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With about 6:38 left in the game, Kevin Durant found himself wide open and knocked down a three-pointer that gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a one-point lead. In recent games, recent months and even recent seasons, a back breaking dagger after a missed defensive assignment would have meant the end of Lakers chances moving forward. Especially in games against the Thunder. Down the stretch, Oklahoma City has simply been better than the Lakers. Russ had previously been able to knock down his 15-footer, Durant was able to get anything he wanted and the defense was able to create the turnovers down the stretch that led to easy baskets which put the Lakers in compromising situations.

Instead, the Lakers kept at the calculated approach they had in the previous three and a half quarters. There would be no desperation threes, there would be no forced Kobe jump shots, there would be no more easy layups for the Thunder. The Lakers continued to run one of three sets down the stretch: 1) A Kobe iso from the right wing which allowed him to read what the defense was giving him and make decisions based upon what his options were. This directly led to three of Kobe’s last four assists — and he had 14 on the game for the second straight night. 2) They ran horns on considerable amount of their possessions. Pau’s assist numbers weren’t astronomical, but he did pass the ball well out of horns and was able to knock the 15-footer from the elbow when Thunder left him open. 3) They didn’t run it as often, but the Nas did run the 1-4 and 1-5 pick and roll a few times that either led to a Nash layup or a Gasol/Howard field goal attempt around the rim.

After the Durant three, the next two Lakers offensive possessions were a ridiculous Artest 15-footer that he drilled and Kobe driving baseline and hitting a cutting Earl Clark for a dunk out of a Kobe wing iso. From that point, the Lakers never gave back the lead. As the rest of the game unfolded, everyone on the floor contributed. Howard would go to the bench with his fifth foul with about 6 minutes left to play and Earl Clark came in and did a great job defensively on Kevin Durant. He forced him into some tough jumpers and worked hard to try to keep the ball out of his hands. Steve Nash took a Kobe pass and used a nice hesitation dribble to get all the way to the rim. A couple of plays later, Nash hit a cool running floater from 18-feet out.

Pau also did a great job defensively with Howard off the floor. There was one possession in particular where Westbrook had gotten a gain of steam heading toward the basket, Gasol slid over, got his hands up and changed the shot. On the other side of the floor, he had another solid game off the bench. He recorded 16 points, four rebounds and four assists — which should have been a bit higher accounting for a couple of missed shots and shots that led to free throws.

They benefited from a few missed calls from the refs (both Durant and Westbrook got clobbered on the head on field goal attempts), they shot an abysmal 55 percent from the free throw line and lucked out with Durant and Westbrook missing a lot of shots that they normally knocked down, but even with all of that, it was still a huge win and a well played game from the Lakers. The Lakers now have one more home game before they hit the road for their Grammy trip. New Orleans is up next with their first three road games coming against Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit. This is definitely a win they can build on, and in a perfect world, they will.

1. Kevin Durant had one of the most effortless 40-point games we’ve ever seen in his last trip to the Staples Center. What can the Lakers change to slow him down today?

Dave MurphyEffortless is right. He’s got the slinkiest game in the NBA. My initial and most ridiculous thought is to live with the easy outside shots but he’ll just rise up and rain down 3’s. The only prayer is to try and deny him the ball and that’s nothing new. Metta’s had some luck in the past – body him, crowd him, show him your hands. You obviously need help off his post-ups and spin-moves. Duhon’s actually pretty good at rotating over when a teammate gets beat off the dribble and smaller guards can sometimes get up under him. Also, Dwight was out of action the last time around so that should help at the basket.

Emile AvanessianCeltic Pride West? Seriously, no clue.

I love the use of “effortless” in the question, because no term better describes that which makes KD so devastating. However it happens, getting slapped with 40 is disheartening. Feeling like the dude that torched you barely broke a sweat doing it? That’s backbreaking.

My inclination here is to suggest that the Lakers look to one end or the other of the strategic spectrum. Either hyper-aggressive overplaying – I’m talking doubles, triples, traps, tasers, whatever – in the hope that Durant’s resulting loss of rhythm (and, hopefully, production) takes the rest of the team out of its comfort zone. This is something of a tightrope walk, as, unfortunately, Russell Westbrook remains in the Thunder’s employ, but, hey, it’s worth a shot. Right?

