Everything we've prognosticated here on Silver Screen and Roll came to pass tonight in the Rockets' blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers tonight in Houston. It wasn't every bit the massacre some thought it would be, but nevertheless ended with a double digit loss to extend LA's losing streak to four.
Without a big man rotation, the Lake Show saw their every weakness being exploited by Kevin McHale's boys. With Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill all unavailable, the Lakers had to adjust their defensive schemes on the fly, relying heavily on strong man defense on the perimeter, and trying to force the most turnover-prone team in the league to ballhandling mistakes.
It looked about as good as that sentence was flimsy.
The Rockets shot a scorching 55% from the field, 44% from the three-point line and got to the charity stripe 23 times for 18 makes. They scored an astonishing 60 points in the paint, abusing a Lakers' front line that was without an accomplished shock blocker or inside defensive anchor like Dwight Howard. Houston out-rebounded the Lakers by only five, but that should be considered monumental accomplishment seeing how poorly center Omer Asik played (2 points, 5 rebounds) and that no Rocket snatched more the six boards on his own.
As telling as the box score looks, this actually turned out to be more of a struggle for Houston than it appears. It took over two quarters for the Rockets to figure out exactly how to break down a fragile Lakers D, as LA led by eight with 11 minutes left in the third quarter. From there on in, Houston went on a 66-45 run, scoring on the Lakers at will. Carlos Delfino continued his torrid first-half shooting, finishing with five three-pointers and 19 points. James Harden continued to haunt the Lakers no matter what the geographic location, throwing down 31/6/9 as the game's leading scorer.
Los Angeles certainly had no problem scoring the ball, even with their trio of bigs sitting out; they put down 112 points on 47% shooting and 45% from downtown. However, they simply couldn't match their first half efficiency in the second half, as Houston clogged the lane and forced the Lakers to make outside shots. After averaging 81 field goal attempts through their first 34 games, LA threw up 91 shots tonight. There's almost no doubt that Mike D'Antoni will continue this run and gun style offense with his plodding big men sitting out, as the team's best post players are currently Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace. The Lakers ended up with 44 points in the paint thanks to Steve Nash's pick and rolls and Kobe's penetration, but even a combined 17 assists and 36 points from the two couldn't keep the Lakers outscoring the league's most potent team.
On the positive side, there was a noticeable difference in LA's energy tonight, as the team scrapped hard for four quarters trying to slow down Houston's offense. After watching game after game of the Lakers mailing it in around the court, it was a pleasant sight watching them hustle on every possession. However, without any reliable big men to rebound and defend the paint, it was extremely difficult for the Lakers to keep up.
Moral victories are nice, but at this point in the season sitting four games below .500, the team needs actual victories. It certainly isn't going to get easier with a game tomorrow night in San Antonio.
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