LAL 99, Rockets 95: April 17 Running Diary

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles LakersBelow is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday night home contest against Houston, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Blake, Meeks, World Peace, Gasol and Howard
Rockets: J. Lin, J. Harden, C. Parsons, G. Smith, O. Asik

12:00 A bit of the drama from the regular season finale was taken out in a good way from the Lakers, since Utah’s earlier loss at Memphis eliminated the Jazz from contention. At stake for the Lakers was the potential first round opponent. Win, and they’d go to No. 2 seed San Antonio. Lose, and they’d draw No. 1 seed Oklahoma City.

2:42 A great early effort on the offensive glass helped the Lakers take a 21-18 lead after a 9-0 run, capped by Antawn Jamison’s put-back of a Metta World Peace three-pointer. That MWP triple was the 12th attempt from long range, allowing plenty of long bounces for boards. Four of those attempts went down, including two for four from Steve Blake, fresh off consecutive games of four of eight shooting. Houston recovered to finish the quarter on a 6-0 run, however, taking a 24-21 lead out of the period.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers4:57 It wasn’t pretty, but the Lakers got within two when Gasol hit a jumper thanks to a nice screen from Howard. Houston, however, went on a 7-0 run – capped by a three from James Harden (18 points on 4 of 7 field goals, three threes and 7 of 8 free throws) and to push their lead back to nine points, where it had gotten early in the period.

0:00 The Lakers were simply struggling to get good looks on offense, playing a bunch of guys who’d barely played minutes together on the court at the same time all season. Obviously, the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash (who hopes to return for the playoffs, but is not a guarantee for any specific date) played a major role. Blake did his part, scoring 13 points on 5 of 10 field goals, but former second round picks Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock really struggled in their limited time on the floor, while Jodie Meeks was also off to a slow start on both ends. At the break, Houston held a 50-44 lead, keyed by Harden on offense and Omer Asik on defense, who committed only one foul defending Howard, holding Dwight to only four points on 2 of 9 field goals. Gasol managed nine points on 4 of 10 shooting, with Blake adding two more points to lead an offense shooting only 33.3 percent.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers4:24 Post ups to Howard with Asik defending worked better in the third, as he scored twice and earned a foul on a third trip, but he was still up to just eight points and was called for three seconds in a late third-quarter turnover with Houston leading 63-55. On the next trip, Harden hit his fourth three-pointer, the third for Houston in the quarter, L.A. not doing a good job of executing the pregame plan of running them off the line and not helping on post ups. Houston has really nobody that demands a double on a post up, but Blake was caught trying to help Gasol with Greg Smith only to see Chandler Parsons hit his first triple. L.A. was in trouble here, with OKC looking like the more probable destination than San Antonio…

0:00 … but a late quarter response cut the margin in half, making for an interesting fourth quarter. L.A. got its eighth make from downtown as Darius Morris rose to hit one, and the second year guard then answered a Parsons layup to keep the deficit at 71-66 heading into the fourth quarter. Those five quick points from Morris were key, L.A. searching desperately for perimeter production in the absence of Bryant and Nash.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers6:36 The fourth three-pointer of the game from Blake had the Lakers suddenly on top, the 11-point deficit all the way gone, their point guard with 22 points, six boards and six assists. Also critical in the comeback was Gasol, up to 13 points with 14 boards and eight assists, allowing an 81-79 lead into a Rockets time out. L.A. had six minutes to try and close it out, with James Harden – just 1 for 6 in the second half- lurking.

3:56 Hitting two clutch free throws? Howard, thanks to Asik’s foul going for an offensive board. The lead was three in the final moments, L.A. trying to hold on. Who would step up?

0:00 Holding a three-point lead as the clock ticked down to the final seconds, the Lakers allowed a buzzer-beating, desperation three-pointer to Parsons from 30+ feet out to a stunned Staples Center. L.A. were almost to San Antonio, but would instead head to overtime.

1:55 Hitting the only field goal of OT to that point was Gasol, on a turnaround J, with L.A.’s D getting stop after stop to allow a 92-91 lead…

0:56.0 Jodie Meeks started the game by hitting only 1 of his 9 attempts from the field. So in the final minute of overtime, why would he not explode off the baseline for a two-handed dunk that put the Lakers up 96-93? That would prove to be enough for what ended up being a 99-95 victory, as Meeks hit 1 of 2 free throws, and Blake 2 of 2 to reach his personal career high of 24 points in a Lakers jersey. The pass for Meeks’ dunk came from Gasol, the Spaniard’s 10th assist to reach his second triple-double in three games (17 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists). With this dramatic win, the Lakers close the season winning eight of nine games, going 8-1 without Steve Nash and 2-0 without Kobe Bryant to slide into the No. 7 seed.

Up next? The San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. See you in Texas, starting on Sunday.