As 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.
Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Sun Yue
Rockets: Joey Dorsey, Tracy McGrady, James White
Lakers Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Powell and Gasol
Rockets Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Yao Ming
Clearly the biggest issue for L.A. is the absence of Lamar Odom. We’ll keep a close eye on how Powell and D.J. Mbenga fill in, as well as the always fun matchup between Battier and Bryant, with a bit of Artest on the side. Furthermore, Trevor Ariza’s making the start over Walton as Jackson looks for a better matchup.
12:00 Houston’s fans got really excited during the “rocket’s red glare” line in the National Anthem. Thought you should know. In other news, guess who got the honor of being announced last for the Lakers? Peezy.
Speaking of Peezy, he hosted the 2009 Lakers Hip Hop Draft today in his room, as Peezy, Shannon Brown and myself selected five hip hop groups or individuals in alternating fashion. The only pick I’ll give away is my selection of the Notorious B.I.G. with the 5th pick (what a steal), since the Rockets came out to “Hypnotize.”
10:54 Fisher dropped his second straight jumper after Powell ripped a board out of Yao’s hands. Powell matched up with Scola, with Bryant on Battier and Ariza on Artest.
9:25 Stepping up early today? Fish. Another jumper, this time in pull-up fashion, put L.A. up 8-5, a lead which grew to five on Ariza’s driving layup. Overall, L.A.’s energy is quite good, particularly when measured vs. the Portland game (though the crowd’s not nearly Portland’s equal).
5:23 Though the Lakers were giving up quite a few easy shots defensively, they weren’t missing their own shits, nailing 8-of-10 to open the game, including 3-of-3 from Gasol and 3-of-4 from Fisher as Bryant had yet to shoot but amassed three assists.
5:04 When Rafer Alston was traded to Orlando, Brooks took over the starter’s role, and had already hit two triples to put Houston up 18-16. L.A. looked a bit out of sync when not shooting, turning the ball over four times. Meanwhile, here’s a tough question: would you rather spend a week in Spain with Gasol or Argentina with Scola?
3:32 Bryant’s first shot of the game came after he picked Artest’s pocket at the other end. Using a high screen from Gasol, Kobe pulled up on Battier and swished a 20-footer. Powell followed with a great hustle play, flying into the stands to try and save an offensive board he’d knocked away from Yao. It took him several seconds to get back on the court, which paid off for L.A. since Fisher grabbed a long rebound and baseball-passed to Powell, still on the other end, for a dunk and a 20-20 tie.
1:50 As I mentioned in today’s Mega Mailbag, Battier loves to stick his hand in Bryant’s face, but Kobe didn’t seem to mind in draining another jumper. Meanwhile, Bryant showed Battier no respect at the other end, conceding four open looks – all of which Battier missed (0-for-4).
Yao and Powell exchanged hoops in the final minute that produced a 24-all tie heading into the second quarter. L.A. cooled down a bit but still shot 54.4 percent, while Houston checked in at a solid 55 percent. Basically, everyone but Battier shot well for the home team, who were led by eight points a piece from Scola and Yao on 8-of-8 shooting.
11:10 With Battier sitting down and Artest taking a turn on Kobe, he pulled up for another jumper.
8:57 A fantastic alley-oop from Walton to Farmar (don’t sleep on his 43-inch vertical just because Shannon Brown’s in the mix now) capped a 8-2 start to the second quarter for L.A. Phil Jackson kept Kobe in the game, moving him to the three with Vujacic at the two, and it paid off immediately. Farmar had set up Gasol for a jumper on the previous possession after a nice steal of Kyle Lowry, who came to Houston via Memphis in the Alston deal.
5:29 With Bryant on the bench, Houston outscored L.A. 10-2 to take a 37-34 lead that grew by two more points a possession after Gasol appeared to be goaltended (no call).
4:14 Houston kept right on going, capping a 14-0 run on Scola’s layup off a nice Lowry pass. At first, fans in Houston didn’t like the trade that delivered the former Memphis player, but he’s apparently already grown on them thanks to plays like that.
3:53 Ariza finally put a piece of gum on the wound with an open jumper, but Bryant missed both free throws on the following possession to keep it a five-point game. Meanwhile, I’m wondering what time period “Lost” will choose tonight.
1:45 L.A.’s best defensive possession of the night resulted in an off-balance jumper from Artest that missed badly. Powell did a nice job after being switched onto Lowry, forcing the pass to Artest as the shot clock ran down.
0:02.5 Clearly, Houston’s game plan was to throw bodies at Bryant and make him a passer. Kobe obliged by providing five assists in the half and taking only six shots, half of which he made. Kobe tried to get a shot on L.A.’s final possession of the half, but was triple teamed and lost the ball going up in the lane, ultimately resulting in a 24-second violation. Since Houston had gotten a Yao dunk (with one second left on the shot clock) and a three-point play from Artest on their previous two possessions, the Rockets took a 51-40 lead into the tunnel.
