All day long, the pregame chatter was all about Dwight Howard leaving Los Angeles to come to Houston. Appropriately for the Lakers, tonight's contest highlighted what they won't miss about their former All-Star center: missing free throws.
Stepping back, the Houston mistakes that led to a loss weren't Dwight's alone--the entire Rockets team made mental and physical errors down the stretch, one after another. Both Patrick Beverly and James Harden had key turnovers down the stretch, adding to the former's miserable shooting night (1-10 FG) and Harden's strangely disjointed 35 point game. Chandler Parsons had a huge brain fart within the last two minutes of the game, inbounding the ball to Dwight Howard, who was already well shooting well below 40% from the line for the entire night. Not to be outdone, the man himself went 5-16 from the line, including 4-12 in the fourth quarter, adding to what was an incredibly sloppy game for the Rockets. It was Houston's overall recklessness that kept them down nearly 20 points for the entire game leading up until almost the end of the third, when Harden started to rally his team.
The other part of the equation in the near comeback was the Rockets defense in the fourth quarter. They limited the Lakers to just 35 second half points and brought down their shooting percentage to a cool 39%. However, what unraveled the Rockets--and what seems to be their Achilles' heel all season--is their complete inability to guard the perimeter. The Lakers shot an unreal 45.7% from the three point line tonight, a primary culprit in their victory. Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson buried 12 for 21 behind the arc, including Blake's aforementioned wide-open three with less than two seconds on the clock. The former Maryand Terrapin was fantastic all night, destroying Harden off the dribble (a feat that, quite frankly, Mike D'Antoni could still do at this point in time), setting up shooters and generally creating chaos in the lane whenever possible. Howard did his part in helping keep the Lakers to just 12 points in the paint and noticeably limiting Pau Gasol to just 1-10 shooting, but it simply wasn't enough with such a porous group of swingmen around him.
Still, for as careless as the Rockets were, the Lakers were extraordinarily fortunate to win their first roadie of the season. They too were extremely sloppy with the rock tonight, surrendering an astonishing 24 turnovers and committing 36 fouls. Even without all of the intentional hacking on Howard, the Lakers sent the Rockets to the line 36 times--still twice as much as LA themselves shot free throws.
Regardless of how lucky it was, a win is still a win, especially for a Lakers team that might not see a lot of them this year. They once again out-hustled their opponents and made the most of the advantages fortuitously handed their way. The story all day was about Dwight's interaction with his former teammates, but it quickly became a non-issue as the game wore on. Howard finished with 15 points, 14 boards, fantastic interior defense, scowls for his teammates after a miscommunication led to Blake's three and a ton of missed free throws. Even without paying $120 million, we all got to experience Dwight one more time. Except now, we get to move on right away.
What a sweet feeling.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino