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Saturday April 7, 2012 3:26 AM

Delightful Deja Vu

Rockets storm back in second half once again, beat Lakers 112-107

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




LOS ANGELES, CA - There’s always something special about beating the Lakers in Los Angeles. The star-filled seats of Staples Center. Kobe’s crunch time reputation. The beastly interior presence of Bynum and Gasol. All those banners hanging from the rafters.

To overcome those things and stand triumphant at the end of the night is a special feeling indeed. But to do so like this, to turn the tables and beat them at their own game – again – that is something worth savoring and clinging to; something worth holding up as a sign of how far your team has come and as a formula that lets the world know you are capable of reproducing this sort of performance in the future – you know, should the need arise again in late April or early May.

Let there be no doubt the Rockets made a statement Friday night at Staples with their 112-107 win, a resounding rallying cry that their come-from-behind victory against the Lakers two weeks ago was no mere fluke. There was Goran Dragic, once more stealing Bryant’s clutch shot-making thunder late in the fourth quarter, burying LA beneath a pair of layups with the game on the line. There was Luis Scola, taking full advantage of Andrew Bynum’s absence due to a silly self-inflicted fourth quarter ejection, going to work in the low-post to score 10 straight points in the period to help put Houston ahead for good. There was Chandler Parsons, relishing his role as the Rockets’ Kobe-stopper, defending Bryant like a demon while pitching in with some cajones grande shots of his own. And there was Houston’s two-headed monster at the center position, doing all the dirty work and so much more as Marcus Camby and Samuel Dalembert combined to contribute 24 points, 17 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots.

Best of all, efforts like this don’t even amount to a surprise anymore. This is who the Rockets are; or rather, who they have become: they have congealed and coalesced into a club that plays both unselfishly and relentlessly, and a team that can never, ever be counted out. In the past month Houston has beaten Oklahoma City, Chicago and the Lakers twice – and every single one of those wins was earned in comeback fashion. And while the Oklahoma City victory on March 13 saw the Rockets race off the court in frenzied ecstasy, Friday’s postgame vibe was far more subdued. The players are no longer surprised by big wins – they expect them.

In light of this development, it’s difficult not to get ahead of oneself when projecting where all this might lead. To be sure, the primary goal for Houston is still just to make the playoffs, period. But with the Rockets now just a mere half game out of sixth in the Western Conference and only a game and a half out of fifth, the perspective is perhaps starting to shift ever so slightly. This team has quite clearly tapped into something special. And though more work remains to be done, it’s getting harder and harder to block out those contemplations of what the Rockets can accomplish should they in fact rise up the ranks while securing a postseason bid. How far can this team go? And how much better might they be with a healthy Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin? How much more damage might they then be able to inflict upon their opponents?

Not that the players and coaches are thinking that way; nor should they. To a man, their sole focus right now is their game against Sacramento on Sunday, which is as it should be. But with each passing win, especially those of the signature variety, the belief builds and the expectations rise. The Rockets know they can compete with the best the league has to offer. They’re well on track to having an opportunity to prove it on the playoff stage. And if Act One of that play brings them right back here to Staples, rest assured the Rockets will relish the opportunity to turn the tables on the Lakers once more.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

“Luis was really good down the stretch, he had some nice moves down there, he had his jump hook going and made a heck of a move on Gasol with that left-handed shot. We tried to get Goran mixed in there with some attacks and keep our spacing to where we had a chance if they collapsed, we had some guys who could make some shots.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale on his decision to isolate Scola on the block late in the game: “It’s all matchup related and what they’re doing. Scola had a really good rhythm and made shot after shot after shot for us there. We changed it up and tried to get Goran on a drive and he made a heck of a layup over some bigs. It was a heck of a win for us.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale on how pleased he was with his team’s effort tonight: “I’m glad we won. We have Sacramento on Sunday and we’ll deal with that then. It’s the next game, really. The guys are fighters. The guys have been fighting all year long. This group here will lay it on the line.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale on the play of Goran Dragic: “Goran was fantastic. I don’t know what else to say. He was making plays and attacking; he made good decisions --- 11 assists and three turnovers. He’s playing great.”

Rockets coach Kevin McHale on how much the game changed when Bynum was ejected: “[It changed] a lot. It was a guy we had to double team and focus a lot of our energy on the defensive end to try to get the ball out of his hands. Even saying that, I think the guy had 19 points when he got ejected.”

LUIS SCOLA

“I was feeling good all game long. They’re a tough team to play because they’re very long and very athletic so sometimes it’s hard to get yourself going. Hitting the outside shots always helps.”

(on Dragic): “He’s playing great. He’s a very good player. It’s not like he learned how to play in the last month. He had all of this. You don’t play like this if you don’t have it. You don’t develop this in a month. He was already this type of player he just needed a place to show it.”

GORAN DRAGIC

Team chemistry. We came together and we got two huge games, really tough ones away. We just have to stick together and play as a team, especially on defense – that’s the key of our success.

It’s huge. You win a game against LA in LA it’s something special. They’ve won a lot of titles and that win was huge for us and our playoff push.