Stat of the Half
Yao Ming (6-of-6), Luis Scola (5-of-5) and Carl Landry (3-of-3) didn’t miss a shot in the half. We talk a lot about how good Odom can be in L.A.’s offense and on the glass when he’s balling, but he probably doesn’t get enough credit for his defense. Particularly on the help side, Odom’s quickness and length makes him very valuable, and L.A.’s clearly missing him on defense tonight. Houston shot only 3-of-16 from three, but made 71 percent of its two-point shots en route to 34 paint points.
11:49 Well, that low-post defense wasn’t much better. Scola made a layup, plus the harm, to continue Houston’s dominance in the paint. See, with Bynum and Odom, L.A. has a big advantage
10:41 Peezy got fierce on Yao’s head with a dunk. Nasty. Moments later, Battier’s hand move to the face again resulted in a wet Bryant jumper that cut Houston’s lead to 54-46.
9:11 Another Bryant jumper, this time in transition, came thanks to the second consecutive Rockets turnover as they tried to feed Yao. Ariza and Gasol were the thieves, but both avoided jail time (OK, bad joke). Six-point game.
7:38 Peezy continued to play well with a big one-handed hammer dunk to follow a Bryant miss that got L.A. within four.
5:17 There’s Powell again with an offensive board plus the putback to make it a 58-56 as L.A. had outscored Houston 16-7 to start the quarter. Powell had 12 points and eight boards in 25 minutes to that point. Kobe showed his appreciation for Powell’s effort after Houston called a timeout, walking purposely over to Peezy, embracing him while patting his head and nodding. That’s about as effusive as Kobe gets, which has to boost Peezy’s confidence a bit?
3:29 Out of the timeout, Bryant nailed another jumper, his 8th in 15 attempts, to tie the game at 60. They’ve done it primarily with defense, refusing to allow any more easy looks for the Rockets, particularly by aggressively doubling Yao.
1:50 Kobe. For three. Lakers 65, Rockets 64, which was all the more interesting since L.A. had yet to make a single free throw, making their money instead on perimeter J’s. Bryant led the way with 19 points, followed by 14 from Pau and 12 from Powell.
0:42.2 Back to his efficient offensive ways tonight was Gasol, hitting his 8th shot in 14 attempts to put L.A. up one.
Houston managed four free throws to close the quarter up 70-67, but L.A. had done what it wanted in slashing the lead from 11 to three to set up what should be a fun finish.
11:43 Who else but Powell opened the scoring in the fourth with a 17-footer as Kobe got some rest on the bench.
9:16 Former Laker Von Wafer turned the ball over for the second straight possession on somewhat of a terrible play, which Vujacic turned into an open jumper that put L.A. up 73-72. Last time Kobe sat, L.A. was outscored 10-2, but this time Gasol and the second unit put up a 6-2 advantage as Houston struggled to get good looks.
7:30 Houston just couldn’t figure out a way to score, but Powell could to match his season high in points with 16, putting L.A. up by three.
7:00 “That’s how you do it from up top!” screamed a crazed Lakers fan from a box just behind my press seat as Lowry missed a free throw. That he was shooting in the first place was suspect, as Vujacic appeared to have cleanly stripped him. Not known for caring about bad calls, Sasha collapsed to his knees as Lowry walked to the line even though he wasn’t in the act of shooting. At the other end, Powell hit a free throw to get to his season high 17 points, not to mention a season high nine boards.
6:55 Artest and Bryant faced off in a serious stare down that rendered double technical fouls but didn’t escalate into anything. An even more serious stare down came next as Phil Jackson was particularly upset that his squad conceded an open three to Wafer that tied the game at 76.
4:13 After sitting for most of the quarter at -15, Yao finally checked back in as Bryant converted an and-1 to put L.A. up 82-78.
3:37 Kobe. For three. He’s good at basketball. Lakers 85, Rockets 80. Since Artest got in Bryant’s face, Kobe used consecutive three-point plays to get to 25 points on 11-of-20 shooting, then picked Artest’s pocket to set up Walton for a breakaway, resulting in 1-of-2 free throws.
2:58 Houston’s first big play of the quarter came from Brooks, who nailed a three plus the foul on Fisher to bring Houston within two at 86-84. After Bryant lost the ball going up for a shot, Wafer hit a jumper to tie the game. On the floor: Brooks, Wafer, Artest, Scola and Yao (no Battier, who was ineffective, all quarter) for Houston and Fish, Vujacic, Bryant, Walton and Gasol for L.A.
1:41 A beautiful drive by Bryant equaled two points as he hung past Yao’s extended arm and finished with his left hand off glass.
1:05 Mamba. After the and-1, the triple and the lefty leaner, Bryant completed an impressive offensive burst with a pull-up, hanging jumper that put L.A. up 92-86.
0:38.5 He won’t miss. Note to Ron Artest: Kobe doesn’t need extra motivation. This time, a hanging jumper plus the foul would do, the Lakers taking a 95-87 lead.
Artest managed to hit his first three of the game after eight misses, but Kobe answered with two more free throws.
0:01 It’s fitting that the game would end with the ball in Kobe’s hands, which it did as Bryant pulled down his fifth board to go with 37 points and six assists, plus three steals. Eighteen of his points came in his ridiculous fourth quarter that left Houston dumbfounded, snapping a 12-game home winning streak for the Rockets and L.A.’s own three-game road losing streak.
See you in San Antonio.