Oh, how things change.
With Bryant only appearing in six games this season due to an unlucky injury bug, this quickly turned into a game between two contending teams.
The Rockets are sailing on an eight-game winning streak and contending for their first Larry O’Brien trophy since 1995, and the Lakers are simply contending for No. 1 overall draft pick honors. Not that it even should be considered “honors,” but this upcoming draft carries ridiculous hype.
Before Wednesday’s game, however, one of the Lakers’ fan favorites would be told he couldn’t participate, due to being traded across California to the Golden State Warriors.
Bazemore appeared in 44 games for the Warriors this season, but was very limited for Mark Jackson, playing only 6.1 minutes per game. His shooting is sub-par (37.1 percent from the field, 25.6 percent from three-point range), but it was hard to expect a lot from the undrafted talent out of Old Dominion.
Brooks, who entered the league in 2011 from Providence, was once considered to be “the next Kobe Bryant.” Those blasphemous comments just reach a new level of comedy by the day. In his rookie season with the Nets, Brooks averaged 12.6 points per game and shot 42.8 percent from the field, proving he can score the ball effectively when given opportunities. Bouncing around from Boston to Golden State this season, Brooks has only seen the floor in 17 games, and averaged just 1.9 points per contest with the Warriors.
Told by the team during pregame that he was traded, Blake explained how much he loved spending three seasons of his career in Hollywood. Bryant took the news harder than any Laker, considering he has stated numerous times that he is closer to Blake than any other teammate. Both are amongst the toughest and most dedicated players in the sport, so there’s no surprise there.
Blake will have a perfect chance to enter a winning environment – although Golden State finds themselves eighth in the conference – and immediately make a difference. What have the Warriors lacked since Jarrett Jack departed in the offseason? A veteran backup guard that can keep the offense organized when Stephen Curry rests. Not only will Blake be just as formidable as Jack was last season in the second unit, but he’s guaranteed to give 110 percent effort defensively. It may not be the best, but a lot that goes along with defense …. is effort.
Welcome Back To Staples Center
Dwight Howard made his first return to the Lakers’ home floor since his summer departure, and the atmosphere was worse than many imagined.
During the first quarter, Howard couldn’t even think about touching the ball without hearing the roof blown off the top of the arena. Boos, screams, chants, anything you could picture hearing, surrounded Staples Center when the ball hit his hands.
Howard must have remembered what Bryant told the media last season when the big man made his dreadful return to Orlando.
“Boos don’t block dunks,” Bryant said last season.
After two powerhouse slams early in the first quarter, Howard let the crowd know they should leave the past behind them, and realize the decision was best for both sides.
It was obvious Houston’s game plan was to feed Howard early, and let him set the tone against his former team, coach, and city. In another unimpressive first half by the Lakers, Houston was able to pick apart a horrid defense and score 64 points before heading into halftime with a 21-point advantage. At the half, it was the “villain” who had already posted a double-double, as Howard notched 14 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in the first two periods.
“The Lakers have always found a way to get back to the top, and they will one day”, Howard stated after the game. “But I can’t focus on the Lakers. My focus is on the Rockets and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The hype surrounding Howard took the attention completely off James Harden, which was a huge positive for the Rockets.
After scoring 15 in the first half — largely under the radar — Harden poured in 14 more in the second half due to his 4-of-4 efficiency from 3-point territory. The All-Star starter finished with 29 points, and nailed some of the toughest three-pointers when Los Angeles tried to make even the slightest run.
With Chris Kaman in the middle, Mike D’Antoni knew he had to play the more aggressive frontcourt more minutes. That would be Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre, who both played more minutes than the starting seven-footer. No Laker reached double figures in rebounding, and the lack of intensity on the glass led to a 56-32 massacre on the rebounding numbers, in favor of Houston. Howard finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, as he sat on the bench for majority of the second half. Omer Asik, who has been upset with his role all season, played over 17 minutes in the blowout victory.
Early in the game, the Lakers gained a one-point lead that didn’t last very long. Houston, on the other hand, managed to build their lead to 36 at one point, and ending up taking the victory 134-108.
For the Lakers, the bright side is that they didn’t perform too bad offensively. Shooting 48.8 percent from the field as a team, and drilling 14 three-pointers, they brought their A-game on D’Antoni’s favorite end of the floor.
Although, you can’t win ball games when the other end is ignored completely. The Rockets hammered home 18-of-35 triples, making up 54 of their points for the entire game. It was, without a doubt, one of the better outside barrages the NBA has witnessed this season.
Wesley Johnson scored a team-high 24 points for the Lakers on 9-of-13 shooting, while Kendall Marshall increased his double-double outings with 20 points and 16 assists. Marshall’s outside shot — or shot release in general — appears to be one of the more awkward releases, but he’s found a way for it to go down consistently. On the season, Marshall is shooting 47.6 percent from the perimeter. That’s “Splash Brothers” worthy itself.
The Lakers will remain at home, where they will host a historical rival on Friday. The Boston Celtics will be in town, looking to avenge the Jan. 17 victory Los Angeles stole in TD Garden. Marshall’s heroics from — you guessed it — the perimeter allowed the Lakers to chomp away at a double digit deficit and spoil Rajon Rondo‘s return to the court. This matchup could be the worst meeting in series history, even with Rondo on the floor..
Good luck, Lakers.