Wise move, NBA television executives, choosing to pull Wednesday night’s Lakers at Rockets game off the national broadcast (not that the Spurs/Mavs game that replaced turned out to be a thriller). There is no Kobe Bryant and the “Dwight Howard reunion” drama had played itself out long ago.
This was simply another mid-season NBA game where the more talented, deeper team won handily — but it would never seem to end thanks to a few minutes of hack-a-Howard.
Didn’t matter, the Rockets blew the game open in the third quarter and won 113-99 behind 38 points from James Harden. Howard finished with 20 points and 13 boards.
For the Lakers, the pain continues — after Tuesday night’s loss Nick Young said the Lakers’ locker room felt like a “funeral.” I’m not sure what feels worse but the Lakers are headed there — they have dropped nine of 10 (losing those games by an average of almost 14 points) and they are about to head out on their annual Grammy road trip and eight of their next nine are road games. Kobe will not be back for that stretch. Things look pretty bleak, and while being bad to get a better draft pick may be the right thing to do on paper it is no fun for the team going through it.
Los Angeles led in this one early, simply by outworking the Rockets in the paint. Pau Gasol hit three of his first four (and had 15 in the first half), Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill being physical with Howard. Then in the second quarter Nick Young had eight points (he finished the night with 25), Jodie Meeks added 7 points (21 on the night) and the Lakers were up five at the half.
Part of that was the Rockets just did not play good defense — they are an inconsistent team and it showed on that end. James Harden got beaten off the dribble by Kendall Marshall, and there was no defensive rotation to cover the basket.
The third quarter was completely different.
James Harden exploded for 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, the Rockets were more aggressive on defense forcing seven turnovers and turning them into easy transition buckets. The Lakers shot just 33 percent in the quarter.
Houston won the third quarter 33-15. That theme continued on into the fourth and the Rockets were up 20 and in control.
So with just under five minutes left Mike D’Antoni ordered “hack-a-Howard” and at first it worked. Howard started 2-of-6 from the line and the Lakers closed the gap to 11. But then the Lakers just started missing their chances and Howard ended up 7-of-16 (he hit five of the last 10) and the Lakers couldn’t close the gap.
In the end the Lakers started to expose the Rockets flaws, but with all the injuries this roster can’t sustain that level of play against a good team when it is focused. And the Rockets got focused and won.