The Houston Rockets hosted a frustrated, injured Lakers team hungry for a win and ready to do whatever it took to get one. In the first quarter, the Lakers showed determination and hustle, pulling ahead with an early double digit lead. But by the start of the fourth quarter, the Rockets had stormed back to take the lead behind aggressive play and aggressive performances from James Harden and Jeremy Lin. The Lakers fell to 15-19 and the Rockets picked up their 5th win in a row, bringing them to 21-14 on the year.
Steve Nash and Metta World Peace picked up the Slack for the Lakers early on, putting the Rockets in a 22-11 hole midway through the first quarter. World Peace was brutal from behind the arc, knocking down his first four and only missing his last. Nash showed his prowess on the pick and roll, burning the Rockets with both shooting (6-10 on the night) and passing (a game-high 10 assists). Kobe Bryant had only 6 points int he first half, but poured on 14 more in the second half. As the game wound down, Bryant began to shoot and hit difficult long-range shots, but by that time it was too little, too late. Kobe’s 20 points on 8-22 shooting couldn’t slow the Rockets’ stars.
Harden, on the other hand, had his usual hyper-efficient line: 31 points on 11-19 shooting, 6 rebounds, 9 assists. His 4 turnovers blemish an otherwise great line, but there were turnovers aplenty for both teams (18 for Houston, 16 for Los Angeles). After an anemic first quarter in which the Rockets chose to live and die by jumpers, Harden sprang to life with drives to the rim. Harden drew a foul on Kobe Bryant early on, and it seemed to ignite the Rockets’ drive. Harden tweaked an ankle late in the game, but seemed to be able to walk it off.
Lin also began slow, but had yet another solid game. Jeremy shot 7-13 on his way to 19 points, grabbed 6 boards and sent out 5 assists. His 7 turnovers were unacceptably high, but if the trend continues to be downward, and the team continues to win, there’s no reason for panic. Lin continues to make strides toward being a quality starting point guard in the NBA, and he’s been quietly finding his place in the new Rockets system.
Parsons got a lot of minutes (42:49) and may be tired against the Hornets on Wednesday, but he had a very solid game against Kobe and the Lakers. His defense on Bryant was spirited and solid throughout. In fact, other players like Douglas sometimes doubled Kobe when Parsons didn’t really need it. On the offensive end, Parsons played at the 4 for stretches, as the Lakers had no choice but to go small. As noted in Ming Wang’s recent post, lineups which feature Parsons as the second biggest Rocket are effective on offense and this game was no exception. Parsons shot 8-13 and hit both his threes, racking up a healthy 20 points. His 5 rebounds and 3 assists capped off another valuable performance from Parsons. He was a gametime decision, due to illness, but didn’t seem bothered by it.
Delfino Continued his flurry of threes, knocking down 5 of 7 on the evening (though he was 2-7 from inside the arc). Despite some questionable shot choices, he played the kind of game the Rockets desire from him. He shot the ball with no hesitation, he played adequate defense, and contributed some peripherals (6 boards, 3 assists). Delfino is finding his place on the team, and as more players do, the team should look smoother and less inexperienced.
Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris continued their duel for the starting 4 position, with neither having a clear advantage tonight. Both picked up 9 points and played with good hustle and defense. Patterson also played a few minutes at the center position when the Lakers went particularly small, as he did often last season. That lineup seems to have fallen out of favor somewhat, but against a team with no center, a team with five 3 point threats can be useful. It has yet to be seen what head coach Kevin McHale will do with this part of the rotation, but for now he seems happy to start Morris and quickly move to Patterson.
Asik and Smith were largely invisible, apart from some nice defense on Kobe by Asik and a three-point play by Smith. Neither got more than 5 rebounds, and the troops of smaller players the Lakers fielded were happy to shoot from the outside, where their influence is lessened. It wasn’t a winning strategy, but it didn’t help the Rockets’ centers have big games. Toney Douglas continued to shoot, shoot, and defend (and then shoot), knocking down 4 of 9 and overall doing what the Rockets needed him to.
The Rockets continue their trend of letting teams get an early lead, then clamping down and going on a big run in the second and third quarters. Kevin McHale has been improving as a coach as his players have been improving as a team, and the record is showing that. Teams have tried slowing the Rockets down, and now the Lakers tried running with them. The Rockets have so far kept ahead of other teams, as long as those teams aren’t the Spurs or the Thunder. With three more games in the next four days, the Rockets face another period of trials. But today, they met a team they were expected to beat and came from behind to meet those expectations. The Rockets have something to prove to the league, and for the past five games, they’ve been shooting the lights out proving that point.