Preview and Chat: The Houston Rockets

Darius Soriano —  December 1, 2010

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Records: Lakers 13-5 (4th in the West), Rockets 5-12 (12th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 115.2 (1st in NBA), Rockets 107.3 (13th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (11th in NBA), Rockets 110.1 (25th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Rockets: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Rockets: Yao Ming (out), Aaron Brooks (out)

On Kobe, Pau, Shooting, and Offensive Effectiveness:  A lot has been said lately about Kobe’s volume shooting and whether or not his hyper aggressive approach in recent games has been the downfall of the Lakers execution.  Essentially, Kobe’s been shooting a lot of late and folks wonder if that’s why the offense is being bogged down and if he just needs to pass more for everything to look better on that side of the ball.  Really, there’s no easy answer here as it’s a bit of a chicken vs. the egg argument.  Is Kobe taking more shots because he’s taking it upon himself to do more or is he doing more because the offense, in general, is not as effective and he’s the guy that’s now needed to pick up the slack?  Phil Jackson had some choice quotes on the matter, so I’ll defer to him here (thanks to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angelels for these):

We’re talking about playing in our system a little bit more.  We played a lot of individual basketball … That’s OK when Kobe’s going great or Pau’s going good or things are happening well for us in the open floor and we’re running well but our transition balance isn’t there. Offensive rebounding isn’t there. Those things that are created by playing basketball in a system in which we practice and teach are missing and so when nights are tough and the ball doesn’t go in and we’re not getting back on defense well enough, if you don’t play in the system it creates an even bigger problem and then you’re susceptible.

More from Phil on Kobe specifically:

I think [Bryant] felt like he had to carry a little bit of the load.  Kobe’s going to come out there and attack if no one else is aggressive enough. He’s going to test the defense and the other guys are going to have to step in. I always say if you feed him the ball you’re responsible for a lot of what’s going on. You have to go away from him early and then come back to him late a lot of times, instead of going to him early and expecting it to come out before he’s going to attack out there. That’s part of our plan and he’s going to take advantage of that if his teammates give him the ball.

So, again, it’s a bit more complex than just Kobe going into gunner mode.  Surely that’s some of it, but it’s not all of it.  The Lakers need to get back to the basics of running their sets and doing more to get Gasol going rather than just dumping the ball into him and expecting him to score in one on one situations.  Because as Archon noted in the comments:

I think were seeing a paradigm shift on the way teams are playing the Lakers now. For years it was, “let’s make life as difficult as possible for Kobe and let everyone else beat us”. I think Pau Gasol was playing so well and the Lakers offense was so effective I think teams are using the, “Let’s make life as difficult as possible for Gasol and let everyone else beat us”. It seems like teams are shifting their defense around Gasol, crowding him, banging him and taking him off his spots.

And since this is indeed the case, running more screen actions for Pau and getting him to get his catches on the move could certainly make his life easier.  Understand, there are ways to help Gasol within the context of the offense and the Lakers would be best served by executing better in order to make it happen.

The Rockets Coming in:  Coming into this year I was high on the Rockets.  I thought they’d contend for a top 4 seed and battle for their division crown. Was I completely wrong or just a bit misguided?  It seems a little of both.

For one, I thought the Rockets would be seamless in their integration of Yao and that he could stay reasonably healthy (65+ games) this season.  Both of those assertions ended up being false as the Rockets’ minutes cap on Yao created a situation where neither he nor his teammates ever got comfortable playing with each other.  And with him now out injured with a lower leg issue, the Rockets are once again without their franchise cornerstone.  The injuries haven’t stopped there though.  Aaron Brooks has also missed the Rockets last 12 games with a badly sprained ankle and that’s surely contributed to the Rockets poor play this year.

Where the Rockets have really fallen off, though, is on the defensive end.  Once one of the better defensive teams in the league, the Rockets now sit 25th in defensive efficiency and when that’s the case it will be tough to win games without an otherworldly offense.  Well, considering that the Rockets don’t have a reliable post threat, don’t have their primary offensive initiator, and are now dependent on jumpshots to score points that’s just not the case.  So, the Rockets sit 7 games under .500 and I look like the guy that couldn’t predict a rainstorm when there’s water falling on my head.  Such is this game.

Rockets Blogs: Visit Red 94 for all your Rockets needs.  There’s really good work over at that site.

