot, totally losing any semblance of an inside game.
3. The Lakers seem allergic to putting Gasol on the block.
After a couple of early touches near the rim, the Lakers basically ignored the option of putting Pau down on the block and letting him work. When Bynum is in the game, it makes some sense. Once again, Bynum was effective down low Tuesday night, hitting seven of his 11 shots before foolishly getting himself ejected near the end of the third quarter. But in the fourth, and particularly down the stretch, the Lakers became stagnant, reducing Gasol to a high-screen guy for Kobe, and never even sniffing some of the options on the table for them offensively.
It's reflective of a larger problem the Lakers have -- of figuring out how to get the most out of Gasol offensively. There are natural complications with it when the Big Three are on the floor together. But when one of them is gone?
4. Those worried about how Kobe might work with a penetrating PG won't feel good about tonight.
As mentioned above, Sessions dominated Houston early in the fourth, getting into the paint and breaking down Houston's defense with relative ease. After Kobe checked back in with 4:45 to play -- some will question whether Mike Brown left him there too long -- all of that disappeared. The ball was put in Kobe's hands on every trip, nearly the same way every time. The ball movement stopped, shots came late in the clock and almost nothing was headed toward the rim. Predictably, the Lakers went scoreless between the 5:01- and 1:28-minute marks. Bryant hit a couple of late jumpers, but basically the Lakers' ability to win devolved into a question of whether Kobe would hit his jumpers (iso heavy) or not.
Brown didn't keep the tool in the toolbox, because Sessions was on the floor to end the game. But he didn't use the tool, either. Going forward, is Sessions going to be allowed to create late in games? If not, how much do the Lakers really benefit from his presence?
No question, playing with Sessions constitutes a huge adjustment for Kobe, who hasn't played with this sort of point guard outside of international play in a long, long time. It will take time, longer than one fourth-quarter run. Still, it's reasonable to ask whether the adjustment will come from Bryant or if Brown wants to/is able to push him in a new direction. Not just with Sessions in the lineup, but with how the Lakers run their late-game offense, generally.
4. Kobe needed 27 shots for his 29 points.
His numbers tonight (29 points, 4 assists, 1 TO) look better than in Sunday's loss to Utah, and in some ways his game was far superior. Namely, he held on to the ball. But in terms of shot selection, I'll take what he did Sunday, when little was forced and the looks were good, over what happened Tuesday. No question, he was pushed into some late-clock shots by an often inefficient Lakers offense, but his choices weren't as good, either.
5. Steve Blake has to give more.
Whether he's starting or coming off the bench, Blake has to be better. Only one bucket (ending a two-game scoreless streak) and three turnovers in 19 minutes.