LA Lakers 112, Houston Rockets 110: A bitter taste, but a good feeling

For as much reason as there was to be excited after the first half, there was cause for the same frustration as the game dwindled.  The Rockets came out scorching last night in their season opener, determined to spoil the Lakers’ parade.  The team moved the ball quickly off the boards, imposing a frantic pace, and putting the champs on their heels and out of their comfort zone.  Guards Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks (of Everybody Hates Chris fame) looked intent on thrusting themselves into the debate as league’s best offensive backcourt, unconsciously netting almost 20 apiece in the first two frames, and second year man Chase Budinger chipped in with his usual share of highlights, looking as smooth as ever.  Houston took a double digit lead into the break and all was well in our world until, as it has far too often during the Yao Ming era, everything completely fell apart.

The Rockets sputtered in the fourth, looking confused, the pace having been noticeably bogged down, and shots stopped falling.  After a sterling first half, guard Kevin Martin retreated into his shell with the rest of his mates unable to compensate.  Laker guards Steve Blake and Shannon Brown forgot who they were, pouring in what seemed like ten 3’s apiece, putting the game firmly out of reach.  The Rockets made a valiant push off the efforts of Luis Scola–even taking the lead in the last minute–before finally succumbing.  Aaron Brooks, in a horrifically overplayed rerun, missed a potentially game tying lay-in under the hoop, and that was all she wrote.

  • You’re wondering about Yao: we’ll get there, in due time my friend.  First, the implications of this game.  It validated the sentiment that this team can run with the big boys.  I feel more confident than ever, after last night’s performance, that this is one of the best teams in the Western Conference, when healthy.  The Rockets, with their embarrassingly impressive depth are really tailor-made for the brutal 82-game marathon.  I see the team being able to wear opponents out with waves of effort and talent.  They’ll defend, rebound, push the ball, and drain 3’s in transition.  In the half-court, they’ll look to Yao or set up through Brad Miller.  This is a formula that will work and can net 50 wins – there’s really no doubt.
  • The concern of course, as it has been, is that this team freezes when the pressure mounts.  When the game was first getting out of reach, the Rockets could not score, validating my fears regarding their ceiling.  While they did mount a furious comeback off the strength of some Scola trickery, I do not see this changing without some personnel upgrade.
  • All in all, the Rockets lost by just two without the man who I called their most impactful player last season (Lowry) to the defending champs, on the road.  There’s a lot to feel good about there, even if it may take tonight to cleanse the bitter taste.
  • Yao – I was very impressed by the giant.  While he scored just nine points, he changed the dynamic of this team (from last year) and that’s all he really needs to do.  Gone are the days when Yao should be needed to score 20 for the team to have a chance; he just needs to be a presence.  In a recent interview, I was asked of the expectations on Yao. My reply was that he simply needs to ‘be big.’  That’s all he needs to do.  Fill the middle and be a presence.  To that end, last night was a success.  “The large man” (copyright Jacob Mustafa, Red94) challenged shots and took up space defensively while serving as an ‘eye of the storm’ at the other end, giving the team a reference point they hadn’t had last season through which to revolve their offense.  Very promising outing from Yao and I left feeling very confident about his new role and his ability to fit in with this cast.  He also didn’t fall down any times, by my count.
  • One eyebrow raising development pertained to the 24-minute imposition.  With the game still within reach, and the limit dangerously nearing, Adelman looked to have no intention of removing the giant.  Had Yao not fouled out seconds later, I’m not completely sure he would have been pulled.  This is something we’ll need to watch.
  • We saw last night why Brad Miller was signed at such a generous amount – he’s a huge part of this team.  Not only does he bring size in Yao’s absence, but he’s the quarterback of the offense when on the floor.  The added dimension alone brought by Miller will pay huge dividends.
  • Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries did not see time so that will be another storyline to monitor tonight, with Yao not in action.  My guess is that what you saw last night was the regular rotation with Yao, and that Hill will get the start on the second game of back-to-backs, with Miller in relief.  Jeffries will play over Hill in other times.  Again, we see why Miller was paid so handsomely – we falsely assumed that Hill would be a major part of this rotation this year, but we saw last night that that probably isn’t the case.  You can’t trust young big men in gunfights, I suppose.
  • My final thought is on Luis Scola who scored 18 points and grabbed 16 rebounds: he’s probably for real.  By the manner in which he awkwardly does it, we tend to forget, or I at least, the type of numbers he’s put up in his career in Carl Landry’s absence (either to trade or injury).  Looking at his production, Scola is flat out one of the best rebounders in basketball, and always a threat to snare 20.  It’s unreal, with his lack of vertical and overall goofiness.  Now, is he an elite power forward?  No, because his points come as the garbage variety, and he’s not a guy to whom you can throw the ball and ask to work.  But in the next tier, he’s as good as any, and certainly worth his pricetag.






