Los Angeles Lakers: Houston Rockets
Mitch Kupchak gets a contract extension:
Hardly anything went right for the Lakers this season. The only thing worse than losing is losing without a plan in place. The Lakers took care of the latter by inking general manager Kupchak to a contract extension, as first reported by ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne last week. While the terms of the deal were undisclosed, the Lakers confirmed that Kupchak will be back calling the shots on a multiyear agreement. Kupchak, who has been with the Lakers organization since retiring as a player in 1986, was called the best GM in the league by Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey earlier this season. He should give L.A. a steady voice up top as the team navigates a difficult period of upheaval.
Steve Nash moves into third on the career assists list:
Nash would be the first to admit his time in L.A. hasn’t gone at all according to plan, but he was able to reach a major achievement as a member of the purple and gold nonetheless. With his fifth assist against the Rockets on Tuesday -- an outlet pass leading to a Jodie Meeks dunk on the break -- Nash notched assist No. 10,335 of his career, passing Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time list. He now trails only John Stockton (15,806 assists) and Jason Kidd (12,091) in the history books. Unfortunately, Nash aggravated his hamstring against Houston and said he “probably” will not play again this season after setting the record.
Jodie Meeks keeps on scoring:
Before a clunker of a 2-for-12 night against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, Meeks was having one of his best weeks of the season on the offensive end. The fifth-year shooting guard scored 25 points against the Dallas Mavericks, 17 against the Los Angeles Clippers and 30 against the Rockets, shooting a combined 28-for-53 (52.8 percent) in the three games. Meeks is a lock when considering which player on the Lakers roster is most improved from last season and could very well receive some votes for the most improved player award for the league at large.
Clippers embarrass the Lakers for the third straight time:
That 116-103 win by the Lakers over the Clippers on opening night seems like a distant memory after the Clippers beat the Lakers 120-97 last Sunday to take the season series 3-1. As bad as the 23-point loss was -- with the Lakers allowing the Clips to shoot 56.6 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from 3 -- it was actually an improvement from the Lakers’ past two losses to the Clippers -- by 48 points in March and by 36 points in January.
Lakers get trounced by Dwight Howard-less Rockets:
When you score 130 points in a game, you’re supposed to win. The Lakers somehow managed to do that and still get blown out, losing 145-130 to Houston last week. The game was terrible for L.A. for a lot of reasons -- getting outscored 49-29 in the third quarter, allowing James Harden and Terrence Jones to score 33 points apiece and getting walloped 80-46 in points in the paint -- but perhaps the toughest pill to swallow for Lakers fans was seeing Howard rocking magenta pants on the Rockets bench as he laughed along and enjoyed the victory.
"I think he's OK, I think he's fine," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He wants one more practice."
Gasol is considered probable for the Lakers' game against the Boston Celtics on Friday.
If it was Gasol’s last appearance on the Lakers’ practice court, at least there was a smile on the 13-year veteran’s face as he went through a series of post drills after shootaround with assistant coaches Kurt Rambis and Larry Lewis. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday afternoon and Gasol's name continues to appear in trade speculation.
Jordan Farmar (left hamstring) also participated in shootaround and is considered a game-time decision.
"If he does play, we won't play him a whole lot," said D'Antoni.
L.A. will start Kendall Marshall, Steve Blake, Ryan Kelly and Wesley Johnson alongside Kaman. Jodie Meeks will come off the bench.
HOUSTON -- Maybe there was a reason the NBA decided to change its national broadcast schedule to yank Wednesday's Los Angeles Lakers versus Houston Rockets game from airways around the country.
After all, Nick Young already said the postgame locker room in Dallas following a 13-point loss Tuesday -- the Lakers' eighth in nine games -- felt like "a funeral."
Appropriate then that Kobe Bryant was wearing all black on the end of the Lakers bench at the Toyota Center. Right?
At some point L.A. will officially mourn the hope it had for success this season.
That day has not come yet, with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak telling ESPNLosAngeles.com before the Rockets game that, "I haven't sensed that players have thrown in the towel, and they won't ... They have too much at stake."
