LOS ANGELES — In the team’s second meeting of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers faltered once again against the Houston Rockets falling 107-87 behind a game-high 25 points from James Harden.
Houston held a 13-point advantage at the half that they maintain throughout the second half over Los Angeles. The Lakers were unable to capitalize on a strong third quarter from Kobe Bryant scoring 10 points on 5-0f-6 shooting, including a vintage dunk over Rockets forward Clint Capela.
Los Angeles cut the deficit to six points early in the fourth quarter. Houston responded with an 11-0 run midway through the period pushing their lead to 92-76, which they held a double-digit advantage through the remainder of the game.
Dwight Howard finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds but was in foul trouble through the first three quarters. Bryant recorded his eighth 20-point outing of the season with 22 and tied a season high with eight rebounds. Julius Randle posted his 12th double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Lou Williams scored 14 points.
The Rockets got off to a hot start making five out of their first eight 3-pointers that helped grab as much as 16 point lead in the first quarter.
The Lakers cut the lead to just 31-27 with a 9-2 run to start the quarter. However, the Rockets responded by stretching their advantage to 52-39 at the half. Harden led the Rockets with a first-half high 17 points and Howard had six points and nine rebounds. Julius Randle led the Lakers with 11 points.
This marks the seventh loss in the last eight games for Los Angeles. Here are five things we learned from Thursday night:
Quiet night from Russell
After a recent string of encouraging performances from the Lakers’ rookie, he posted two points on 1-of-9 shooting along with tying his career high with seven assists for the second straight game in 26 minutes played off the bench.
Russell couldn’t establish a shooting rhythm at any point of the game, which he instead look get himself going rather looking to get teammates involved. He didn’t knock down his first field goal until 2:44 left in the game on a driving finger roll layup.
It wasn’t a performance that head coach Byron Scott was totally discouraged by given his play over the recent string of games, and ball movement that he had even with his shooting problems.
“It was his first bad game in the last five or six games,” head coach Byron Scott said. “I hope everyone understands that he’s 19 and that he’s human. He’s going to have great games every night. Tonight was one of those games where he struggled. The big thing now for him is how he will bounce back the next game.”
Russell had seen a dramatic increase in offensive production in the four games prior to Thursday averaging 19.5 points, including posting his first two career 20-plus point outputs.
The 19-year-old is already looking forward to his next opponent on Saturday afternoon facing Oklahoma City All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook for the first time in his young career.
“I’m going to guard him like he’s going to guard me,” Russell said of Westbrook.
Howard in foul trouble
There’s never a dull moment when Howard plays the Lakers, and that continued on Thursday night every time touched the ball he received his usual large share of boos.
However, it wasn’t a game that saw him on the floor too often as remained in foul trouble throughout. Even when he was on the floor, he struggled to get into the flow of the offense shooting just 3-of-10 for the game.Despite that, he was still able to record 15 points, 16 rebounds, and two blocks in 26 minutes played. A bulk of his production in the fourth quarter when the Lakers intentionally fouled him to send him to the free-throw line.
Despite that, he was still able to score 15 points with 16 rebounds, and two blocks in 26 minutes played. A bulk of his points came in the fourth quarter when the Lakers intentionally fouled him to put him to the free-throw line.
It has been a down year in terms of offensive production as Howard is averaging 13.0 points and 5.6 free throw attempts per game, which is his lowest since his rookie season.He’s also shooting a career-low 8.3 shots per game (three attempts lower than his career average).
Bryant remains efficient
Bryant was once again an efficient scoring night against the Rockets on Thursday night posting 22 points on 9-of 16 shooting from the field while tying a season-high eight rebounds.
Despite his shooting woes early in the game, Bryant did put together an action-packed third quarter scoring 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. He had several turn back the clock moments in the period, including bringing the fans to their feet in the third quarter with a facial dunk over Capela.
“Pretty impressive for a 37-year-old,” Scott said. “After he dunked it, it was kind of like, whoa where did that come from?”
Bryant was also pleasantly surprised by the dunk.
“It felt great. My legs felt lively, felt springy,” Bryant said. “I have no idea where it came from, but it was there. So I can’t really explain it.”
It was another performance that has backed up Bryant recently stating that his legs felt great. He once again was able to get his spots on the floor and showed arguably the most burst from his legs this season. It’s clear that he appeared to find his rhythm over the last six games hitting over 41 percent of his shots five times while averaging 18.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting from the field.
Harden added another memorable performance against the Lakers on Thursday night posting 25 on shooting with six assists, and six rebounds.
The 26-year-old had a strong first half posting 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting along with five assists and four rebounds. This included scoring a quarter-best 10 points in the second quarter.
Harden has had a successful career against the Lakers averaging 21.5 points in 22 meetings. He had played exceptionally well against Los Angeles in the team’s first matchup of the season last week with 30 points. The three-time All-Star is in the midst of another strong campaign currently second in the league in scoring at 29.0 points per game, including notching at least 25 points 17 times this season.
Randle productive in limited action
The second-year forward continued his stretch of strong performance with a second straight double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.
Randle played with much aggressiveness looking for his shot when got the ball. Although he made just four of his 10 shots in the first two quarters, it was his assertiveness to keep attacking the paint that was most encouraging. He knocked down just 2-of-5 shots in the second half but grabbed a team-best six rebounds. That said, he struggled with his ball-handling losing control of the ball and finishing at the rim on several occasions.
“I just have to stay aggressive,” Randle said. “It was two games ago in Houston when you guys were asking if I was discouraged from the shots that I was missing. Now those same shots I’m making. So I never really get discouraged. Just have to keep progressing and getting better.”
Overall, it has been an encouraging first full season for Randle averaging 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds entering Thursday’s tilt. This includes leading the team in rebounding 21 times, notching 12 double-doubles, and hauling 10-plus rebounds 15 times this season. This was another stepping stone for the 20-year-old to build on moving forward.
Bob Garcia IV
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