About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

in game coverage
  • Kevin

    I still want to die, and my AB hate is stronger than ever. We were up by 16 points, and Kobe was a non-factor. This game was VERY similar to game 7 of the NBA Finals. I’m trying to convince myself that the Lakers won, because they are the defending champs, but no; we lost. The “Laker faithful” (f’ing front-runners), Justin Bieber inluded, were lifeless. The win was there. And in the end why did it go to AB? I want someone to bring Adelman to my house Christmas Vacation style, so I can yell at him about this. AB gets blocked in the clutch. It’s just a fact. He’s too small with under a minute left, and his ego is far too big.

  • luislandry

    He didn’t call the play to himself…I wish there was an audible to inbound and kick back to the inbounder…when they switched to Battier throwing in, Kobe played off of him.

  • DizzyDutch

    Rahat,

    This game just reminded me how much I miss Mutumbo and his fingerwags. There’s no way Pau goes off for 29 if Mutumbo was in there. To me, Miller is a good offensive facilitator but it’s not enough to cover up his defensive and rebounding shortcomings.
    I thought the game should’ve been decided in the first half when the Rockets were up by 10 basically the entire 2nd quarter but they couldn’t turn the game into a blowout because the Laker’s offensive rebounding and post play kept them in the game.

  • Alituro

    The only thing about last night’s effort we should be disappointed with was the turnover disparity (20-12). While I agree about Miller’s value to this team, some of the unnecessary turnovers came by virtue of attempted circus passes on his part, behind-the-backs in traffic and what have you. The upside being that he looked like a kid in a candy store being back in Adelman’s system and as he gets familiar with the players around him, more of those will hit home. As well as we also know that we could have erased about 6 TOs had Lowry been in for 20 minutes or more. All in all I’m pleased with everyone’s efforts and we dominated in every aspect of the game IMO besides TOs and points (of course).

    A note on Hayes… is it just me or does he seem to bother the hell out of Gasol? Chuck can’t do much about Pau when he picks and pops, faced up, but Pau couldn’t get anywhere when he tried to post up on Chuck.

  • The play was not made by AB, and we now know we could beat the Fakers!

  • cooper

    One thing I took away from this game is that Yao needs to be in there for the last 5 minutes of the game. Having him in the lineup gives the offense purpose; feed it to Yao, let him go to work or kick it out, or hit Scola flashing through the lane. That gives us a much better chance at the end than the stagnant late-game offense we saw last night.

  • Alituro

    Right now we don’t have much choice, would you rather be playing Ish Smith in the clutch at this point in time? Lowry would have run straight at Odumb’s (I think) gut for the and-1 and the win. The play was executed well on AB’s part, he beat his man, had someone put a screen on their own man in the post we would have tied it up, so it’s hardly his fault.

  • Bob Schmidt

    Last night’s game wasn’t won or lost on the last play. We lost because many point-blank shots did not drop. We lost because we turned over the ball too many times. Brooks played a good game, so hate losing, not Brooks….

    We won on many levels in my opinion. Anyone who doubted our ability to win 50+ games is probably re-evaluating their calculations this very moment. I am surprised that the only backup PF minutes went to Hayes. Maybe Jeffries and Hill were too.