Maybe the Lakers haven't given up hope yet, but the league was right to give up on showcasing the second "reunion" game between the Lakers and Dwight Howard's Rockets this season, especially after a few mind-numbing minutes in the fourth quarter that reduced the game to a parade of Howard missed free throw attempts.
Hack-a-Howard might have worked the first time L.A. beat the Rockets in Houston this season, but when the Lakers started the strategy when they were already down more than a dozen points in the final minutes it seemed more petty than savvy this time around.
How it happened: The Lakers took a five-point lead into halftime thanks to strong starts from Pau Gasol (15 of his 21 points in the first two quarters) and Nick Young (15 of his 25 points), but the wheels came off in the third quarter when L.A. was outscored 33-15 and Houston controlled it from there, even with the Hack-a-Howard spectacle in the fourth.
What it means: The Lakers have now lost nine of their past 10 games by an average of 13.9 points, and eight of their next nine games are on the road. Is there any relief in sight?
Hits: Jodie Meeks scored 21 points.
Jordan Hill had 10 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
Chris Kaman broke a string of four straight DNP-CDs to put in five points and five rebounds off the bench.
Misses: Kendall Marshall had his worst game since joining the starting lineup, shooting just 2-for-13 from the field en route to five points and eight assists.
Howard shot 10-for-24 from the free throw line.
Stat of the game: 18. That's how many turnovers the Lakers had leading to 26 points for the Rockets. Seven of those turnovers came in the decisive third quarter.
Up next: The Lakers will have an off day Thursday coming off the back-to-back in Dallas and Houston and then play a "road" game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday in their first matchup against the Clips since that surprising blowout win on opening night.
The "Linsanity" run during New York's 2011-12 season coincided with a seven-game winning streak by the Knicks, led every step of the way by Lin putting up points and dishing out assists as the starting point guard.
The Lakers are just 1-2 since Marshall took over starting point guard duties last week, but the former D-Leaguer (just like Lin) has been superb, averaging 15.7 points, 12.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds on 56.3 percent shooting in those three starts.
"He's done a great job," Lin said when asked about Marshall after the Houston Rockets' shootaround Wednesday in preparation for the Lakers. "He's a phenomenal passer and he's just a smart, smart player. He's definitely taken advantage of the opportunity and all the injuries that they have and really done a great job. So, I think people are happy for him, for sure."
D'Antoni compared Marshall's inauspicious first appearance with the Lakers, when the North Carolina product had four turnovers in six minutes against the Golden State Warriors, with Lin's game against the Boston Celtics just before his memorable run started when Lin had just two points, one assist, one turnover and two fouls in seven minutes.
"The first time he went out in Boston it was awful, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh,’" D'Antoni recalled following the Lakers' 110-99 win over the Utah Jazz last week in Marshall's first start. "Then, obviously it happened to him. It does happen to guys."
A lot has happened to Lin since his days being coached by D'Antoni, most notably signing a $25 million contract with Houston, receiving critical acclaim after releasing the documentary "Linsanity" detailing his rise to fame and just this week, inking a new endorsement deal with Adidas AG.
"We'll still text back and forth throughout the season," Lin said of this relationship with D'Antoni. "He came out and was there for the 'Linsanity' documentary premiere (at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood) and he let me work out at the Lakers' facility when I was down there in L.A. this summer. So, I think we'll always have a special bond just because of everything that happened."
Lin said that D'Antoni's coaching style helped him grow.
"I think he lets guards play through their mistakes," Lin said. "I think he gives them a lot of freedom and creativity and I think he's really good at finding ways to get mismatches on the floor and he's really innovative when it comes to that type of stuff. So, he does a great job and he makes you feel like (you're important). He empowers you, basically."
Lin said that he even notices D'Antoni's coaching influence on the sets that Rockets coach Kevin McHale runs in Houston.
"I think in general the league has adopted a lot of what he started," Lin said. "Him and Golden State 'small ball' and stuff like that, you see lot of that just filtering into all different teams right now."
