Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers face off against the Houston Rockets in the first of a Texas-themed back-to-back, and the only question on my mind is this: Are the basketball gods satisfied with the humility they dealt the Lakers and us fans with the embarrassing loss at home to an injury plagued Utah Jazz team on Sunday night? Or do they demand more blood?
Doesn't it seem like whenever things start going a little too well, life finds a way to drag you back down into the mud? That's often how I feel as a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. Take Sunday for instance ... the Lakers had the league's strongest home record, a five game winning streak, and tons of positive energy based on the Ramon Sessions pickup at the trade deadline. The Utah Jazz had one of the leagues' worst road records, were an unspectacular .500 over their last six games, and were missing two of their starting five, including centerpiece Al Jefferson. So what happened? The Jazz got some out-of-their-minds production from rookie contributors, the Lakers played incredibly sloppy and Kobe Bryant had the worst statistical performance of his career. No one in the world could have predicted that string of events, and yet even as it was happening, I don't think too many of us were surprised.
It is always this way with the Lakers, and so the only question that remains is whether the basketball gods demand more failure for the Lakers, or whether they can get back to the normal moderately successful ways that have defined this season. Make no mistake, even if the Lakers are granted a reprieve from further disappointment, tonight's contest is no gimme. The Lakers could play adequately and still lose. But, if the Lakers get killed with continued sloppiness and terrible shooting, you'll know exactly what phenomenon is occurring.
Tonight's contest was spared some awkward moments by the fact that the Houston Rockets have bought out Derek Fisher's remaining contract. Otherwise, it would have been awful strange for the Lakers to so quickly have to face one of their most vocal leaders after having lost him mid-season. Jordan Hill faces the opposite situation, but Hill has nowhere near the gravitas in the Rockets locker room that Fish did, so it should be business as usual for both sides, especially since Hill remains unlikely to find any court time so soon in to his integration with the Lakers plans.
The Rockets, much like the Jazz, are ailing rightt now. Kyle Lowry, who is probably Houston's best player, is out with a bacterial infection for a few weeks. Kevin Martin, Houston's best scorer, is doubtful for tonight's contest with a strained shoulder. They've lost two straight close road contests against the LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns. If the Lakers play with the right effort, the right mentality, and with average performance, this is a very winnable contest. Houston has a couple of solid defensive options (Samuel Dalembert, recently acquired Marcus Camby) in the post to match up against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and they have a decent perimeter defender in Courtney Lee to throw at Kobe Bryant as well, but the majority of their offense, both initiation and culmination, is missing, so the Lakers should be able to cause tons of problems on the defensive end. But the Rockets always play hard, and they always have great depth because the Daryl Morey experiment always seems to include great players in spots 6-10 in the rotation. It's those first few spots that give the Rockets trouble, and the same first few spots are what usually guarantee the Lakers a sporting chance in any contest.
If they're up for the game that is. The Lakers just showed us what happens when they aren't really up for a game, and tonight's opponent is providing all the same reasons for the Lakers to underestimate them and look the other way. We'll know soon enough if the Lakers picked up on the lesson.