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Game Day: Rockets at Lakers

Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 134-108 win over the Los Angeles Lakers

  • Rockets vs. Lakers
    Dwight Howard scores 20 points and pulls down 13 rebounds in his return to L.A. as his new team, the Rockets, take the win over the Lakers.
  • Power Oop
    James Harden throws the alley-oop and Dwight Howard tries to rip down the rim on the finish.
  • Rockets vs. Lakers: First half
    Dwight Howard has 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half as the Rocket have a 64-43 halftime lead over the Lakers.
  • Big Block by Howard
    Dwight Howard times his jump correctly and swats the shot.

 

lakers-gallery-link-021914.jpgLOS ANGELES - Dwight Howard heard the boos raining down from the Staples Center rafters. In return, he made the Lakers and their fans listen to the reverb from his rim-rattling dunks all night long.

His response spoke volumes. So, too, did his team’s spectacular play.

Howard created the kind of beautiful noise that was music to the Rockets’ ears while teaming up with James Harden to give the Lakers a taste of the destruction Houston’s dynamic duo is capable of inflicting. The damage they caused was so complete, in fact, that neither player needed to bother leaving the bench after the third quarter. By then, they’d already combined to rack up 49 points, 19 rebounds, 12 assists, six steals and four blocks. And the end result was just as emphatic as the Rockets rolled to their eighth straight victory, trouncing the Lakers 134-108.

Put simply, this was what an elite team should do to an injury-riddled bottom-feeder. The Rockets ran the Lakers off the floor early and never let up, slamming the door shut in plenty of time for Houston’s players to have a little fun and playfully poke fun at the increasingly sad, feeble chants from LA’s jilted, jealous fan base - a practice that continued all the way onto the team's flight to San Francisco after the game.

“That was fun,” said Chandler Parsons of his club’s fourth quarter shenanigans on the bench as the Rockets practically encouraged the mock chorus to continue. “We had fun with it and we were chanting out there with them. I thought we did the best thing we could possibly do and come out here, play well and get a win. Dwight got us going early and he’s been great for us all year long."

Howard said the rough reception only served to lift the Rockets to greater heights. 

“I think it got everybody hyped tonight, and my teammates the first thing they said was that they wanted to win this game for me.  So I just wanted to go out there and set the tone and I’m just happy we got the win.”

But this was far more than just an enjoyable romp and triumphant return. This was a strong opening statement that the Rockets have no plans of letting up or losing their mojo after the All-Star break. With Howard (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Harden (29 points, 11 assists) firing on all cylinders and Houston’s supporting cast raining in triples from all over the court, the Rockets rolled to a big lead and, tellingly, never allowed the Lakers to come within shouting distance of a comeback.

Houston has offered hints throughout the season that it belongs among the league’s elite, but injuries and consistency – and those two tend to go hand in hand, by the way – have managed to sabotage the club’s ability to maintain a high level of play on several occasions. But now, at last, the Rockets are healthier than they have been all season and, not coincidentally, the results of the past three weeks have proven that all the preseason promise and potential this squad possessed are still very much in existence, just waiting to be tapped.

At the center of this run stands Howard, who has gone supernova in February while averaging nearly 26 points and 13 rebounds per game. The joy he spoke of so often last summer after making the move to Houston has been on full display. So, too, have the skills and overpowering physical presence that make him the best center in the game today. But while eight is great, both Howard and his teammates are chasing something far greater than a prolonged winning streak, of course. This team is still figuring things out, and still has to stand on its collective tippy-toes just to get a fingertip on the ceiling of its full potential. But with Howard feeling at home and flexing his bulbous muscles on a near nightly basis now, the Rockets' most recent growth spurt suggests it won't be long before the club can more comfortably stand tall and reach for the stars on a regular basis.

"Dwight’s had fun playing basketball for the most part all year long," said Houston head coach Kevin McHale. "He’s a great player, and I think that’s a big part of it. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you play better.

