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Showtime Lives Here

January 09, 2013 2:00 am EST

Rockets give Lakers long look at offense that has rapidly become one of league's best

HOUSTON - When the Lakers assembled their roster filled with future Hall of Famers this summer, their fans immediately (and understandably) began salivating over visions of an unstoppable, free-flowing offense played inside-out, tormenting opposing teams with a pick-your-poison conundrum designed to dissect and destroy defenses every time down the floor.

More than two months into the season, the hoop lovers in Hollywood are still waiting for that dream to fully become reality.

The Rockets, meanwhile, were only too happy to show them what they’re missing.

Houston put its own quicksilver scoring machine into high gear Tuesday night, running the undermanned and overmatched Lakers off the floor during a 125-112 victory. The Rockets were too fast, too athletic and quite simply too good for a Los Angeles team laboring beneath the weight of outsized expectations and a nasty rash of injuries that prevented Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill from suiting up against Houston.

With the Lakers’ trademark interior size left in tatters, the Rockets attacked the paint with impunity, pounding Los Angeles with dribble penetration that the Lakers were absolutely powerless to stop. The resulting carnage was either magnificent or macabre, depending upon one’s point of view. The Lakers were buried beneath a never-ending barrage of layups, and-1s and wide-open 3s as Houston’s cadre of young playmakers took turns breaking down the L.A. defense, beating their man down the floor and busting loose for quality looks to light up the scoreboard.

As it so often does, the Rockets’ onslaught began with the brilliance of James Harden, who shook off a slow start by blowing by Kobe Bryant on his way to the rim on several occasions in the first half. In fact, such was the ease with which Harden seized those opportunities that it would have been easy to give in to the temptation to seek out something greater, something symbolic within those moments. And though the reality is it’s still too soon to talk of a changing of the (shooting) guard – especially during a season when Bryant is playing better than he has in years – Harden is climbing ever closer to the throne of the league’s top two-guard and it’s only a matter of time before he lays claim to the seat. In the meantime, he simply continues cranking out monster games, with Tuesday’s 31-point effort representing the 13th consecutive contest during which he has scored at least 25 points – a total that ties the franchise mark held by Moses Malone.

Harden was hardly Houston’s only havoc creator, however. Chandler Parsons shook off the lingering effects of an illness to score 20 points and provide his usual dogged defense on Bryant. Jeremy Lin caught fire in the second half when he poured in 17 of his 19 points while chipping in with four steals on the other end of the floor. And Carlos Delfino took full advantage of the attention those players attracted, injecting five three-pointers into the Lakers’ bloodstream – a dosage plenty lethal enough to show up in the post-game autopsy.

This was the pick-your-poison existence in all its potent glory that Lakers fans had deliriously dreamed of during the summer. Little did they know at the time, however, that their very own Mamba would be on the side falling victim to its sting.

Against all odds and preseason prognostications, the Rockets just keep rising while the Lakers scramble to save their season. There’s still so long to go; so many unpredictable twists and turns still to come. But Tuesday night at Toyota Center, the team employing the closest thing to Showtime-era basketball was wearing its home whites with red trim. So for any Lakers fans who find themselves feeling nostalgic these days, they might just want to go ahead and stay focused on Houston for a good, long while. Because these Rockets simply refuse to slow down. And they’re only just getting started.

QUOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On team's play) “That was a defensive clinic out there tonight. They (Lakers) played faster than I thought they would. Steve Nash had it going. Metta World Peace made some threes so it was one of those games. Guy shot the ball well. They were 14-of-31 from the three. We were 11-of-25 from the three. We just kind of gotta play our game, we gotta get enough stops and one thing we really watch out for is our turnovers. Our turnovers are starting to lead to too many damn points for them. We had 18 turnovers that led to 26 points. Some of our turnovers are direct layups for them, but we play a little bit of a risky offense sometimes. Carlos (Delfino) was fantastic for us, James (Harden) was fantastic, Chandler (Parsons) really made some nice drives. We were sticky with the ball early and then kind of a little after we got down, the ball started moving a little more. Then we got enough stops that we can get out and run and it was a high score affair.”

(On Jeremy Lin's play) “Jeremy did a much better job just being more aggressive. Jeremy, at times, can get caught being in no man's land and that's kind of a little bit in between. He's much better when he's passing early or thrusting to the basket and he did a better job of that. He handles the ball quite a bit, James (Harden) handles the ball quite a bit, so they're going to have some turnovers. Seven starts to get a little excessive. We found a way to work our way around that and score enough points. Our league has evolved into a lot of defensive pressure. That was really the thing for a lot of years. We put a lot of offensive pressure on you to score because we keep on scoring. That's what they were doing to us. They stared off that first half and I was like “guys, we gotta get our defense down, we gotta keep running, we gotta keep being active. It was a high scoring deal.”