What was once a circle-the-calendar type of night, with Dwight Howard playing one of four reunion games against his former team, will now only be carried by local affiliates.
"I think they’re doing business and you can’t blame them," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said Friday. "It’s our job now to make them go, ‘Man, we messed that up.’ Everybody has to do their business. Our job is to make it to where we’re a good team. Obviously we haven’t showed that yet but we’re working at it."
D'Antoni was asked if it was "odd" to see the Lakers, one of the league's glamour franchises, bumped from the airways.
"It’s kind of odd that we’re three games under .500 too, so I think it kind of coincides together and we don’t have Kobe [Bryant]," D'Antoni said. "I think it kind of fits in together."
The Lakers host the Rockets on Feb. 19 in Howard's first time returning to Staples Center to face the purple and gold and also his first time, presumably, going up against Bryant (if he's healthy by then) since choosing Houston during free agency during the offseason. That game will be aired nationally on ESPN.
Coming into the 2013-14 season the Lakers had 25 national TV appearances scheduled (five on ABC, 10 on ESPN, 10 on TNT), tying them with the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks for most in the league.
This isn't the first time the strength of the Lakers' brand was tested this season. Back in November the team's sellout streak was snapped at 320 games.
Lakers sources indicated to ESPN that the team is still weighing the situation carefully and "looking at everything."
After agreeing to terms with veteran center Chris Kaman earlier in the day on a one-year, $3.2 million contract, the Lakers have only veteran minimum contracts remaining to fill out their roster.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant made his feelings about the situation clear. Bryant first tweeted that "No game 7 win without Metta! This is a tough day for laker nation #misspeace #newcbacasualty," then followed it up with a subsequent tweet saying "Personally I'd keep Metta and make a run with the unit we have and just add a few pieces #keepthepeace #lakersstilldeciding."
While he was at it, Bryant offered his first public comments about center Dwight Howard's decision to leave the Lakers and sign with the Houston Rockets. Bryant had un-followed Howard on Twitter and also posted a photo of Gasol and Bryant together on the court via his Instagram account after Howard announced he had decided to join the Rockets on Friday.
"I wish d12 the best honestly," Bryant tweeted. "I just find it hard to follow players that wanna kick my teams ass #thatsjustme."
Despite the best efforts of Howard and his representatives not to create a frenzy around his meetings with the Rockets, Hawks, Warriors, Mavericks and Lakers this week, this process has been every bit the circus as what LeBron James went through in 2010. It's just been drawn out over a longer period, rather than condensed into a wild two weeks and made-for-TV announcement special. It has certainly been just as damaging to his reputation.
And yet as the process comes to a close finally, there's a palpable sense amongst all involved that the immediate emotional reaction to whatever Howard decides will not be despair or elation, but rather relief.
That it's finally over. That both Howard and everyone involved can move on. And at long last, there is clarity -- one way or another -- of where everyone stands.
It is an enormous moment for the Lakers franchise, Howard and all the other teams involved, and perfunctory one.
Howard will either stay or go, and from there the Lakers will either rejoice or regroup.
On one level it feels enormous -- like a referendum on the Lakers franchise, the strength of its brand and the franchise's great history in the NBA.
But on another level it doesn't seem like all that big of a deal at all. If Howard elects to leave, it will sting for a little while, but five minutes later the Lakers will move on to their 2014 strategy.
It will be a much bigger deal in Houston or Dallas or wherever Howard may choose to play if he leaves, of course. A franchise-defining moment for either club, not to mention a chance for the rest of the NBA to bask in some Lakers misfortune.
But even for Howard, the stakes seem somehow both ridiculously high and not that big of a deal at all.
He'll either go or stay, but the biggest development, the most meaningful one anyway, will be that it will all finally be over and he can, in the words of one source intimately involved in the process, "get back to focusing on becoming a champion."
The long Dwightmare, the process everyone involved in simply can't wait to be finished with, will be over soon. All that strutting and fretting upon the stage will just be another long NBA tale, signifying everything -- or nothing -- in the end.
Here's the scoop from Broussard:
Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skill set, one source said.