“The NBA season is a lot of ups and downs and ebbs and flows. There have been some tough times for us, but those build character and help you out so I’m looking forward to these next 28 games, getting everybody healthy and seeing what we’ve got."

POST-GAME OBSERVATIONS

- There’s no need to mince words at this point: the Lakers are just not a good team and the Rockets spent the first half treating them precisely how a superior squad should. Houston wasted little time establishing its eminence, abusing LA’s interior vulnerability over and over and over again.

Dwight Howard set the tone in the opening minute, beginning the game with a soft, little lefty jump hook over Chris Kaman, before swatting a shot and snatching a rebound mere seconds later. In fact, Houston’s superstar center needed less than two minutes to throw down two monstrous slams while rapidly increasing his point total. By halftime, Howard had a double-double – the tenth time this season he’s reached that statistical milestone by the break – with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while throwing in three blocked shots for good measure.

If the surrounding negativity affected him, it only seemed to do so in a way that greatly benefited Houston. Howard was nothing short of awesome, frequently flashing his Superman form while helping his club establish complete control of the painted area, where the Rockets outscored Los Angeles 42-16 during the first two periods of play. He also had a team-high four offensive boards, keying Houston’s mastery in that area as well as the club claimed a 19-0 edge in second chance points after grabbing 48 percent of their missed shots during the first half.

- Chandler Parsons shining in a primetime game in Hollywood? Who could have possibly seen that coming? As anyone who follows this team knows, Parsons feels right at home in the spotlight and he delivered the goods once again tonight, piling up a tidy 18 points and five boards in just 31 minutes of action.

- Houston’s players have had energy to burn ever since being reunited after the All-Star break. They’ve been positively bouncing off the walls, in fact, and they played that way tonight, too. At the outset, that effervescence occasionally manifested itself in some hurried play when perhaps a bit more patience would have been prudent. But the Rockets settled into a rhythm as the first half wore on, and there’s certainly no quibbling with the end result as Houston took a 64-43 lead to halftime – the sixth time in the team’s last seven games that is has reached the 60-point plateau by the break.

- Over the last two days of practice, Omer Asik looked really strong; he was running the floor, setting crushing screens, crashing the boards and moving his feet to put himself in perfect defensive position on a regular basis. In other words, he looked just like last year’s Omer Asik. It’s obvious that after the two-month layoff due to injury, he’s finding his form and getting his wind back. That carried over tonight as well, as he racked up seven points and 12 rebounds – all in just 23 minutes of play.

- Just to hammer how dominant Houston’s first half was, another one of the Rockets’ reserve bigs loomed large in the first half, too. Donatas Motiejunas knocked down a 3, scored seven points, corralled four boards and gamely contested shots during his 10-minute first half stint. Remember when the Rockets seemed to have a dearth of quality size off the bench? Now it would appear as if they have a surplus.

- There are few things finer than hearing someone call a sculpted, 6-11, 265-pound man a coward -- from 50-feet and a dozen security guards away. Never change, Lakers fans. Never change.

- James Harden in the third quarter tonight: 14 pts on 5-of-7 shooting – a number that included a 4-of-4 mark from beyond the arc. Oh, and five assists as well. Harden has had his struggles in his hometown over the course of his career, but there were no such issues tonight. He continued his masterful run of games against the Lakers this season, and by the time the third period had come to an end, Houston was up 29 and a mercy rule was sorely needed.

- With their win tonight, the Rockets’ record improved to 37-17. Next up: a showdown with the Golden State Warriors tomorrow night.

QUOTES

ROCKETS HEAD COACH KEVIN MCHALE

(On whether he feels bad to see the Lakers struggle)

“No. Everybody goes through cycles. They’ll cycle back up quickly. The Lakers have been a franchise that doesn’t stay down for a while. They’ll clear some space up, switch around their roster, and they’ll be competitive again soon.”