(On Carlos Delfino's play) “Carlos has a good stroke, I've said that before. When you're watching him shoot the ball, he's relaxed and guys are rebounding for him. Upstairs in the gym, he's got a beautiful stroke. For us, Carlos is an old gray beard. He's got seven years of experience. I think we have seven guys with a total of only seven years experience. So he just comes in and calm things down. He's just been fantastic. He's been a fun guy to be around, fun guy to work with. I just enjoy those guys because they just like to play. They're griddy pros for years to years and they just like to hoop.”

(On Toney Douglas' play off the bench) “Toney has been fantastic for us. Toney just brings great energy. Toney hasn't been in the league a ton of times but he's a pro. He just goes about his business. He's scrappy, he gets up, he's defensive for us, he changes the tempo a lot. He just has been great.”

CARLOS DELFINO

(On how he feels playing against Kobe Bryant) “I watched Kobe a lot when I was a kid. Even from here in this locker room, looking ahead it’s crazy. Every time we have a chance to play against a great player, it’s a great challenge, you are learning. It’s excellent motivation. So every time we play the U.S. Team, every time we play against the Lakers it's just a great challenge and it’s nice. Just playing against maybe one of the best 2 or 3 players ever.”

(On his shooting) “I always see the basket as it’s really big. Sometimes the shots do not go in but I don't think about that. Right now we're having fun, we're passing the ball, the guys are looking for me and the ball is going in. Especially for a guy like me, when you get on the court and you hit the first and second, everything is more easier. It’s just about the guys from the team. We have just been playing great together, sharing the ball, moving the ball and playing great, that's wonderful.”

 JAMES HARDEN

(On the Lakers being shorthanded without Dwight Howard) “They were shorthanded tonight, but they are still tough. (They have) one of the best players to have ever played the game and obviously a great point guard, shooters and things like that. We knew we couldn’t take them lightly. They did a great job in the first half of really getting easy shots on us. In the second half we started to pick it up defensively. We got out in transition and made some easy shots.”

(On the play of Jeremy Lin in the second half) “He opened the floor for everybody. Him (Jeremy Lin) making plays getting to the basket and getting and ones, they (Lakers) have to key up on him and clog the lane and that’s when you make the extra pass. As long as he continues to be aggressive, we have a better chance of winning.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the Rockets team chemistry) “One of our strengths as a team is we have a lot of explosive scorers and explosive players. Not everyone is getting the minutes they are capable of, but every night it’s somebody different. We’ve had Greg (Greg Smith), Pat (Patrick Patterson), Toney (Toney Douglas), and Carlos (Carlos Delfino) coming off the bench with big games. That’s one thing that we try to cater to, it’s just getting everybody involved, getting the ball zipping around and just to see whose night it will be.”

(On the Rockets slow start in the first quarter) “It is us trying to maintain energy throughout the whole 48 minutes and I think that our starts are something that we should look at.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the Lakers being a different team without Dwight Howard) “We emphasized going inside. We wanted to attack the paint and I know I was trying to get to the rim more just knowing they didn’t have many shot blockers in there. They are still a talented team and every time one of your best players goes down, other guys have an opportunity to step up. They’ve got talented guys across the floor.”

(On the Rockets coming from behind tonight) “It’s not a positive thing. We can’t keep getting down to big leads and having to fight our way back in. Some teams won’t allow that. It shows resiliency and it shows that we will never give up, but it is something that we have to work on. It seems to happen every time we play the Lakers.”

LOS ANGELES LAKERS COACH MIKE D'ANTONI

(On his team's play) “We played well in first half and then Houston got to the rim. We couldn't keep them in front of us and obviously we were lacking a little size inside. We just didn't do a very good job in keeping them in front of us. We're down but we'll fight tomorrow. There some things we can clean up with group and do a better job. A little more attention to detail and we'll do better.”

(On the team's defense) “We keep talking about defense and showing them and when we get the big fella back, it should help, but it hasn't. We have to keep people from just going by us. I don't know how many points they got in the paint, about 20 more than we had. Houston did a great job on fast break and second chance points. Houston is good and you have to give them credit. They played very well.”