Keys to game:  I could bombard you with all the little things that the Lakers need to do to win this game, but in the end I’m just looking for strong execution on both sides of the ball in order to get back on track.  That means good hard screens and cuts on offense and disciplined defense where shooters are ran off the three point line and defensive integrity is kept on the wings.  So, I’d like to see less overplays by the Lakers wing defenders and the Lakers bigs active and ready to help if Kobe, Artest, and co. do get beat on the Rockets back door cuts.

Offensively, the Lakers need to be patient and try to move the ball better than they have in the past several games.  The Rockets don’t have the size to really contest the Lakers interior play so they’ll scheme to try and make post entries harder and deny wing entries when possible.  That means the Lakers must be ready to flash from the weak side and play more high low than they have in the last couple of weeks.  If Pau is being fronted and Odom is on the weak side, Kobe/Fisher/Artest need to actively look for Odom to flash to the FT line so that LO can either make a move for himself or throw the lob to Gasol.

Also, on a general note the Lakers are obviously frustrated and have been pressing some lately.  Everyone can see that this team is not playing its best basketball and it’s leading to the players trying to do a bit too much rather than letting the system work for them.  I understand it’s easier said than done, but the Lakers are champions and they need to play with the poise of a team that’s been there before.  Not every night will be easy (as we’ve seen) but they can make their lives easier by remembering the small things that have aided their success in the past.  Make the extra pass. Trust eachother and do the job that’s assigned to you.  By staying within the framework of the offensive and defensive systems the team will get back on track.  But if they try to force the issue, the hole will only get bigger.  Now, let’s get this win as a 4 game losing streak isn’t what anyone wants…

Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time out west on KCAL.  Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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62 responses to Preview and Chat: The Houston Rockets

  1. This one’s for Warren!

  2. When the Lakers were killing small bad teams at home to start the year and many of us were calling for PF Pau Gasol to start at Center when Bynum returned I pointed to our statistical lack of defense and defensive rebounding as a predictable cause for concern moving forward as we played bigger teams without the only Center on the roster.

    Because of that I am not in the least worried about the poor recent performances. If you think Gasol is getting tired this early in the season playing about 2 minutes more per game than he did last year I would beg to argue. I think playing full games out of posision at Center has taken a toll on him. The Lakers have done a admirable job this year playing without a big man… and you will see the Defense pick up significantly when the Lakers get the 2nd best Center in the NBA back.

    Bynum is the one guy besides Kobe they cannot afford to lose. Say what you want about Gasol who is the best PF in the NBA but the Lakers already have a good PF in Lamar Odom. What the Lakers don’t have besides Andrew is a big body in the middle who can block shots and take up space. Look at the Lakers record last year to start the year without Gasol (and with a much worse bench) compared to how they have started off this year without Andrew.

    I am not saying Bynum is a better player… but he does bring things to the team that nobody else can while the finesse Gasol can almost be replaced by the finesse Lamar Odom. Even this year Shannon Brown can do some of the things that Kobe Bryant brings to the floor. The Lakers have a Steve Blake to back up Fisher and a Barnes to step in for Artest. But its hard enough to get a starting Center let alone a back up. One could argue that Andrew is the Lakers MVP 😉

  3. Ugly or not, I just want a W tonight. The world won’t end if they lose ,and 50 games from now it’s won’t matter more or less than any other loss, but I think it would be beneficial to stop the narrative of Laker struggles from gaining momentum.


    omg 4 point shot! I could not be happier. Shannon Brown could be the league’s leading scorer if we had these.

  5. Watching the last few games, one thing is apparent – we need Bynum back. Bynum won’t solve all of our problems, but he will help with the minutes and add a true physical defensive presence. As a fan (and only a fan) you have to wonder if he senses that this is now year number 4 of playing maybe half a season. His extension looks better by the day because we didn’t handcuff ourselves to him either should his yearly injury toll continue. Hey, at least he’s not Oden.

    One of Gasol’s best strengths is that he can guard mobile big men and allow LO to roam some on smaller SFs. Gasol always gives gritty effort down low, but it’s obvious that playing the 5 spot is wearing him down some. Also, I wish Fish/Blake would strictly lay off on the perimeter when playing the waterbug PGs of the league. Yes, this might mean that if a good shooting PG gets hot from 20+ feet that he can beat us with that alone, but it keeps them out of the paint and limits the involvement of the other offensive players when we’re on D. I’m not panicked yet, but we are now several games behind the Spurs and they are the only team in the West that could capitalize on having HCA over us. As others have said, this isn’t the time to get too worried, but eventually we do need to get back to winning. We have a lot of road games this month and we need to start bagging some Ws.