(On Dwight Howard’s performance)

“Dwight played really well. He had great energy, he rebounded the ball real well, was blocking shots, and made great decisions in the post. He did a great job down there. Dwight had a really good game.”

(On Howard facing the Lakers)

“I think he was excited to be out there and play. He had a technical foul early, but he’s been playing really well early for us for a long time now. That’s just how he’s been playing. He’s been very dominant, getting the ball and scoring and blocking.”

(On if he saw a joy in Howard tonight)

“Dwight’s had fun playing basketball, for the most part, all year long. He’s enjoyed playing, and I think that’s a big part of that. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you do it better.”

(On the team’s overall play)

“We were hitting shots... both teams made a lot of threes. I thought for the guts of the game, in the first five minutes of that third quarter and the first half, we came out and got a big lead. We just walked it in after that.”

DWIGHT HOWARD

(On how much fun he had in tonight’s game)

“We’re always going to have fun when we’re playing basketball.  We love what we’re doing.  We’re playing great.  We just want to have as much fun as possible.  We take the game very serious, but at the same time, we want to have fun while we’re playing.”

(On getting booed in tonight’s game)

“I think it got everybody hyped tonight and my teammates the first thing they said was that they wanted to win this game for me.  So I just wanted to go out there and set the tone and I’m just happy we got the win.”

(On if he feels any remorse for where the Lakers have ended up after his departure)

“I can’t focus on the Lakers.  My focus is on the Rockets and on what we’re trying to accomplish.  They Lakers have always found a way to get back to the top and they will one day, but for the present time I can only focus on the Rockets.”

(On not letting the arena’s negative energy have an effect on his play)

“I just try to remain positive and I block out all the negativity and anything that could affect myself or my teammates.  I know how important it is for me to stay focused on the floor because my teammates look for me to stay that way and when I’m positive it has a great effect on my teammates.  When I’m out there playing, no matter what happens, good, bad, or ugly I’ve got to stay level and make sure that I do that for my teammates.”

(On if he has regrets from last season after coming off of back surgery and being physically limited)

“I just wish I would’ve waited until I got healthier to play. Everything happens for a reason.  Coming off back surgery is tough.  I wanted to come out here and show the fans here that I’m about winning.  Unfortunately I just wasn’t healthy enough, and neither was the team.  As a team, I thought last season we all had the same goal, we just couldn’t stay healthy, and it happens.  That’s one of the things that could affect any team, is the injuries and we just had a big problem with that last year.

(On if there’s anything different in Houston that allows him to succeed differently than last year with the Lakers)

“I just think that I’m a lot healthier than I was last season.  Last year I can recall some games where I was going up to try and dunk and I just didn’t have the legs to finish it.  This year I’m able to do that and I’m still getting healthier, which is great and coach [McHale] expects a lot out of me and he pushes me every day in practice to be the leader for this team and I just do what I can to help this team win.  My heart’s in the right place.  All I want to do is help this team win and be successful and I’m going to do whatever I can.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On tonight’s game)

“I thought we did the best thing we could possibly do and come out here and play well and get a win and Dwight [Howard] got us going early and he’s been great for us all year long, so this is an important game for us.  Not because Dwight played here last year, that’s over with, we just wanted to get this win and move on.”

(On if it seems like Dwight Howard is having fun this season)

“Yeah.  He’s always in a good mood.  He’s very positive.  I’m obviously very close with him.  It looks like he’s having fun and I can tell he’s enjoying it again. He’s playing well, we’re winning and that’s all he wants to do, so why wouldn’t he be happy?”

JEREMY LIN

(On his strategy for guarding Stephen Curry in the Rockets game tomorrow night against the Warriors)

“[My strategy is to] Just make it tough.  Make him work for everything.  He’s a great player, he’s an All-Star and he can score in infinite ways so I just got to try and stay solid.”

