Lakers 114, Rockets 106: Eh, We'll Take It

The streak is dead! Long live the streak!

The Lakers hadn't played an overtime period since March 4th of last year. Their fascinating streak, which I realize was fascinating to no one but me, had covered 91 straight regular-season and playoff games, all decided within the allotted 48 minutes. It was a golden age I'll never forget... an era when Laker contests were guaranteed to take no more than two hours, 45 minutes out of my day. But it's over. Tonight at Staples Center, those scrappy, hard-working Houston Rockets took the champs to OT, only to fall by the score of 106 to 114. Did you know the Rockets are a hard-working bunch? Joel Meyers and Stu Lantz would like to remind you that they work hard. They never take a possession off. They scrap for every loose ball. When it comes to work ethic, the immigrants who built the transcontinental railroad and the Egyptian slaves who devoted their miserable lives to constructing the Giza pyramids have nothing on these Houston Rockets.

This isn't a win that's going to put to rest any doubts one may have regarding this current edition of the purple and gold. The Lakers really shouldn't need an extra five minutes to put away a below-0.500 squad that's not exactly bursting with A-level talent. But after vomit-provoking home losses to the Kings and Celtics, just getting back into the win column is a step in the right direction. The Lakers had a decent enough offensive night, scoring 1.14 points per possession, and on D their height advantage forced Houston to rely a bit too heavily on spot-up three attempts. With little ability to score in the paint, the Rockets' attack petered out down the stretch and allowed Lakerdom to emerge from a crisis state for at least a couple days.

Andrew Bynum sat this one out to watch soccer because of a bone bruise in his left knee. Accordingly, Phil Jackson summoned the starting lineup with which he began the season, with Pau Gasol playing center and Lamar Odom at the four. Gasol on the whole had rather a good night. Playing on the third anniversary of his trade to the Lakers, Pau scored 26 points on 23 attempts (including free-throw possessions), gathered 16 rebounds and blocked four shots. His offensive game looked more diverse and less predictable than it has recently. He made decisions with the ball quickly and a few times strung together some clever move-countermove combinations. Instead of a steady diet of fallaways, he got himself moving toward the basket more frequently. It's true that he has more than a few inches on Chuck Hayes, but Hayes is a very good defender who gives many taller guys trouble.

Lamar had a nice game, but not the superb one you might infer from his stat line. His 20 points (on 19 shots) were helpful, as were his 20 boards. All too often, however, he got caught out of position on defense. He failed to keep a close check on Luis Scola, who did a lot of damage by stepping out to the 18-20 foot range and knocking down uncontested jumpers. Also, on Houston's final possession in regulation, Lamar failed to rotate quickly enough from the weak side to find Scola at the rim. As a result, Aaron Brooks was able to make an easy feed to Scola for the layup that sent the game to OT. (Sebastian Pruiti provides a step-by-step breakdown of the play here.) I don't mean to come down too hard on Odom. He's been really strong on defense this year, and tonight was a rare exception.

Kobe Bryant put up a game-high 32 points (on 28 shots) and also collected 11 assists to push his career total over 5,000. There was a stretch in the second quarter when he was dominating the ball a little much, and he missed three shots in the last three minutes of regulation, but he made several key plays in OT and had a strong outing overall. Note that this wasn't a classic Kobe-on-Shane Battier duel. Battier only guarded the Mamba for a few possessions here and there. Most of the night Kobe worked against Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee.

Houston really had only two ways to score in this one: threes and offensive rebounds. They had no post game to speak of. There was very little pick-and-roll action. Almost all of their sets involved dribble penetration and then kick-outs to guys spotted up around the perimeter. A full 38% of their field-goal attempts were from behind the arc, a rate surpassed by only one Laker opponent this season (the Suns on November 14th). The Rockets didn't shoot particularly well on their threes tonight, as just 10 of their 38 attempts dropped in. Perhaps a better performance from point guards Brooks and Kyle Lowry, who combined to miss 14 of 16 looks from long distance, would've swung the outcome. Martin, though, scored 30 on 20 shots, and when he or his colleagues missed, Scola, Hayes and Patrick Patterson were often there to pick up the board and prolong the possession.

The Lakers' defensive rebounding has been pretty bad all year long, and having Bynum on the bench didn't help. Through the first three quarters tonight the Rockets collected 42% of their own misses and scored 13 second-chance points. A big factor down the stretch is how the Lakers finally got their act together on the defensive glass. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Houston pulled in just 23% of their misses and had only two second-chance points.

The Lakers now move to 34-15, still way back of the Spurs, who visit Staples on Thursday night. Drew plans to play in that one.











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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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