    There are a couple of things to take away from this opening game, these Rockets can play good basketball and hang with the best of them. Plus, they will only get better as the season progresses. Those who were expecting a season of 82 wins can give up your dreams now, and join the rest of us hoping for 81-1 as a final season record. 🙂

  • Andrewmoccasin

    Let’s not also forget that collectively as a team we broke down in the third/fourth quarters and wasn’t until the very end of the game that we really got back into it. It’s very, very, very easy to pin the blame on Aaron considering he did have the last possession but in retrospect, what about all those Scola missed lay-ups or those Miller turnovers? Any one of those setbacks proved to be just as costly.

    Last night I watched the game with some friends. I think my friend encapsulated the general Aaron Brooks Phenomenon. When we were up fifteen in the first and Brooks was on fire, it was nothing but “Man I love Brooks”. After the game, “Man we need to trade Brooks.” It seems like he’s stuck there.

  • Pinche Venezolano

    Offensive boards/turnovers and somebody should’ve put a body on Shannon Brown. Miller’s gonna be fantastic, Yao thoroughly impressed me as well. I’d argue that if Lowry plays, we win.

    Quick note on LBJ: did anyone catch how proud he was of using the old “Rome wasn’t built in a day” metaphor? I’m a lit scholar, so this particular choice of words and haughtiness was especially laughable since they got beat up by the Cees on the first day of the season; can’t wait to see Dwight Howard put up 35/20 on Joel Anthony.

  • Suhas

    Are we sure that Hill is starting tonight? Seems like we would want Hayes against that high-scoring frontcourt.

  • Ohdubbz

    I don’t know how much you want to read into us losing, but competing and almost winning this game. Kobe Bryant was not in full force (healthwise), and Bynum isn’t present at all, that coupled with the new Lakers Barnes and Blake becoming more accustomed to the triangle offense, this might be a more formidable Lakers team later in the season or playoffs should we find ourselves matched up against them.

  • Don’t know how you can blame AB. Without AB’s points in the 1Q and assists throughout the game, we probably wouldn’t have been harvesting chances to win come crunch time. Yes, he did not perform in the clutch, but that doesn’t mean you can write off the performances he put in earlier in the game.

  • Rolyat93

    I saw Justin Bieber in the crowd yesterday, if nothing else proves that Laker and Laker fans are gay, that should do it.

  • matt

    we wouldnt of been up as much as we were without brooks.

  • Agree with this post completely. Don’t know why Brooks is being scapegoated here, he played a great game and his assist-to-turnover ratio (9:2) was very good for a starting PG. Compare that to Steve Nash who through 6 assists and 9 TOs in their opener against Portland.

    What caused us to lose today was probably the lack of a go-to guy in the clutch that everyone has been talking about.

    81-1 FTW!

  • RL

    I was not as optimistic after seeing this game. Lakers won dispite playing a poor 1st half, Kobe being less than 100%, and a pretty darn good shooting night from Rockets. They came back with defense, rebounding. We’re not always going to be shooting this well on offense. I need to see us win in grinded out games with our defense, rebounding, and execution in 4th quarter. Yesterday, I saw that from Lakers and Celtics. I guess Magic will have that too. I am not sure we have it yet.

    We’ll win plenty of regular season games and at nights, our offense and talent will overwhelm teams. However, playoff games will be grinded out games.

  • Biggest factor for me was Kevin Martin’s foul trouble. Martin played under 30 minutes yesterday because he picked up cheap fouls while guarding Kobe. Honestly, we probably should have started with Battier guarding Kobe as that would have allowed us to have more Martin on the court. Martin ended up scoring 26 points in 29 minutes. On a normal night, he would be expected to be in the 35-40 minute range.

  • cooper

    I was thinking the same thing on the first few possessions of the game, why isn’t Battier on Kobe. But that would leave Martin to guard Artest. No thanks. Battier was guarding Kobe later in the game, and it didn’t seem to bother him much. Kobe was still knocking down shots with Battier all over him.