Lakers Head Coach Mike D’Antoni:

(On what you tell the team after a loss like this)

“The biggest thing is to keep their heads up.  They’ve played as hard as they can play, we just don’t have the men right now…Just keep playing hard.  We’ll get some guys back, Pau [Gasol] will probably be back Friday, but they have nothing to hang their heads about, they’ve played as hard as they can play.”

(If he was surprised with the Steve Blake trade)

“Yea, you know surprised in a sense that we were more disappointed it was him.  You know there’s a lot of guys, and management has to retool, and you have to do a lot of things…But it gives more time to Kendall [Marshall] and gives more time to Jordan Farmar to really look at him, and we’ll go forward with that.”

(On how he would describe Steve Blake)

“He was a joy to coach.  I think every coach should have an opportunity to coach somebody like that.  He was one of the toughest guys that I’ve ever coached, and he’s good.  Any team that wants to win, he’ll be a nice piece…Steve’s a good player, he’s going to a team where he’ll play a lot, and they’ll love him…It’s disappointing to everybody, but that’s the business of the game.”

(On who will step up in Steve Blake’s spot in terms of energy)

“We lost a nice piece, and we’re not going to replace him, not right now.  Now the [main focus] is to retool, and to get better as we move forward.  We have a lot of young guys we have to develop, and we’ll try to do as best we can.”

(On whether he thinks Dwight Howard played with an extra ‘punch’ tonight)

“Well I think so.  I think he came out, and wanted to make a statement.  He’s good and he played well.”

Lakers Forward Wesley Johnson

(On Steve Blake’s trade)

“It’s tough. You hate to see a teammate go like that. We built a great relationship off the court as well, so it was tough to see him go. At the end of the day we all know that it’s a business and he told us he loved us and to play hard. We’re going to keep in tough, but it’s hard to see him go.”

(On tonight’s game)

“They had a lot of second chance points, offensive rebounds, transitions, there’s a lot that you can name. They had a lot of open shots. We weren’t rotating like we should have been. We could go down the list, but it just wasn’t our night.”

(On getting teammates back from the injured list)

“I think it would help out a lot. I think once people start coming back and getting more bodies. I think it would help us out especially getting a lot more people in with different rotations so I think it would help out a lot.”

Lakers Guard Jodie Meeks

(On Steve Blake’s trade)

“It was sad and unfortunate for him, but he’s a professional and I wish the best of luck. Anytime this happens you just get a reminder that this is a business. This is the nature of the business and I’m sure he will be fine. He’s a good veteran, but it’s sad to see someone that you’re close with leave.”

(On the trade deadline)

“With Steve [Steve Blake] being traded before the game it’s a little different, but it’s the nature of the game. You just have to go out there and do your job. We didn’t do a great job with that tonight, but I thought we played hard.”

(On his ankle in tonight’s game)

“It was fine it’s going to be sore. Everyone at this point in the season is a little hurt. As long as I can put a shoe on and go out there and help them, then I’m going to play.”

Lakers guard Kendall Marshall

(On Steve Blake trade)

“Personally, it kind of was a letdown. Steve is a great teammate but more importantly off the court he’s a great guy. When I first got here he really helped me. The main thing you start to feel bad about is his family, he has three kids here in school here but it’s a part of this business.”

(On the NBA trade)

“Yeah, obviously we have a lot of perk playing in this league. So this is one of the downsides. At the end of the day we are still pawns in a game of chess which is scary to think about. We just have to hope for the best.”

(On what happened in the game)

“We can’t make excuses but at the end of the day we got out played. It’s hard to shoot 48% from the field and 50% from the threes and lose by 30.”

(On free throws at the end of the game with Jodie [Meeks])

“Honestly I was so tired I wasn’t even paying attention. Jodie doesn’t mind taking points though.”

 (On key to keeping his body conditioned)

“Part of it you have to be a professional and realize this is your job. You have to take care of your body and get your rest.”