The Lakers can offer Howard a five-year, $118 million contract, while other teams can pay him only $88 million over four years.
Howard plans to meet with the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks before meeting with the Lakers once teams are allowed to contact free agents beginning July 1, a source said. It appears that the teams will visit Howard in Los Angeles.
According to this breakdown by an accountant, the financial difference is realistically $9.3 million should Howard choose Houston over L.A.
But enough about why Howard would leave. The question for the Lakers is, what do they do if Howard does indeed bolt?
I explored this scenario when detailing the Lakers' offseason options a couple of weeks ago.
The first decision the Lakers would have to make is whether they plan to simply let Howard walk, or try to work with him on a sign-and-trade deal.
LOS ANGELES -- In what has seemed at times like a never-ending Los Angeles Lakers season, the last game of the regular season came down to the last minute of overtime.
The Memphis Grizzlies seemingly took most of the drama out of the night for the Los Angeles Lakers before their game had even tipped off against the Houston Rockets.
Memphis beat the Utah Jazz to assure the Lakers a playoff berth for the eighth straight season and 19th time in the past 20.
So, as disastrous as the Lakers' season has seemed, L.A. did make good on Kobe Bryant's playoff guarantee even with Bryant out for the rest of the season after Achilles tendon surgery and, even with a loss against Houston, L.A. would finish the season 28-12 over its final 40 games.
But there was still the business of who the Lakers' and Rockets' first-round opponents would be.
The winner would get to play the No. 2-seeded San Antonio Spurs. The loser would have to face the Western Conference's top team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
L.A. gets the Spurs, it turns out, after a 99-95 overtime win over the Rockets. So instead of having to face a 60-win Oklahoma City team that ousted L.A. from the playoffs last season, the Lakers get a Spurs team that is just 3-7 over its last 10 games heading into the playoffs, including a 91-86 loss to the Lakers last weekend.
How it happened: L.A. fell down 18-12 early, prompting coach Mike D'Antoni to call a timeout, which spurred a 9-0 run by the Lakers. The Rockets built their lead to 11 in the second half before the Lakers' new "big three" of Steve Blake (24 points after 23 points Sunday against San Antonio), Dwight Howard (16 points) and Pau Gasol (17 points and a bunch of other great stats), gave the team a three-point lead with less than a minute left in the fourth. That's when the ball found itself in the hands of the Rockets' Chandler Parsons, who hit a dead-away 3-pointer from 36 feet to tie the score at the regulation buzzer.
In overtime, Jodie Meeks atoned for his 1-for-9 start from the field by throwing down a momentum-changing baseline dunk, and tacking on a huge free throw to put L.A. up by four with 14.5 seconds left. James Harden cut it to two with two free throws, but Blake iced it with a final two freebies to end the game 8-for-8 from the line.
What it means: The Lakers are 2-0 without Bryant, and even though San Antonio is still a tough place to open the playoffs, there is no denying the momentum they will take with them into the postseason whether No. 24 is in the lineup or not.
Hits: Gasol finished with 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists for his second triple-double in his last three games.
Blake's 47 points over his last two games are more than Steve Nash's highest two-game total this season (38, twice).
Antawn Jamison scored 16 points off the bench.
Misses: Nash missed his eighth straight game because of right hip, hamstring and lower-back pain. Nash revealed to ESPN's Chris Broussard during an in-game sideline interview that he received two epidurals this week to try to deal with the pain.
Stat of the game: L.A. held Houston, which had averaged 106.1 points coming into Wednesday, to just 95 points in 53 minutes of game time.
Up next: The Lakers will open up the postseason with Game 1 of its first-round series with the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday.
That's really the only pertinent question for the boys in purple and gold these days.
All the other queries that surround them -- What's the state of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard's relationship? When is Pau Gasol coming back? Is Mike D'Antoni the right coach for this group? -- merely funnel into that same, fundamental question.
The Lakers are 28-30 with 24 games to play, good for ninth place in the Western Conference -- three games behind the Houston Rockets for the final postseason berth.
