Lakers – Rockets Running Diary

Kobe BryantAs always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Previous Lakers – Rockets Running Diary/Postgame
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary 11-09-2008
Lakers 111, Rockets 82: Postgame

Inactives
Lakers: Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton
Rockets: Ron Artest, Tracy McGrady, Joey Dorsey

Pregame Notes
1) Lamar Odom will play. That’s certainly the most important note.
2) Tracy McGrady’s on the shelf for a few weeks, and even held a pregame press conference to talk about how he’s been playing hurt all year but didn’t want to come off the court. His health is certainly paramount to their playoff chances.
3) Yao Ming gave me his take on Sun Yue both as a player and a person, and I’ll have a story on that tomorrow.
4) D.J. Mbenga spent some time with me to talk about his relationship with fellow Congo native Dikembe Mutombo, whom he looks up to as a brother, and about their collective charitable work back in Africa. Mbenga’s primary focus is education, which I’ll also put something together about for tomorrrow.
5) Finally, two on-the-court points:
A) L.A. might be best served pounding the ball to Bynum and Gasol and letting the two seven-footers carry them offensively, since Bryant and Fisher might have to exert a good deal of effort in the absence of, basically, any other guards. Plus, Bynum’s had consecutive 20-point games, and Gasol’s due for a good offensive outing after struggling on Sunday.
B) Watch out for Aaron Brooks, Houston’s jet-quick backup point guard who gave L.A. fits even with Farmar and Vujacic in the lineup.

Starters
Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Rockets: Rafer Alston, Von Wafer (yup, that Von Wafer), Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Yao Ming

First Quarter
0:00 The Rockets were introduced with Biggy’s “Hypnotize” in the background, which I think should count for at least a point. Josh Powell would say “Bet” to that. However, since Houston’s mascot is a fuzzy grey bear (huh?), we’ll take the point away. What’s wrong with a Rocket?

10:35 Skip To My Lou’s triple gave the Rockets an early 7-2 lead. Tell me you watched the original And-1 Mix Tape … Alston was dirtier than a booger-picking third grader’s fingers.

6:08 L.A.’s best offensive player in the first six minutes? Vladimir Radmanovic, with seven points (including a triple). Vladi also grabbed four boards to build on his best game in a long time in Sunday’s win over Miami.

5:19 Former Lakers second-round draft pick Von Wafer drills a triple to give Houston a 20-11 lead as the Rockets shot an on-fire 9-of-12 (75 percent) to start the game.

3:47 Kobe’s deep jumper capped a quick 6-0 run to bring L.A. within three, despite L.A.’s poor shooting (6-of-14).

1:52 There’s Lamar Odom. We’ll see how he looks… Also checking in was Trevor Ariza, who did nothing against the Heat thanks in part to foul trouble on Sunday.

1:20 Odom took Scola to the hole on his first touch and missed, but Ariza was there for a put-back that made it 24-23 Rockets. One play is surely too early to judge, but Odom’s not moving gingerly or anything of the sort (I just judged I guess … whatever).

1:02 Let’s take this timeout opportunity to let Ty Nowell know that Houston does carry Dr. Pepper in its media room (not to mention Strawberry Fanta). Nowell’s always complaining that STAPLES has been consistently putting out root beer instead of Dr. Pepper.

50.5 L.A. takes its first lead on a Bryant jumper.

0:01 After Skip scored in the paint to put Houston back up 26-25, Bryant missed a jumper at the buzzer.

What Lakers fans shouldn’t like about the quarter is that Bynum struggled to 1-of-5 shooting with Yao’s length bothering him a bit (he even missed an alley-oop), though Pau was 2-of-3 and grabbed four boards. As a team, the Lakers shot 50 percent thanks to a better final six minutes, though Houston got through the quarter shooting 57 percent, led by Wafer’s nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. Well … he did can that corner three to beat Boston last week, so we’ll give him some credit. He’s also charged with guarding Bryant in the second quarter with Battier resting, which should be fun.

Second Quarter
11:25 Chuck Hayes, who’s listed at only 6-6, did a good job guarding Kevin Garnett when Houston beat Boston last week, and he’s now guarding Bynum. The Kentucky product is known to push players a few feet past their normal comfort zone with his strength, and that’s what happened as Bynum missed a 10-foot hook shot.