  6. I actually think that Pau playing the 5 is less of a problem than Pau getting 9 minutes of rest in the last 3 games. He’d be tired even if he was guarding 4s.

    I don’t think there has been too many 30-year old 7-footers playing this amount of minutes in the regular season?

  7. Whenever losing streaks like this one happen I try to console myself with this thought: I try to see single regular season games as single possessions of the real game, namely the whole 2010/2011 season including play-offs.

    Let’s say in a single game the Lakers have roughly 100 possessions, much like they have roughly 100 games if they want to win the title.

    Now in a single game there will be instances where you come up empty three times in a row or get scored on three times in a row. The Lakers started out well, built a little cushion, but relaxed a bit and got scored on a few times. They are still in good shape, now it’s about when they can get a stop and go on their next little run.

    In one single game as in a whole season you want to be playing your best in the end when everything’s on the line. There will be more highs and lows, momentum swings, and streaks. So for me the current Laker record is like a 4-6 point lead mid-way through the first quarter – nothing to be satisfied about, but something to build on.

  8. losing happens. nobody thought we’re gonna get 72 wins, and we’re on pace for what we always seem to be at, 50+ wins.

    Honestly, I’d much rather we lose here and there than have us build a streak that bears on players and make them play much harder than they should in a regular season game.

    However, the nature of the losses are a bit concerning, since it basically means ‘lesser’ teams can force us out of our sync while taking advantage of holes in our defense. That of course does not bode well, but as long as it is an effort thing, I am not too concerned. But if it is something that has to do with the system or the players…

  9. Lets hope the Lakers have legs for tonite.

  10. Watching the game via League pass and Clyde Drexler, MAtt Bullard and this other guy are the worst homers LMFAO.

  11. The Houston guys will not stop saying Chuckwagon

  12. Jordan Hill can’t even do anything against Caracter one on one, yet we’ve been sending help when Lamar and Pau have him all night and have been getting burned over and over again.

    The defense will only improve when we stop sending predictable and pointless help.

  13. Caracter should be able to give us more minutes than usual in this game. He actually matches up pretty well against their front line (sans Yao Ming i.e.).

    How easy is the game of basketball to Lamar Odom btw? Not even fair.

  14. First time since Utah loss I have been able to watch a game. Hopefully tonight I can bring some luck in defeating the Rockets. Wow what a difference one week of a season can mean, just last week you couldnt find to many bads things to say about the team, now it seems the team cant do anything right. It just proves that as fans you can never get to high after a win or too low after a loss.

  15. What just happened to our 10 point lead there? I had to step away from the laptop to do some work, I come back and it’s a 1 point game!

  16. Letting Houston go on an 11-2 run to end the half is not a formula for success. Frustrating! I know this team is capable of MUCH better!

  17. Houston has some of the worst commentators in the league. Christ.

  18. Defense, rather no defense!

  19. Matt Barnes putting on a bit of a show. Nice to see.

  20. gasol is so slow today, cant take brad miller, really is tired

  21. Kobe is not helping with these fouls.

  22. Glad Phil put barnes back in. he’s got hustle and hopefully some crucial rebounds and layups to finish this game. ride the hot hand.

  23. lakers decision making at end of close games has been terrible and continues to be tonight. does not look good.

  24. Hmm, I just checked my DVR and realized that I’m not watching the same 4th quarter breakdown over and over again.

  25. Getting really sick of watching 4th quarter failure 3 games in a row.

  26. Well, that’s it. game over. another bad foul. 4 in a row. when was the last time this happened?

  27. And the nightmare continues. Will someone please wake me (or the Lakers) up? I can’t take another sleepless night.

  28. Wow, it’s amazing how terrible the Lakers have been down the stretch in these close games. Their defense has been horrible, and their offense has been worse.

  29. Lakers again went iso for every player in the 4th quarter. no wonder they lose. makes a lot of sense. Kobe shooting with 20 on shot clock? Kobe/Matt iso?

  30. Wow. I don’t know if we’ve had 10 good offensive possessions in the last 4 fourth quarters. Unbelievable.

  31. Last losing streak this long was pre-Pau wasn’t it?

    Not loving the decision-making down the stretch recently. Just not executing at all on either end. But I thought the end of the first half was probably what made this game difficult for us. And I hate seeing us trying the miracle 3 to get back into it… and seeing it miss and having the margin just grow and grow.