D'Antoni said after the All-Star break that the Lakers would need to go at least 20-8 (.714 winning percentage) to ensure a spot in the playoffs. Since then, Bryant has guaranteed the Lakers will be playing past the regular-season finale April 17, and L.A. has gone 3-1 in its past four games.
The four-game improved stretch can be extended back to include 11 wins for L.A. in its past 16 games. However, the five losses in that stretch have been by an average of 14.4 points, including the Lakers' 11-point loss Monday in Denver in a game in which they trailed by as many as 18 points.
The Denver loss dropped the Lakers to just 1-10 this season on the road against the eight teams in the West currently slated to make the playoffs, which only punctuates L.A.'s paltry 10-19 overall road record.
For argument's sake, let's say that trend continues and the Lakers go 0-3 on the road the remainder of the way against the Western Conference teams ahead of them in the standings -- losing in Oklahoma City on March 5, at Golden State on March 25 (the one team ahead of them in the West they actually have beaten on the road this season, in Steve Nash's return from a leg injury Dec. 22) and to the L.A. Clippers in a "road" game at Staples Center on April 7.
That leaves us with 21 games left to consider and the Lakers needing 17 wins in those games to reach D'Antoni's magic number of 45 wins.
The 12 home games are: Minnesota, Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago, Sacramento, Washington, Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.
The Lakers are 10-10 (.500) so far this season against those teams. So, even though the Lakers have gone 18-11 (.621) at home so far, those 12 games shouldn't be a cakewalk. Let's split the difference between the two percentages, and say the Lakers win .561 of their remaining home games and go 7-5.
That would put their record at 35-38, with the nine remaining road games to consider.
Even if they went 9-0 in those games (at New Orleans, Atlanta, Orlando, Indiana, Phoenix, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Sacramento and Portland), they would not reach D'Antoni's stated goal of 45 wins to make the playoffs. Plus, 9-0 isn't really realistic when you consider the Lakers are just 8-5 (.615) against those teams so far this season. If they play .615 ball against them, you're talking about them winning five or six of those games. Let's say they get six; that brings their record to 41-41.
ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton puts the Lakers' magic number at 43 wins needed to consider the postseason.
That would require the Lakers to go 15-9 the rest of the way, or to find two more wins out of the three scenarios explained above -- maybe going 1-2 in those road games against Western playoff teams, or going 8-4 in their remaining home games or 7-2 in those other nine road games.
Meanwhile, the three teams the Lakers are chasing to get into the playoffs -- Houston, Golden State and Utah -- would have a much easier path to get to 43.
"The Lakers can do their part and still be eliminated because the three teams ahead of them -- the Rockets, the Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz -- need only go .500 to get to at least 43 wins. In fact, the simulation shows the Lakers aren't really guaranteed a playoff spot unless they get to 47 wins. So there will be plenty of scoreboard watching for the Lakers, whose playoff hopes might go down after a win if their competitors are also victorious."
And all of this isn't even mentioning the possibility of Bryant picking up three more technical fouls and being suspended for a game or Howard tweaking that right shoulder of his and having to sit out with his torn labrum, as has happened two times already.
Will the Lakers make the playoffs? It's too early to know. But it's certainly not too soon to see just how difficult the road will be for them to get there.
Then reality set in.
Quite simply, there's a reason the Lakers came into the game having lost four out of their previous five games, just as there was a reason the Rockets came in riding a four-game winning streak.
And there's a reason why it's now five out of six for L.A. and five in a row on the plus side for Houston.
How it happened: Rather than being the team clawing back from an early deficit, it was the Lakers who built a 14-point lead in the first quarter.
The Rockets were able to make it a close game by halftime and erased all the early work the Lakers put in with an 18-2 run of their own in the third quarter to break the game open.
L.A. never made it close in the fourth and coach Mike D'Antoni conceded victory with 1:43 remaining, subbing Kobe Bryant (20 points on 8-for-22 shooting, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) and Steve Nash (16 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds) out of the game.
What it means: The Lakers still don't have any answers for their porous defense and they'll have to continue to search for solutions with Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill out of the lineup.