STEVE NASH

(On what changed from the first to the second half) “I think we just were down a little bit. They came harder and harder and fatigue and the lack of numbers up front really hurt us. The bottom line is we kind of ran out of gas a little bit. We couldn't protect the paint and we needed more bodies.”

(On the problem with the Lakers defense) “Tonight we could offer up a number of excuses but what is troubling is when we were healthy, we weren't stopping people either. I think the two areas for me is defensive transition and getting back and protecting the paint. There were a couple of coverages that were a step late but those are curable things.”

(On his 10,000th assist) “If I take a step back, this is another example of a fairy tale career but it’s really hard to enjoy it right now. I don't want to discredit it or not appreciate the company that I share. It’s a mile stone, but right now it’s the farthest thing from my mind.”

KOBE BRYANT

(On what went wrong in the second half) “Dribble penetration hurt us quite a bit. Sacre and Earl Clark really came in and played extremely well and gave us a lot of energy. I was very proud in how they played.”

(On Steve Nash) “He's a little more reasonable than I am when it comes to how we're playing. We kind of bounce things off each other and I'm stubborn as a mule but I keep driving this thing forward and so does he. He tends to have more perspective than I do. Everybody has self doubt but I never succumb to it.”

(On the Rockets) “They really spread us out and they really break us down and go by us. We're not the fastest team, so they really break us down and get by us on the penetration. That puts a lot of pressure on out defense where we have to play the lane and battle a little more. They are a good 3-point shooting team, but that's just something on some nights you have to live with.”

(On James Harden) “I love him. He's been one of my favorite players since he came out of Arizona State. He has really developed and expanded his game.”

(On overall impression of the Rockets) “They are playing well. They are coached extremely well and play with a lot of energy and they have a lot of good shooters and they are just really playing well.”

NOTES

Houston registered another sellout crowd of 18,135 for tonight’s game, marking a fifth straight sellout at Toyota Center.

The Rockets recorded a 125-112 victory over the Lakers tonight, giving Houston a four-game home winning streak over Los Angeles (12/1/10-1/8/13).

Houston has now hauled in five victories in a row (12/31/12-1/8/13), which matches its season-best five consecutive wins (12/17/12-12/26/12).

The Rockets, who trailed by as much as 14 points tonight, have now come back from double digits to win each of their last three games. Houston also returned from 18 points down to win 115-101 at Milwaukee (1/4/13) and came back from a 10-point deficit to win 112-104 at Cleveland (1/5/13).

Houston racked up a 60-44 advantage in the paint tonight. It marked the fourth time this season that the Rockets have posted 60 points in the paint (record: 4-0).

The Lakers (62) and Rockets (59) totaled 121 total points in the first half tonight. The Lakers (68) and Rockets (60) also combined for 128 first-half points earlier this season at Los Angeles (11/18/12).

James Harden finished with 31 points (11-19 FG, 8-8 FT), nine assists and six rebounds tonight. Harden now has at least 25 points in each of his last 13 consecutive games, which equals the longest such streak in team annals (13 by Moses Malone from 1/26/82-2/23/82).

Chandler Parsons had 20 points (8-13 FG, 2-2 3FG) and five rebounds tonight. Parsons now has seven 20-point outings on the season.

Jeremy Lin collected 19 points (7-13 FG, 2-6 3FG), six rebounds, five assists and four steals tonight. Lin has now recorded at least one theft in each of his last 14 consecutive games (12/14/12-1/8/13), marking the longest such streak of his career (prev. long: 13 from 2/17/12-3/14/12).

Carlos Delfino picked up 19 points (6-11 FG, 4-6 3FG) and six rebounds off the bench tonight. Delfino is now 19-of-31 (.613) from beyond the arc over the last five games.

With five assists in the first half, Steve Nash reached 10,000 career assists. He became the fourth fastest player to reach 10,000 assists (in terms of games) in league history, doing so in 1,162 games. Nash finished tonight with 16 points (6-10 FG, 4-4 FT) and a game-high 10 assists.

Metta World Peace led the Lakers with a season-high 24 points (9-14 FG, 4-5 3FG), five rebounds and four steals tonight. World Peace scored his previous season-high 23 points at New York (12/13/12).

Kobe Bryant posted 20 points (8-22 FG), seven assists, five rebounds and three steals tonight. Bryant had his streak of consecutive games of at least 27 or more points snapped at 17 straight (12/2/12-1/6/13).

Robert Sacre, who made his first career start tonight, had 10 points (4-10 FG) and a career-high four blocked shots.