10:00 As Kobe’s free throws tie the game, I remember my first year covering the NBA when Skip told me he could easily spin a ball around my head in the locker room. That was fun. Also, Yao executed an entertaining interview at the time while chowing a foot-long Subway sandwich (cost more than five dollars then) throughout.

8:34 Back-to-back buckets from Carl Landry and Brent Barry off Houston’s bench gave the Rockets a 36-32 lead heading into a timeout, during which the Rockets dancers seemed to the untrained eye the least in sync of any dance team this season. Sorry ladies. The Laker girls always seem to move at the same time. Isn’t that how you’re supposed to roll as a dancer?

8:08 Bynum’s second-straight make (with Yao on the bench) proved less interesting than an alley-oop off the backdoor with the 6-0 Brooks (who’s maybe 5-10) throwing it down.

8:01 Dikembe Mutombo’s first appearance of the season came perhaps to halt Bynum’s offensive run, though the charity All-Star would convert a layup moments later.

7:17 There’s Ariza. A self-induced swipe and conversion at the other end to tie the score at 38.

3:40 Beautiful double-pump move from Bryant to draw a Brent Barry foul and finish off glass. He missed the foul shot, however, and the score remained tied. Kobe’s getting to his spot on either block too often for Houston’s liking, you’d have to think, and now has a team-high 11 points.

2:43 After collecting a steal in the lane, Gasol perfectly led Ariza in the front court, allowing the lanky one to catch the ball in stride off the bounce and get to the rim for a dunk without a dribble. The Rockets did respond with their fourth make from three in five attempts to take the lead back.

30.3 Bryant missed another foul shot after drawing Yao’s first foul (the fans didn’t like it, but he appeared to be sliding slightly), but gave L.A. a 54-52 lead. Ming responded with a turnaround jumper over Gasol, and Bryant missed a layup at the buzzer. Thinking that he was fouled, Bryant exerted some lip service to the official to earn a technical that Houston will shoot to start the third quarter. Alas, tie game after 24 minutes.

Odom, despite taking only one shot, was a team-high +6 at the break, while Ariza and Josh Powell were both +3 for the purple and gold (each starter was in the negatives). Odom gathered two boards, tossed two assists and played effective defense for L.A. The Rockets made 5-of-8 shots to close the second and finish the half at an outstanding 63 percent from the field, including 4-of-6 from three. Houston didn’t go to the foul line once, while L.A. made 5-of-7 free throws and shot 52 percent, with 1-of-4 triples. Turnovers weren’t really a factor, with L.A. totaling five and Houston four.

That 52 percent for the Lakers is deceiving, because Bryant made only 6-of-17 (35 percent), and the rest of the team 62 percent, just like Houston. Ariza was a perfect 4-of-4, Fisher 3-of-5, Powell 2-of-2, Vladi 3-of-4 and Gasol 2-of-3. After missing 4-of-5, Bynum even corrected his stroke to his 3-of-5.

Third Quarter
10:55 The first basket of the second half (after Ming’s free throw from the tech) came from Vladi courtesy of a great bounce pass on the baseline from Bynum.

9:22 Scola picked up three fouls in three minutes to bring Carl Landry off the bench for Houston, who is one of the deepest front court teams in the game. What they lose in offensive creativity from Scola they make up in defensive play and effort from the Purdue product.

7:35 If Scola had an argument about his last foul, which could have been a charge, then Bynum had a better one as he swatted Landry from behind. Instead, he got his third personal and Houston took a 63-59 lead. In brighter news, at least Whitney finally got a commitment from Jay in “The City.”

6:24 Vladi triple, from Kobe after Bryant battled Battier’s defense for a good portion of the shot clock. Radmanovic is now 5-of-6 from the field with two threes for 12 points. I also learned that Dr. Pepper was founded in Waco, Texas.

4:59 Yao’s been excellent tonight, and just nailed his sixth shot in 11 attempts after spinning nicely around Gasol. That’s 15 points and 12 boards for the Chinese center. Not to be outdone by a fellow Olympian, Bryant responded with back-to-back buckets to reach the 20-point mark. He did miss his third free throw of the night, though L.A. held a 68-67 lead.

3:10 Yao hit again, his fourth hit in five attempts in the third quarter, to give Houston its largest lead of the period at 74-68. However, Ming was whistled for a defensive foul at the other end, and hated the call so much the normally genial giant kicked an advertising board-thing to draw a tech. He’s not the only one at a boiling point with the officiating – Kobe hasn’t been far from his second tech on two separate no-calls.