    Oh well – 1 of 82…. gets harder to think after each consecutive L!

  32. It’s hard to believe that it’s a lack of poise from this team, given the championship experience. Is it fatigue? Are we just tired at the end of games? Because… if it is, jeez, there are still 60+ games left to play.

  33. Four game losing streak? Panic time? Maybe not but the Lakers cannot afford to grind their bigs to death.

  34. Can I panic yet? No easy baskets, forcing shots, getting beat off the dribble (what will Rondo do to this bunch?), no ball movement, no defense. Have the Lakers gotten all they can out of this group? Seemingly getting old before our eyes. Just how much will Bynum really help on a leg and half?

    Please swing the ball and run some cutters. Please.

  35. terrible. that was just terrible. when are they going to wake up and play some defense at least. if there’s nothing on offense then play defense.

    at least Artest wasn’t in to finish that out. it could have ended with an even more head scratchingly bad play. i’m taking the glass half full route.

  36. 30, I’d be surprised if we’ve had 5.

  37. This has been a frustrating week.

  38. this team will not win the championship. i hate it when kobe goes back to his mamba mode chucking 27 footers. it is so basic, work it inside to pau, and let him do his thing. but kobe’s ego will not let that happen. i’m sick of dude.

  39. Lakers fall apart again down the stretch, this is becoming a problem not pull out close games. This is still a correctable problem that will be fixed.

  40. @pervis: yeah, Pau was lighting the earth on fire. 2-8 against a midget, a corpse and Jordan Hill.

  41. The highs and lows of Lakers fans:

    High at the very beginning of the season–Can we beat the Bulls’ record of 72 wins? Who can stop us from three-peating?

    Low of the past week–The Lakers are old, Kobe is selfish and the Lakers have no chance of winning the championship.

    It’s been a fun swing.

  42. Last season, it seemed that whenever I caught the Lakers on livestream, they lost. I missed the Utah loss, but caught these losses to Indiana, Memphis and now Houston. I’m not watching the team again until it gets a win, because I’m seriously wondering if I’m jinxing them. I… don’t know what else to do. It’s not like they’re incapable of winning games, but they’re just doing the same stuff they KNOW doesn’t work to see if it finally does – forced shots, overplaying on the ball handler, etc.

  43. I did not see the game, but I am assuming it was all Kobe iso in the fourth, am I right? If that is the case I am in a way glad they lost again, because it will force this team to stop relying on Kobe and rely more on crisp ball movement and making plays as a team. 4 straight losses, and this one was to a not so good team….ouch.

  44. Yikes! I thought Pau got some rest this Summer.

    He’s already running on fumes not 20 games into the season?

    ‘Course, to be fair, he’s played three very full seasons straight.

  45. i’m not blaming kobe, but the game turned after that one timeout where kobe came in for barnes after barnes had those great layup and1s. that quick foul on the 3 shot and then the 2 shot foul started the rockets on their run.

    kobe is great, but his decision making as of late has not been good. very unclutch-like.

    hopefully pau is ok. if he’s out with a hammy for a few games, the lakers will be in trouble. it would mean even more mins for odom. the thought of losing 3 bigs is bad.

  46. Could it be that for the Lakers, each of these four games were one of 82 that isn’t concerning because of the fact that it’s early in the season? We know everyone gets up for the Lake Show like it’s the stinking superbowl (especially teams like HOU that desperately need to get wins). Are we the new San Antonio of old??

    Or has Phil told the guys that he doesn’t want to coach the all-star game?? I’m grasping at straws here, folks.

  47. 38.

    If you’re watching the games you should know that throwing it in to Pau is not working (he’s 12/36 in the last 3 games). Pau looks tired to me, which is even more of a concern than this current losing streak.

  48. I haven’t been able to watch a game since the Utah loss. Looking forward to reading post-game analysis. What is wrong with the Lakers?

    I expect losses here and there, but this seems to be a little more serious. Is it age? Are there chemistry issues? Is Bynum that important to this team? (Yeah I hear you Aaron.) Is it just regular season let down after three straight trips to the finals?

    I guess it won’t be a boring season after all.

    Keep the faith.

  49. The key to me is Theo’s injury, not Kobe’s shooting. Theo wasn’t playing like an all-star or anything, but he made it possible for Pau to get some rest. With him out (and obviously Drew as well), the whole team suffers.