On the other hand, the Lakers might look to make an all-out, almost comedic commitment to neutralizing the rest of the OKC attack and casting Durant as ’06 Kobe.  Problems arise here as, for any difference in wiring between Kobe and KD, give either 50, and he’s a good bet to take 65. And, again, Russ is liable to serve up 25 of his own.

If pressed, I’d pick the former option and hope it lures out the Lakers’ greatest ally in their quest to slow down Durant – Bad Russ.

Phillip Barnett: I, unfortunately, got to witness Durant’s 40 points live. Effortless may be an understatement as it only felt like he had 20-something by the time I got a text asking what it was like watching Durant score 40 through three quarters. Ron did pretty much everything within his power to keep Durant at bay, but it simply wasn’t enough. Forcing him to work harder off the ball could help. Have guys bump him off of screens and having Ron over play passes on the perimeter and deny passes everywhere else should help. Also, there was no Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard or Jordan Hill in the previous match up. While there will still be no Hill today, forcing Durant to shoot over our length should help in keeping his numbers ungodly.

2. Both Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook had season highs in assist in their last game (14 each), which team would be better off with their man playing the facilitator role?

Dave: Off the Utah game I’d say Kobe. It wasn’t simply a matter of the number of assists, although that was outrageous. But, team chemistry has been a problem and we all know it. Kobe completely invigorated the guys at a time when they needed it most and it’s still the case a couple days later. The win was nice but this is a team that has a ton of uncertainties hanging over them and that kind of commitment would be huge. It also causes some coaching confusion for Brooks – you’ve got to deny Bryant the assists?
Emile: The Lakers. I will never not expect 25+ a night from Kobe, but the dire situation in which the Lakers find themselves is largely a function of subpar effort. By ensuring that his teammates are appropriately engaged offensively, Kobe increases the odds of getting their best on the defensive end. Plus, in addition to savant-like floor generalship, Steve Nash brings to the Lakers’ table perimeter prowess on par with anyone that’s ever played the game. Any opportunity to alleviate the considerable pressure Nash faces in trying to orchestrate this offense, while affording him the opportunity to play to another Hall-worthy strength is decidedly a good thing.Plus, at the end of it all, it just means less constrictive defenses against which “scorer Kobe” gets to work.

Phillip: It’s hard to expect Kobe to record a near triple double every night, especially not that many assists. In a perfect world, Kobe would have somewhere between five and eight assists on any given night with Nash taking the brunt of the load facilitating the ball — but Kobe being able to make plays against Utah really opened things up for Nash to get his points. For the Lakers, a happy medium of Kobe facilitating and Kobe shooting would be the best. For Oklahoma City, at least against the Lakers, they may be better served with Westbrook looking for his shoot. With Durant scoring 40 through three quarters the last time they met at Staples, the Lakers defense is likely going to be keying in on KD (not like they weren’t before) and could mean some easier scoring opportunities for Russ — and you don’t want a guy turning away easy looks just to be able to get the ball to his teammates.

3. If the Lakers are going to win, who is going to have to be the x-factor, and in what way?

Dave: I never thought I’d refer to Pau Gasol as an X-factor but if he’s coming off the bench than it is what it is. Like Dwight, he was out of action last time against the Thunder and he’s going to be needed. Pau had a strong game offensively on Friday – seven out of eight in 25 minutes. I’m not sure when or if D’Antoni is actually going to embrace the strengths of this team, rather than simply tolerating them in short-minute situations. Gasol has faced OKC as much as anyone in the league – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But he’s got the experience and if that somehow makes him an X-factor against this team, so be it.

Emile: Nash. A lot is made (rightfully) of his inability to defending opposing lead guards. Russell Westbrook has that effect on pretty much every defender, everywhere, so suffice it to say the situation here is somewhat exacerbated.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the idea that Steve Nash’s defense will effectively slow Russ – Good or Bad – is more hallucinogenic than it is quaint. There is, however, a way in which the Lakers’ #PointGod can slow his opposite number. Literally.