Hits: A day after playing a D-League game that tipped off a 10 a.m. in Reno, Nev., Robert Sacre was the starting center for the Lakers. Sacre was serviceable, finishing with 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting along with three rebounds, but he struggled giving up and-1 opportunities to Rockets players down low.
Metta World Peace scored a season-high 24 points and shot 4-for-5 on 3-pointers.
Misses: Antawn Jamison and D'Antoni got into a verbal spat in the first half when the veteran forward was checking into the game. Jamison finished with seven points and two rebounds and shot just 1-for-4 on 3-pointers in 24 minutes.
Stat of the night: With his fifth assist of the night, a dish inside to Jamison for a layup just before the half, Nash became only the fifth player in NBA history to amass 10,000 career assists.
Notes: Dwight Howard discussed the torn labrum in his right shoulder with reporters before the game and downplayed the severity of the injury.
What's next: With the Lakers now 0-3 on their crucial five-game stretch against Western Conference opponents ahead of them in the standings, they travel to San Antonio for the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday. Nothing gets easier for the 15-19 Lakers.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni experienced some seemingly divine intervention last season with the Knicks when Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony went out and the then unknown Jeremy Lin saved the Knicks' season with a hot streak that will be forever referred to as "Linsanity."
Could it happen again for D'Antoni and the Lakers with Robert Sacre?
"I said yesterday Darius (Morris), but it’s probably more maybe 'Sacresanity' or 'Sacsanity' has to happen," D'Antoni said following Tuesday's shootaround in preparation for the Lakers game against the Rockets. The coach said Monday that "Morrisanity" could be coming around the corner but hedged a bit Tuesday because Sacre is definitely starting while D'Antoni has not decided, at least publicly, whether Morris or Antawn Jamison will be with the first five.
"We’ll see," D'Antoni said. "You know what? Couldn’t be a better guy that deserves it because he’s over there, he’s the most energetic, best guy on the bench that you can have. So, it couldn’t happen to a better person as it did to Lin, it couldn’t happen to a better person. We’ll see. He’s got an opportunity. We’ll see if it strikes twice."
Sacre, selected with the final pick of the second round of the NBA Draft out of Gonzaga, is averaging 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game in 13 spot appearances this season.
The 7-foot, 260-pound center fared better in the preseason when he filled in for Howard while the All-Star was still recovering from offseason back surgery. Sacre has also produced with the L.A. D-Fenders, the Lakers' D-League affiliate. In five games with the D-Fenders, Sacre averaged 12.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game.
While his statistics with the Lakers have been negligible, he has managed to contribute to the culture of the team nonetheless. Sacre is already a fan favorite for his "Sacrebrations" on the bench in support his teammates. The 22-year old says his celebratory moves are in part inspired by Yosemite Sam of the Looney Tunes.
"You can’t help but notice his spirit," D'Antoni said of Sacre's antics. "If good things happen to good people, we got a good opportunity to have that adage go forward."
Sacre was at the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nevada on Monday when the news broke about the Lakers' big men being injured. With the Lakers' chartered flight already en route to Houston, Sacre had to fly commercial from Reno to Los Angeles and then from L.A. to Houston on Monday night to join the team.
D'Antoni said the Lakers had a longer walk-through than usual on Tuesday to benefit Sacre, but it wasn't necessary to get him up to speed.
"He knew it anyway," D'Antoni said. "That’s why he’s great. Because he’s always practiced hard, kept himself in shape and he’s ready to go."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
The Los Angeles Lakers' road woes continue as they failed to protect a 17-point lead and fell 107-105 to the Houston Rockets. They're now just 8-10 overall and 1-5 on the road, with seven of their next nine games coming away from Staples Center starting Wednesday in New Orleans.
Here's a look at how it all went down:
1. Hack-a-Howard again
Dwight Howard's 8-for-16 mark from the foul line is actually better than his 46.5 percent average for the season, but the team seemed to fall flat down the stretch as Howard (16 points, 12 rebounds) clanked shot after shot.
