There aren’t many teams in the NBA that could shrug off the temporary loss of one of the league’s best players and still beat respectively tough Texas teams in consecutive games.
Yet the Lakers, without Pau Gasol and his 17 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists, hung on late to beat the ever-pesky Houston Rockets 88-79 two days after crushing Dallas 131-96.
“For a team that scored 131 points the other night, it looked like it was a struggle for us to score tonight,” said Phil Jackson. “We were able to finish this game better than I expected.”
The purple and gold, who expect Gasol back sooner than later, do happen to have guys named Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.
That always helps.
Odom, a health concern himself heading into the contest (stomach), was fantastic throughout the game in amassing a season-high 19 rebounds, 17 points and nine assists in a near triple-double.
“The guy that was unable to practice yesterday and was pretty sick was the guy that was the star in the game,” said Jackson. “(Odom) knew we were at a deficit tonight without Pau (Gasol) … it was a terrific game (for him).”
“He had a great performance, very impressive, he is really locked in,” added Kobe Bryant, who scored 22 points. “He is doing what we need him to do and he has been playing excellent, focused basketball.”
Meanwhile, Bynum – who opened the season with eight double-doubles in nine games in Gasol’s absence – was two boards away from another while leading all scorers with 24 points.
“I just got more touches and I got my touch back around the rim,” said Bynum. “Shots started falling for me and it got easier from there.”
The Lakers also welcomed Ron Artest back into the lineup after a five-game hiatus (concussion). While he struggled to find a rhythm offensively (3-of-11 shooting), as Jackson said he expected before the game, Artest got right into the mix on defense, causing turnovers on Houston’s first two possessions of the game and generally harassing his man throughout the evening.
In fact, with 1:37 remaining in the first half and L.A. holding a 39-29 lead, Artest reached in on Carl Landry about 70 feet away from the Lakers’ basket, putting Landry at the line in the bonus. An ill-advised play, sure, but Artest’s constant defensive aggression seemed to have an affect on Houston as it has generally on opponents throughout the season. Other teams are simply less comfortable when the former Defensive Player of the Year is on the floor.
“Comfortable” is not a good word to describe Houston’s offense particularly in the first half, when they channeled the Mavericks’ Sunday inability to hit a shot by making just 35.9 percent of their attempts in a 41-33 halftime margin. It wasn’t exactly L.A.’s best performance, either; while they made 46.2 percent from the field, L.A. coughed the ball up 10 times (20 total) to allow Houston to stay within striking distance.
In that first half, Bryant endured a swipe to his already-injured shooting hand, struggling to only 3-for-11 from the field in the second half, yet still managed to connect on one of the game’s bigger buckets, a 10-foot leaner with 48.3 seconds remaining to give L.A. a six-point cushion. Bryant, who said after the game that he would be “fine” (shocker), soldiered through 43 more minutes in L.A.’s 28th win.
The Lakers aim for their fifth straight victory against the L.A. Clippers, a road game at STAPLES Center on Wednesday. The visitors will need another solid effort from Odom and Bynum, since the Clips boast a solid 4-5 combo of Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman.
Until then, your numbers:
15 Kobe Bryant’s place on the all-time NBA scoring roster after his first bucket of the game pushed him past Patrick Ewing.
19 Lamar Odom’s season-high rebound total, just three off his career-high of 22 set two seasons ago against Golden State.
20 Lakers turnovers, resulting in 18 points for Houston and helping the Rockets to stay in the game.
35.9 Houston’s shooting percentage in the first half, producing just 33 points.
48 Points in the paint for L.A., many of which came courtesy of Andrew Bynum (24 points) while Houston managed just 36. “They dominated the basket area on both ends of the court,” said Rockets coach Rick Adelman … It was pretty obvious that they were trying to go inside on us right off the start. They accomplished that.”