For all the talk of whether or not Westbrook is a “true” point guard and the constant, ongoing judgment of his floor generalship, Russ never seems to have an issue controlling the tempo of a game. If the Lakers are going to stay competitive and have a legitimate chance of stealing this game, Nash must dictate the tempo at which it’s played.

Phillip: For me, I think the X-Factor has to be Earl Clark. The Last time these two teams met, Clark was one of the bright spots, recording his second double-double of the season (10 points, 10 assists) during that stretch with the Lakers top three bigs all out with injuries. If Clark can come off the bench with similar production with both Howard and Gasol in the lineup tonight, that can go a long way in terms of the Lakers keeping this close and ultimately winning. At this point, a Lakers win is a long shot, but if Clark can come off the bench and be an energy guy who cleans up the glass with the second unit, the Lakers could find themselves in a position to win this game late in the fourth.

All preseason Mike D’Antoni had been telling media that for the Lakers to play their best, Kobe Bryant would have to sacrifice some shots and look for his teammates early and look for his own shot within the flow of the offense — and that’s exactly what he did on the Lakers season opening win over the Utah Jazz. Bryant would finish the game with 14 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists on seven-for-10 shooting in what would be a very balanced scoring night for the Lakers, who are starting the season for the fourth time this year.

The beneficiaries of Bryant’s willingness to give were the whole team as he was the fifth leading scorer with four guys scoring at least 15 points. One of those guys were Dwight Howard, who got rolling early. Within the first four minutes of the game Dwight had already recorded eight points and six assist, with six of those points coming from dunks, two off them alley-oops. Howard would finish with 17 points and 13 rebounds on eight-for-12 shooting and only one turnover. Howard looked a bit more spry on the evening than he had in recent games moving great laterally on defensive rotations and jumping through the roof to contend shots at the rim.

Pau Gasol also had a decent game off the bench with 15 points on seven-of-eight shooting. Gasol also added seven rebounds and three assists, with a couple of them coming on 4-5 pick and rolls with Howard. The offense seemed improved on the night with both Gasol and Howard on the floor together as there were multiple buckets with the Lakers going to their Horns sets and getting the ball in Pau’s hands and allowing him to make decisions — which resulted in Gasol playing one of his most decisive games of the season. We saw him take the ball to the rack a few times, hit Howard on the roll or the oop, and hit the jumper with a decent regularity.

Gasol’s improved game opened things up for both Ron Artest (17 points) and Steve Nash (15 points). Nash didn’t record an assist in the first half of the game, but he was aggressive looking for his shot early, filling the void Bryant left on the perimeter while Artest was great from behind the perimeter, shooting five-for-11 from the three-point line.

Most importantly, however, the defense was fantastic for the whole night. Perimeter defenders fought hard to fight through screens, but when they were beat back side defenders rotated well and contested shots around the rim. The only gave up 37 points at the half and were able to keep both Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap — both guys who have had huge games against the Lakers — at bay for much of the night. A lot of the production from both Jefferson and Millsap came from backside rebounds and put backs after either Pau or Howard slid over to help out on penetrating guards.

Perimeter defenders did a great job hedging down onto the Jazz’s post players and getting back out to run shooters off the three point line after kick-outs. Utah only shot three-for-14 from the three point line — making two fewer than what Artest made all game.

While it feels great to get a win, the celebration cannot continue past tonight as they’ll still have a lot of work to do with Oklahoma City coming to town and the Grammy Trip looming. Regardless, it’s great to see the Lakers get their season started off on the right foot. Not too many complaints from this one, hopefully the trend can continue.

The Lakers shot better from the floor, made more three pointers, and took and made more free throws, and they still lost. Kobe had 29 points, seven assists and five rebounds while Dwight recorded a career high in rebounds with 26 to go along with his 14 points and they still lost. Steve Nash had a double-double, Ron looked a bit better offensively and Jordan Hill came off the bench with 13 points and they still lost. There were positives, but in the end, the Lakers still lost for the fourth time in their last five contests after reeling off five straight wins.

