LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant vs. Dwight Howard. The Lakers’ cornerstone vs. the guy who spurned the team. That’s how it was billed, that’s how it was sold on talk radio in Los Angeles. And the two men had their moment. They clearly don’t like one another.
However, maybe people should have talked more about James Harden.
He torched the Lakers in transition all night, he was draining threes, he was hitting step backs over Kobe, he was posting up Ronnie Price, he was slashing into the lane, he was basically doing whatever he wanted on the way to 32 points on 17 shots (he got to the line 16 times). When the Lakers made a third quarter push to cut the lead of a blowout game down to 7, Harden got a big and-1 on Kobe Bryant to stem the tide and restore order.
That led the Rockets to a relatively easy 108-90 win over the Lakers in the season opener for both teams.
This was a game overshadowed by a tibia fracture to promising Lakers rookie Julius Randle, who went down in the fourth quarter. He was taken to the hospital where surgery is likely. While no timeline for his return has been given, think in terms of months, this is a weight-bearing bone.
After the game that injury put a damper on things… and the Lakers were already pretty down after a rough first game.
“They’re a good basketball team and now we know we’re a ways away,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said after the game.
Particuarly defensively. Houston was able to get the ball inside, posting up Howard a few times but mostly from the slashing of Patrick Beverley and Harden. Then they either finished or kicked out (and made an extra pass) to get guys open looks at the arc. Look at it this way — only 3.7 percent of the Rockets points came on midrange shots, the least efficient shots in the game. They got their points at the free throw line, in the paint or at the arc — Trevor Ariza made five buckets all night and all of them came on uncontested three pointers (according to Sports VU data from the game).
“I thought we played really well tonight, and there are things we can really build on and learn,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
The very efficient Rockets offense scored 31 points on 23 possessions in the first quarter and finished the game with a 113.7 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions). Terrence Jones had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Rockets, Howard had 13 points (on 3-of-5 shooting) and 11 rebounds.
Lakers fans — and their coaching staff — are left scouring the film trying to find bright spots. As a team Los Angeles shot 35.4 percent, with a true percentage of 37.3 (compared to 50.7 for the Rockets).
One bright spot is Kobe Bryant looked about as good as one might have hoped after missing a season and having two major surgeries. He had 19 points to lead the Lakers, but he took 17 shots to get there as Trevor Ariza did a solid job on him all night.
Jeremy Lin struggled in the first half with Patrick Beverley on him. Kobe had a team-high 19 points but on 6-of-17 shooting. Ed Davis played well again (as he did in preseason). Carlos Boozer added the empty 17 points, although like with his time in Chicago it felt fairly meaningless. The Lakers also showed a stretch of better, more energized play in the third quarter, they just couldn’t sustain it.
For the Rockets, it was a win and they will take it, no matter how pretty.
For the Lakers… well, things have to get better, right?