(his mindset making plays down the stretch): I like to take these kind of shots. I was looking all my career for that, to be one of the leaders and to take these kind of shots. Sometimes you’re going to make them and sometimes you don’t but it’s a great responsibility.

CHANDLER PARSONS

We just go out there and we’re having fun. We’re playing unselfish, we love playing with each other, we’re playing defense, we’re rebounding the ball, we’re just really having fun out there and it’s showing. We’re winning games, moving the ball and clicking on all cylinders right now. To come into a place like this and a place like Chicago, it just proves we can compete with anyone in the league. That gives us confidence and we’re playing good right now.

(on Dragic): He’s been unbelievable. We haven’t missed a beat with him. He makes huge plays, he makes good passes, he makes good decisions and he really runs our team. He’s been a leader on the floor for us and he’s been huge and he’s really coming into his own. I’m stoked for him right now.

(on guarding Kobe Bryant): “I love it. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great challenge, and it’s a great chance to compete against one of the best players ever so I’ll take that all day.”

LAKERS HEAD COACH MIKE BROWN

Lakers coach Mike Brown’s opening statement: “It’s pretty simple. We didn’t defend. We didn’t defend in transition, we didn’t defend in the pick and roll, we didn’t defend at half court. I thought that they got in to the lane as much as they wanted and that warrants some shooting some 48% from the floor and scoring 112 points in a regulation game against us. We weren’t physical defensively. They didn’t feel us at all all night and they got whatever they wanted time and time again.”

Lakers coach Mike Brown on the team’s defense recently: “I’m not sure what the slippage is defensively. Maybe it’s because we’re not doing much of anything at all. We’re not even drilling or anything like that because we’re trying to save the guys’ legs. Our focus right now is to, it seems at times, is to try to outscore our opponent or play a faster pace game. It shouldn’t be. 43% isn’t great but 117 points, we should beat anybody if we had the mindset that we’re supposed to have or that we’ve had. It’s going to be tough for us to win games if we don’t get back to defending, or at least get back close to the way we were defending, a couple of months ago.

Lakers coach Mike Brown on how the lack of defense can be corrected: “I think it’s a combination. Our weak side is not great. We’re giving up low drives and teams are getting in to the paint all the time. We don’t do a good job of taking care of the ball and that’s always been an Achilles of ours. Teams get some energy because they’ll get out and get some easy buckets, transition, and gain confidence that way. So, there are a few things that are probably technical that we can look at and try to adjust. It’s about physicality.”

RAMON SESSIONS

Lakers’ Ramon Sessions on what went wrong in tonight’s game: “Just one of those nights. We came out, played hard, we kind of jumped on them in that third quarter, but they jumped right back on us. They’re a good ball club. It’s hard to give up these leads, especially against a good ball club that’s fighting for a Playoff position just like us towards the end of the season. It’s a tough loss, but we have to bounce back, we have Phoenix tomorrow.”

Lakers’ Ramon Sessions on why it was so difficult to defend Goran Dragic: “Pick and rolls all day long. On one side they’re coming back to it, or it’s one pick and roll and they’re coming back to another. Just a lot of pick and roll situations. They handled the ball real well.”

Lakers’ Ramon Sessions on playing without Andrew Bynum: “It’s always tough when you lose somebody like Bynum. He’s a 20-10 type of guy and I think he was just getting rolling too right before that, getting hyped up. It was just one of those things we just had to step up and Houston made some big shots down the stretch and was able to get a good win.”

PAU GASOL

Lakers’ Pau Gasol on what they need to do to improve their defense: “It’s hard to say. We just have to scramble a little, we have to be active out there. I think if we continue to do that and don’t allow easy layups, easy second shots, also give them more opportunities. Those are things that will make your defense better.”

Lakers’ Pau Gasol on what went wrong down the stretch tonight: “They finished the game better than we did, knocked down some good looks and some tough shots. They had a three from the corner that was big with the shot clock running down, they had a nice running layup from Dragic also, not easy shots. And we didn’t knock down ours so that was the difference.”

METTA WORLD PEACE

Lakers Metta World Peace on how the game got away from the Lakers tonight: “It didn’t get away from us, they beat us. They did exactly what they had to do tonight and they played well.”

Lakers Metta World Peace on whether it was tough playing without Andrew Bynum in the second half: “It wasn’t that tough. He got ejected. I’m used to playing basketball like that at home in New York City. You talk trash, that’s the essence of basketball right there. You score, you talk trash. That’s fun. You got a bunch of street ball players in the NBA.”

KOBE BRYANT

Lakers Kobe Bryant on Andrew Bynum: “The key for him is to find that balance. We don’t want him to lose that edge or lose the rage he’s playing with. We just find a good balance.”

Lakers Kobe Bryant on whether he will have a talk with Andrew Bynum: “He’s a bright guy. We’ll talk about it but it’s not something that we need to have a heart to heart sit down type of situation. It’s a learning process. This is his first year where he’s really being featured and coming into his own and there are a lot more responsibilities that come along with it.

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