There was something undeniably poetic about the Los Angeles Lakers defeating the Houston Rockets, in Houston, on a last second three pointer which Steve Blake drained over the out-stretched arms of one Dwight Howard. Not because the Lakers got "revenge" on Dwight Howard for spurning them in the offseason; or at least, not entirely. Not because the Lakers were able to win, in part, by relying in the Hack-A-Dwight strategy which was so frustrating to observe from the other side of the coin last season; or at least, not entirely. No, what made last night's victory so poetic was that the Los Angeles Lakers over-achieved and out-worked their opponent. They wanted it more. Last year's Lakers never did that. They never over-achieved, and they never out-worked their opponent. That this team was able to win, in the style they were able to win, with the effort that allowed them to win, against the new team of the player who is the main difference between last year's team and this year's team ... well, narratives don't come any better or easier than that. Dwight Howard may not have been all that was wrong with the 2012-2013 Lakers, but it seems pretty clear that whatever was wrong with that team has been removed, replaced with a bunch of guys who like playing for each other. They don't have the talent to win very much, but they sure as hell are doing everything they can with the talent they have. To win against the very symbol of last year's wasted talent, to see the team celebrate each other with such joy against the symbol of last year's unhappiness, is a powerful moment we shan't soon forget.
Steve Effing Blake - Every once in a while, Steve Blake just has one of those games. He did it at the end of last season, when Kobe went down and the Lakers needed it most. And he did it last night. Blake hit 3 three pointers before the first commercial break, setting the tone for an insanely hot first half of Lakers outside shooting. He repeatedly got past the (rather terrible) perimeter defense of James Harden and Jeremy Lin, and he did not have a single turnover in a team high 34 minutes. Oh, and he hit one more three pointer at some point during the game, ending up 4-6 behind the arc. I can't quite remember when that last three was ...
Jodie Meeks - If Blake set the tone for the team's overall shooting performance, Meeks was the one who played the role of soloist. Jodie was quite simply lights out shooting the ball 18 points on 9 shots, 5-7 from three point range, Jodie shot well during the first half when the Lakers had everything going, but he also nailed a crucial three pointer as the Lakers were wavering in the fourth quarter. Blake will get the headlines, but Jodie was the best player on the team last night.
Team resilience - It would have been oh so easy for the Lakers to fold last night. They jumped out to a big lead by shooting the lights out in the 1st half, and then slowly came back down to earth in the second. Making matters worse, when their shots stopped falling, the Rockets started getting back into the game not by making shots of their own, but by taking waves and waves of free throws, including some very dubious calls that were most certainly not being reciprocated when the Lakers were the ones who stood to benefit. After holding off the Rockets for as long as they could, the Lakers finally fell behind by six points with 2.5 minutes to play, only to score 8 of the game's final 9 points to seal the victory. Considering just how badly the Lakers have been beaten on the road in their other contests, it was nice to see them play well on the road, but even nicer to see them fight back.
Pau Gasol - If you were hoping that The Big Spaniard would come out with something to prove against the guy who helped marginalize him all last season, you were sorely disappointed. Gasol did yeoman's work on the boards in pulling down a team high 12, and he played solid defense against Mr. Howard in the post (not that that is particularly hard to do), but he was awful on the offensive side of things. 1-10 shooting, most of them from the outside, Pau did not even attempt to assert himself in the post, and he failed to capitalize on a slew of wide open outside jumpers. Three turnovers also weren't helpful.
Xavier Henry - After being a real spark for LA in the first few games of the season, X has tailed off hard. His drives to the rim aren't getting him any love and his outside shot isn't falling either. We still love Henry's aggressiveness and ability to get to the line (most nights), but 3 points on 5 shots isn't cutting it, and there's a reason he played less minutes than any other Lakers who saw the court last night.
Free Throw Discrepancy - You hate to harp too much on officiating, especially in a win, but that 52-15 free throw margin is pretty eye popping. Yes, there was a heavy dose of Hack-A-Howard in there, but even if you remove Dwight from the equation completely, the Rockets got to the line more than twice as often as the Lakers did. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but there sure seemed to be a distinct lack of balanced calls, with the Rockets (James Harden, as always, in particular) getting the whistle for every little bump possible, while Steve Nash couldn't get a call from a jumpshot taken with a guy on his back, Jodie Meeks "lost the ball out of bounds" because Harden slapped the shit out of his wrist, etc. etc. In no way do I pretend to be an unbiased observer of these things, but the calls were sure as hell making me angry, and that's hard to do these days.