  • Mike B

    A lot to be excited about after that game. We absolutely win that game if not for turnovers and that cold stretch toward the end (started by the terrible shot selection of Martin and Brooks in the late 3rd quarter) – of course that may be the Achilles heel for this team, the question of who is going to close games?

  • Mike B

    A lot to be excited about after that game. We absolutely win that game if not for turnovers and that cold stretch toward the end (started by the terrible shot selection of Martin and Brooks in the late 3rd quarter) – of course that may be the Achilles heel for this team, the question of who is going to close games?

  • Brooks played really well in my opinion. If that’s an average AB game, I would take it. Scola missed some gimmes while Shannon Brown made some tough shots.

    Even at the end of the game we managed to get some points on the board. It was cool when we had 3 plays, 1 for Kevin Martin, 1 for Aaron Brooks and 1 for Scola and all 3 scored in completely different ways.

    The length of the Lakers and lack of rebounding is what won them the game. I loved the game.

    The team needed to go to Yao more in the 2nd half, IMO

  • Andy

    Eh, trying to be optimistic but it still seems like the same old Rockets team to me. Always looking noble in defeat, always failing to punch through and take the game and make a real statement. Until they make that elusive big trade and get a real closer, they won’t be winners; just the team that tests of the mettle of the winners. Always respected, never feared.

  • Andy

    Eh, trying to be optimistic but it still seems like the same old Rockets team to me. Always looking noble in defeat, always failing to punch through and take the game and make a real statement. Until they make that elusive big trade and get a real closer, they won’t be winners; just the team that tests of the mettle of the winners. Always respected, never feared.

  • Kevin

    All I’m saying is that we had other options on the floor. Only one time (Nuggets in Houston) has Aaron Brooks won or tied a game on the last play, and he’s had a handful of attempts. We have plenty of talent. The point guard doesn’t have to make the last play. Martin, Lee, or Budinger could have done something.

  • Jeby

    In response to all the chatter about the last play and Air Brooks, remember what Daryl Morey once said: “Good teams don’t win close games, they avoid them.”

    When your starting PG drops 20+ points and 9 assists, you can’t gripe about one play. Dozens of plays by every member of the team put the Rockets in position to lose. The same goes for winning.

  • Prsuci

    I’m loving all the “moral victory” talk after the first game of the season. The sad reality is that the Lakers didn’t play anywhere near their ability and are still in preseason form, and didn’t have Bynum to give them even more size/girth. Blake and Brown did what they were expected, while Kobe, Artest, Fisher (and lack of Bynum) didn’t contribute at their usual level.

    There’s a reason LA has 3 straight Finals trips and are back to back champs, while Houston is stuck in the 2nd tier of “contenders”.

    Houston losing by 2 points (with a lot going their favor) is no different than if the Lakers lost to the Bobcats. It’s not an indication of which team can hang with the other. The Lakers are head and shoulders above Houston and the rest of the West.

  • I’d take Martin on Artest rather than him on Kobe because of 2 reasons:

    1) Artest doesn’t seem to use his size to back-down defenders in the post very often. He seems a lot more content taking and missing wide open shots around the perimeter. This one is obviously hindsight.

    2) You know that with the NBA being the way it is, Kobe is going to get a foul called if someone as much as grazes him while in the act of shooting. Martin is our primary option on offense and we can’t afford to have him sit on the bench for long stretches. Battier has subsided a little from the defensive monster he’s been in past years, but he was able to guard Kobe without fouling as much. And his fouls were worth less since we weren’t relying on him for offense and since we were pretty much at Kobe’s mercy for how many points he put up.

    Martin only played 29 minutes. If he’d been at 35 minutes, he would hopefully have had a few more points. Of course, it is arguable that he would have given up more points than he got during that time defensively.

  • Don’t know how you could read this much into the first game of the season and that too against the defending champions.

    The problem for me with this team in the past has been that we lose games against teams that we should be beating, which eventually costs us playoff position or even a playoff ticket. We should get a better idea tonight against the Warriors–a team that we should definitely be beating.

    It’s the first game of the season and everyone is going to be a bit rusty (look at the Heat, for example!). There was some former player (Kenny Smith?) who once said that the hardest game of the season is the opening game, as you recalibrate to game-time conditioning.

  • Quinn olivarez

    You are way too forgiving of Scola and his ‘realness.’ He bricked a lot of easy shots throughout the game sans the final couple minutes. Sure, I imagine that’s where the ‘well he’s not elite’ talk comes in but Scola *can* create his own shot and tonight it just wasn’t happening.

    Also, I don’t think the problem is, in any way, Brooks. Or Martin. Or any guy on the offensive end. The problem was two-fold: 1) not respecting the shot of Blake and Brown, and 2) throwing the ball away, and MANY players were culprits in that regard.

    The whole talk of personnel change is laughable – Brooks played fine, and ran the play Adelman drew. He made a mistake and drove when he should’ve shot. He has been more clutch than not in his career with the ball late in games, but the Lakers are a top-2 defensive squad.

  • Rocket Fan in Santa Barbara

    I’m cautiously optimistic after this game. Neither team played particularly well–both teams had injuries to significant players (Bynum, Lowry), both teams had major stars working their way into shape (Kobe, Yao), and both teams had inexcusable defensive lapses and turnovers. If Scola had made one of several layups he missed in the fourth quarter, or the Rockets played just a little bit better perimeter “D,” we would have won and everybody would have been all smiles. We were right there against the champs on the road, even though we made plenty of correctable mistakes. Fifty plus wins and a playoff spot looks very doable to me.

  • Tkired

    Speed probably should have still played close to 35 minutes. He had some foul trouble, sure, but he ended the game with 4 fouls. Especially a G like him should be able to play with fouls, and not foul out. A post player like Yao… well he done fouled out. You get the picture.

  • Tkired

    Speed probably should have still played close to 35 minutes. He had some foul trouble, sure, but he ended the game with 4 fouls. Especially a G like him should be able to play with fouls, and not foul out. A post player like Yao… well he done fouled out. You get the picture.

  • Alituro

    “The sad reality is that the Lakers didn’t play anywhere near their ability and are still in preseason form, and didn’t have Bynum to give them even more size/girth. Blake and Brown did what they were expected, while Kobe, Artest, Fisher (and lack of Bynum) didn’t contribute at their usual level. ”

    And I thought Rocket’s fans were whiners, come to think of it you sound just like the schmoes on TNT last night… Lakers are defending champs and won against a GOOD team by 2 POINTS! and all i hear from the opposition’s fans and the media are excuses.. I think you mentioned “lack of Bynum” twice in your comment. every 5 minutes someone on TNT was saying ” Oh Kobe’s knee must be bothering him, look at the awful defense, it must be the knee”…

    Laker fans have no right to boo-hoo about anything especially to Rocket’s fans.

  • Easy

    I still don’t understand why Budinger wasn’t put in for the last play. He’s the best catch and shoot guy we have. And he is a threat for a back door alley oop.

  • I completely agree with your first point about not respecting brown and blakes shot but I don’t see how anybody could of seen that coming. On another note, besides a few turnovers miller looked fantastic, I’m very excited to see him and Martin on the floor together. That last play was crushing, you have to go for the three there.

  • plug1

    From a Lakers fan perspective, the Rockets looked like a play-off team to me. Good luck with your season.

  • Eric

    Good one, Skeeter. Let’s get some brews and head back to the sorority house. Hehe.

  • Gil Meriken

    I knew before the game that the Rockets could beat the Lakers. The problem is trying to beat them four times out of seven possible tries.

  • Anonymous

    The martin on Kobe was stupid, he could guard attest in fact that would make attest shoot more, further emphasized by his absence of d on brown, surely one make is ok maybe two but after that you have actually show some respect on d him up

    Also why on earth is chuck running the high screen for AB, that is liscence to double and no thought of having to guard the screener that is one of dumbest sets infant ever seen

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