  50. pervis, give me a break. believe me, im as pissed as anybody about the last 4 games and the team’s propensity to run isos and allow kobe to chuck up long, contested 2’s in crunch time. but it’s december 1st. to proclaim that this team will not win the championship is ridiculous. watching the lakers lose their 4th straight game is tough, but don’t let your emotions allow you to say something so illogical.

  51. I don’t think it’s just Pau’s fatigue. As mentioned in the preview, teams are throwing hard doubles at Pau much more often. He’s never been effective when dealing with hard double teams. It’s a tale of two players, because he’s incredible in situations where he can measure up the defender and read the D. Now that teams have figured out a basic way to throw Pau off his game, it’s messing up a fundamental part of our offense, which is the entry pass to Pau on the block.

    To adjust, I’m wondering if we should get Pau the ball at the elbow more often and space the floor so he can get himself into a better post position. Any deep catches are just getting me worried these days.

  52. this 4 game losing streak is a total waste of pau and lamar’s minutes and energy. if they keep this up while burning out the bigs, it won’t even matter when bynum comes back. phil needs to figure out a way to get the team going while providing pau and odom some rest. it’s just risking injury. i would like to see the team go through the season at some point with everyone healthy (esp. the bigs).

  53. Kobe is BURNED OUT at the end of all these games! He is failing while his counterparts are kicking his ass…

    every game he is tired down the stretch and forcing up ugly bricks!!!!

    Its looking embarrassing already!!!

  54. I really feel bad for enjoying the Heat losing streak so much, it’s almost like Karma staring back at me.

    This is reminding me of last season when I was getting so frustrated that I couldn’t watch the final games of the season, I basically just had faith that being the veteran group that they are, that they would right the ship. I am going to take the same approach now, I have faith but these losing streaks can’t continue. I don’t want Boston having homecourt advantage in the Finals (yes I think we will make it there)

  55. ROFL AusPhil. 4 games out of 82, 4 games out of 82. Move on, nothing much to see here.

  56. From bad to worse if Pau’s hamstrings are going to be a problem. All these losses were winnable games, so way too early to panic, but boy, they are just not sharp and the defense is not championship-worthy. I’m going to Friday’s game so they better get back on the winning track!

  57. 52, I think that’s the biggest issue: that Lamar and Pau are playing big minutes in these losses. You can sympathize with Phil when he keeps needling Bynum to return, because even a 50% Bynum is better than a 100% Caracter at this point. One can only hope that Andrew pushing off his return date means he will be completely healthy once he returns. If he pushes off his return and he gets hurt/is hobbled again? Then it’ll just be doubly wasteful.

  58. A few thoughts:

    >I think people (even people here sometimes) underestimate Bynum’s importance to the team. He covers for Fisher, protects the rim, makes it harder to double Gasol, and helps to keep Odom and Gasol fresh. I think that sometimes gets lost since Bynum is hurt constantly and is not on the floor at crunch time. An easy schedule and phenomenal shooting by Odom and Brown covered his absence early. The team’s D numbers tell the story.
    >EVERY team in the West, down to MIN, SAC and the Clippers, can hurt you. In addition, the West has a deep upper tier:


    There will be few easy games for an older team like the Lakers.
    >I very much hope Gasol is OK, obviously, but if he isn’t–well, luck is the residue of design.

  59. the really important thing to take out of this loss is that that’s four(4) times in a row that Warren has failed us!

  60. Fatigued players are more injury-prone. There’s nothing surprising about Pau’s hammy. This is officially alarming (not the losing streak but the minutes for Pau and LO and the toll it takes on their bodies)

    It just seems like the Lakers aren’t putting forth the effort required. They look a step slow on D, and they’re waiting for refs’ whistles to bail them out on each trip. Kobe is especially guilty of this in the last few games. There’s no sense of urgency, but plenty of complacency and finger-crossing in hopes they scrape by on talent and jump shooting.

  61. Can we please stop using the “players are playing too many minutes” or “big men getting burned out.” It’s ridiculous. These men are professional athletes, paid to be in shape and we’re only a month into the season. Playing 40+ minutes a game at this point should not be a problem and Pau had the summer off – if anyone has a gripe about playing too many minutes right now it’s Lamar, and he’s the only one who looks in shape.

    These losses are about one thing only – lack of effort on the defensive end. Yes, the WC is stacked – but giving up close to 100 points to teams like Memphis and a depleted Houston squad is definitely not championship caliber…

    December road trip is suddenly looking less and less fruitful…