2. Bevy of points for Bryant
Kobe Bryant came into the night needing 52 points to reach 30,000 for his career and he shot like he was gunning to get all of those points against Houston. He finished with 39 points on 14-for-31 shooting and missed a potential game-winning 3 in the final minutes.
3. More bench woes
The Rockets' reserves outscored the Lakers' substitutes 59-20. Toney Douglas had 22 points and unheralded big man Greg Smith chipped in 21 points and nine rebounds. Jordan Hill was a bright spot for L.A., however, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes as Pau Gasol's absence found him back in the lineup.
4. Lineup changes -- Gasol sits; Duhon starts
Gasol decided to shut it down to rest his knees, which are suffering from tendinitis. Antawn Jamison picked up the slack with 16 points and nine rebounds. Chris Duhon was also a pleasant surprise, finishing with an efficient six points, seven assists and five rebounds.
5. More turnovers
The Lakers came into the game tied for the league lead with 16.7 turnovers per game and were even worse Tuesday, coughing it up 19 times -- leading to 17 points for the Rockets. Houston had just 10 turnovers.
The Lakers are now 8-9 and staring down nine December road games. The first comes against the Houston Rockets, a similarly rebuilt team tasked with coming together on the fly. After a slow start, they're seemingly in better sync these days, having won four of their past five games. Not that the Lakers have earned the right to take any team lightly -- just ask the Orlando Magic -- but Houston may offer a tougher contest than I certainly figured a month ago.
For more perspective on the Rockets, I sent some questions to Rahat Huq, who covers the team for the TrueHoop network's Red94 blog. Below are his responses.
Andy Kamenetzky: When these teams met at Staples Center on Nov. 17 for an eventual Rockets loss, Houston was 3-6 heading into the game. They're now 8-8. What's happened to explain this?
Rahat Huq: Offensively, the Rockets have been playing out of their minds, averaging 113 ppg on 49 percent shooting overall (46 percent from deep) during their current five-game home winning streak. They’ve also gotten consistent contributions across the board, with all five starters in double figures in each of their past three home games. In the most recent outing against Utah, seven Rockets finished with at least 13.
Plus, third-year forward Patrick Patterson has been a revelation. The Kentucky product has put in at least 20 points in four of Houston’s past five games, scoring from an assortment of spots, including the corner 3. In his past 10 games, Patterson has averaged 17 ppg on 55 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent from behind the arc.
Not because I thought moving James Harden would be unfathomable for the Oklahoma City Thunder. I actually expected OKC to explore trade options if contract extension terms weren't agreed upon come Oct. 31.
I've heard people saying the Thunder should have just played out the season, then traded Harden in the offseason if need be, because you don't break up a young, ever-improving core fresh off a NBA Finals appearance. I understand that rationale but, at the same time, you don't want a potentially acrimonious situation hanging over the campaign -- and perhaps bleeding into the locker room and onto the court. I'm also a firm believer that if it's a foregone conclusion your star player will eventually be dealt, better to do it sooner than later. The haul is typically better -- Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and some draft picks ain't peanuts -- and you've cut off any drama at the knees.
Ultimately, I just thought "Team Harden" and Thunder GM Sam Presti would discover common ground. I was wrong. As to whether Harden would have been better served taking OKC's offer and remaining part of a perennial juggernaut or the Thunder bricked the negotiations, I'll reserve judgment until I see the inevitable extension from the Houston Rockets. Those particulars provide critical information and, in the meantime, what really matters in this neck of the woods is how this affects the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the long run, I'm guessing OKC didn't dramatically hurt itself. Martin can either be flipped for a more desired piece or becomes more than $12 million in cap relief, either of which allows the Thunder to keep building on a good thing. Lamb is a lottery pick guard who could slide into the role Harden once played. There's no such thing as too many draft picks, whether to fortify your own house or entice a trade partner. Plus, a trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, all in their early 20s, remains quite the enviable core. Even as a big admirer of what Harden brings to the table -- if he's not a true "max" player, he's certainly close -- I'm not convinced this will become an incontrovertible turning point in franchise history.
In the short run, however, it could weaken OKC during the 2013 season, particularly when it comes to matching up against the Lakers.