LAL 104, HOU 107: March 20 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening road contest at Houston, the Lakers looking for a fourth straight road win, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Blake, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Rockets: G. Dragic*, C. Lee, C. Parsons, L. Scola, S. Dalembert
*Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee made up the starting backcourt for Houston, with leading scorers Kyle Lowry (bacterial infection) and Kevin Martin (shoulder) out.

FIRST QUARTER
12:00 Before the game, I asked Courtney Lee what it was like defending Kobe Bryant. In short, his answer was that you can’t really plan in any specific way, because Kobe has counter moves for everything you try and do. You can’t try to force him in any one direction, or play too close, or too far, it really takes a 100 percent effort on each possession, and you just hope he misses shots. Lee said he still considers Bryant the NBA’s best player, the matchup he most relishes to test himself.

9:00 L.A. held Houston without a bucket in the first three minutes, taking a 6-0 lead behind Bynum and Gasol buckets at the rim, and it was the Western Player of the Week who then added two more field goals coming off his 12-of-14 game against Utah.

1:20 Ramon Sessions entered the game and helped kick off an explosive scoring run to close the first, a corner three from Barnes making it a 40-25 game, L.A. scoring inside and out at will to reach their season high in points for a quarter. The last time they hit 40 in a quarter? Jan. 11, 2011 at Golden State (46 in the 4th). Gasol’s 12 ld the way, while Bynum added eight, Bryant nine and Barnes six.

SECOND QUARTER
3:00 The Rockets had been scoring the basketball much better in the second quarter than the first, trimming what was once a 17-point lead down to seven on a Dalembert dunk, capping a quick 6-2 Rockets run into a time out. Bryant rediscovered his touch after the 3-for-20 game at Utah, making 5-of-11 field goals towards a game-high 13 points.

2:00 World Peace came into the game with a sore hip (technically hip bursitis), but looked no worse for the wear after being held out in the second half against Utah, at least not while streaking down the floor for a transition dunk.

0:00 As well as L.A. moved the ball and got it inside in the first quarter towards those 40 points, things got pretty stagnant as Bryant controlled the offense in the second, and the Lakers managed just 16 points to see their 15-point lead after one trimmed to just five at 56-51. It’s not like we haven’t seen this before so many times, but Mike Brown, Phil Jackson or whoever can’t really try to change Kobe, who sometimes simply going to be very aggressive offensively on his own. Perhaps more worrisome for L.A.: their defense simply hadn’t been all that strong, a problem Brown’s been pointing out for the last week and change.

THIRD QUARTER
11:40 The reason you get the ball to Gasol: another made field goal, this one a jumper just in front of the shot clock, giving him 14 points on 7-of-9 shots. The defense had yet to figure out Dragic, however, whose 11th assist got Houston within a point.

5:56 Houston took its first lead thanks to a series of Lakers turnovers, with a breakaway dunk from Lee creating a 63-62 edge, though Gasol’s eighth field goal in 10 attempts put L.A. momentarily back in front. Nonetheless, the early momentum created by the Lakers had evaporated, reminding of road losses at Detroit and Washington in which L.A. dominated out of the gates before slowing considerably.

1:37 L.A. started to get stops for the first time consistently since the first quarter, and converted on the other end with five straight points from Kobe, including three free throws on a drawn foul while taking a three (Parsons), producing a 77-71 lead. However, the game changed seconds later, when Bynum drew his second technical foul for arguing with the refs and was tossed. This was just the second ejection on the season for L.A., as Josh McRoberts was tossed once. With how well Bynum, the current Western POW, had been playing late in games, this was a blow.

FOURTH QUARTER
7:44 Yet stepping up in Bynum’s absence was L.A.’s bench, who got two slicing layups from Sessions, and five points from Murphy on a tip in and a three-pointer to help open a 91-81 lead. Sessions then added two pretty dishes to Gasol, and another bucket to reach 14 points, getting to a game-high +18 on the evening to that point. L.A.’s lead with six minutes to go was 12.

3:44 … And then it all went wrong. The Rockets responded with force, reeling off a 17-2 run, including an 11-0 stretch, to turn a 12-point edge built by the bench into a 100-97 lead. Two tough plays for L.A. switched the momentum entirely, as Gasol got hacked at the rim (no call) with a seven-point lead, and Dragic hit a three on the other end to cut the lead to four. A trip later, Dragic traveled by catching his own airball, but with no call, kicked it out for Lee’s three that cut it to one.

0:00 Cold for the second straight game, Kobe hit two straight to tie the game in the final minute (9-for-26 overall), but Dragic hit the biggest shot of the game, a corner three, to put the Rockets up three with 28 seconds to play. Kobe couldn’t tie it with a three of his own on the next possession, and after some free throws, L.A. would drop a 107-104 decision that was eerily similar to the team’s losses at Detroit and Washington.

Bryant finished with 29 points but needed 27 shots to get there; Gasol had 21 points but took only six shots after a 6-for-8 first quarter and had just four rebounds, and Bynum got only 23 minutes of court time before being ejected. The biggest bright spot was Sessions, who scored 14 points on 6-of-9 field goals with four assists in 28 minutes.

The Lakers have little time to think about the loss, with a tougher matchup coming against Dallas tomorrow night. We’ll see you there.