2:39 From where did Wafer come? He’s hotter than Yao, draining another long jumper to hit the 17-point mark on 7-of-10 shooting. Also hot was Ariza, whose first shot of the half, a three, was all net.

1:37 Wafer. Again. 78-73.

1:31 There’s Odom plus the harm. His knee seems fine. Meanwhile, how about L.A.’s lineup with two minutes to go in the period: Fish, Sun Yue, Ariza, Odom and Gasol. As the shot clock dwindled down, for no good reason, Chuck Hayes reached in on Gasol and put the Spaniard at the free throw line. No need to get Pau going in a cheap way if you’re Houston.

0:32.5 Wafer again. Really? He’s 9-of-12 for a game-high 23 points. He can score, no question about it. The teams exchanged blocks (with Odom getting the latter off Skip) to close the third with Houston up 82-78.

The Rockets, somehow, were still shooting at a 60-percent clip through three quarters, yet led by only four.

Fourth Quarter
11:20 Despite some tough D from Battier, Bryant pulled up for a deep jumper to cut Houston’s lead in half and get L.A. off on the right fourth quarter foot. Jackson continued to sit Bynum, opting for Gasol, Odom, Powell, Ariza and Bryant.

8:57 Ariza can’t miss. That’s 6-for-6 after his second triple of the half, which came at a good time since Landry had just converted an and-1 at the other end. How about 14 points, five boards, three dimes and a steal for Ariza in 20 minutes.

7:55 Wafer checks back in. Ridiculous that this deserves its own post, right? His 23 points are a career-high.

L.A. scored immediately, on a 13-foot turnaround from Odom, to come within two. Truly a gutsy effort from Odom tonight, who doesn’t necessarily look hurt, but can’t be feeling tremendous with his bone bruise.

6:17 Two Kobe free throws and the game was tied, with Fisher checking in for Powell.

5:18 Back-to-back jumpers from Landry put Houston back up two.

4:45 After two Odom free throws, LO tied up Yao for a jump ball. Again, let’s give LO some toughness points here (Tommy points?). Ariza and Odom tied Yao up together moments later before Ariza won the jump against the 7-6 Ming. Lakers ball, tie game.

4:14 Un-tied game. Kobe jumper.

3:54 Stupid foul from Bynum. He gave Yao a two-handed push seconds after checking in, drawing Jackson’s ire and forcing him to put Odom right back in as ‘Drew had five fouls. Yikes.

3:22 Kobe again, using Pau’s screen to shoot over Battier for a four-point Lakers lead. Tough, tough shot there from Mamba.

2:35 An even tougher shot came from Odom on the next possession, as he took Landry to the left and finished a baby hook. Odom then played fantastic defense in the lane to force a Landry miss, though Gasol continued to struggle in missing a wide-open 17-foot J. Pau made up for it by swatting Landry after Odom checked his body once again.

1:13 After Bryant’s missed jumper, Alston converted a running floater in the lane to cut L.A.’s lead to 99-97. Timeout, Lakers ball.

59.0 With plenty of time left on the shot clock, Houston left Odom all alone, and Lamar just rimmed out on a 16-foot jumper near the baseline.

47.9 A loose ball after Fisher barely missed a steal wound up in Battier’s hands, all alone in the corner, and he drained the triple for a one-point lead.

27.4 OHHHH, MAMBA! The MVP, in absolute murderous cold blood, pulled up from 27 feet and answered Battier’s three. Oh my. That’s absurd. Good thing we’re in Texas, that has to be illegal in most states.

0:09.6 Alston, the smallest man on the floor, saw his miss bounce right back to him in the lane, where he drew the foul on Fisher and went to the line…. But …. he clanked the first. Ouch. Then he clanked the second, and Landry knocked it out of bounds.

0:07.5 Catching the first inbounds pass was Fisher, who was fouled, but Houston wasn’t yet in the bonus. The next catch came from Gasol, who missed the first, but managed to sink the second for a three-point lead.

0:07 Just wanted to mention that Kobe three again.

0:01 I really like Yao, but WHAT was he thinking there? Perhaps he watched some tape of Jeff Foster the other night? After catching a pass from Wafer, Yao dribbled for three seconds, turned around and took a 16-footer when the Rockets trailed by three and obviously needed a triple. Great defense from the Lakers to deny the perimeter, and win a really tough road game to get to 31-6 on the season.