Despite the big games from Kobe and Howard coupled with the team shooting better overall than the Nuggets, the Lakers still found a way to end up in the loss column once again, and a quick look at the box score will tell you all you need to know — 18 Lakers turnovers and 17 Nuggets offensive rebounds gave the team 35 extra possessions that the Nuggets turned into points. The Nuggets had 14 points off turnovers, 25 second fast break points (some of the points off turnovers are included here) and 13 second chance points. The Lakers essentially gave the game away by giving the Nuggets extra possessions, which resulted in Denver taking 19 more shots than the Lakers on the night. So even though the Lakers shot better from the field, the Nuggets were still able to outscore the Lakers by the sheer volume of shots they were able to take.

And on those possessions that weren’t given to the Nuggets, the Lakers continued to struggle to defend. Ty Lawson was able to get into the paint at will, shooters took uncontested jump shots and JaVale McGee and Kennith Faried were able to get uncontested looks at the rim through P&R sets. The Lakers continue to fail to communicate on the defensive end of the floor with guys leaving ball handlers and missing rotations. It was very disorienting watching Lawson get free for a layup late in the fourth due to no effort on his own part. Both Kobe and Nash decided to leave Lawson for a cutting Corey Brewer instead of staying with the guy who was the biggest threat to score.

None of these problems are new, however. The Lakers have struggled on the defensive end for much of the season and still aren’t showing many signs of improvement. If you take a look at the beginning of Darius’ preview, everything he said in his third paragraph rang true tonight sans Dwight looking bad.

There are reasons the team hasn’t looked its best. These reasons are valid. Dwight Howard doesn’t look like himself physically on most nights. Pau Gasol is either in full decline (which, coming off his Summer in London seems far fetched, but is possible) or is a combination of dinged up physically and being misused offensively. Kobe and Nash are playing well offensively but must be compensated for defensively in ways that compromise the integrity of their defensive schemes. The rest of the roster is unbalanced and inconsistent in their performance from night to night. Add in an early season coaching change and what an upheaval like that means and this is the result.

At the end of the night, it’s another Lakers loss, and such is life these days. They’ll have to try and regroup tomorrow as they’ll play the Houston Rockets on Tuesday, another game that’s as must win as any game in January can be as Houston is another team that the Lakers are going to have to catch to make the playoffs. Hopefully the frustration settles, the defense tightens up, and the turnovers are cut down so the Lakers can get back to winning ways.

Since the return of Steve Nash, we’ve seen some immediate improvements to the Lakers’ offense. The ball is moving a lot more, there has been a considerable improvement in off ball movement and things just feel different when he’s on the floor. The Lakers are 2-1 in Nash’s return, and in those games he’s recorded a .773 true shooting percentage and a .714 effective field goal percentage. On top of that he’s averaging 9.3 dimes in those three games. What has stood out to me most in Nash’s return is how varied the Lakers offensive sets have become.

The number of 1-5 pick and rolls between him and Howard have been countless. He’s also run the P&R with Pau a considerable amount of times and with Kobe a few times. We’ve also seen Nash and Kobe run a two man game a few times with Nash on the wing and Kobe in the post. Horns has returned at a higher rate, and they’ve seen a lot of success through these sets — and a lot of that success has nothing to do with Steve Nash handling or passing the ball. Mike D’Antoni has utilized Nash setting screens off the ball to free wings for easy buckets. Let’s take a look at how the Lakers have found success with Nash screening off the ball.

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In this first frame, the Lakers have set up in their Horns set. Nash has already dumped the ball into Pau in the pinch and UCLA cuts off of him to go find Kobe. As Nash starts to cut through, Kobe is pushing his man (Jason Kidd) up the sideline allowing Nash to come in right behind him to set a back screen. It’s important that we keep an eye on the spacing here.

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As Nash sets the screen, Kobe cuts back door and Pau throws a perfect pass on Kobe’s release. With Kobe pushing Kidd up the line, Raymond Felton doesn’t jump between Nash and the basket hoping to deny a pass to a Kobe who he thinks is going to pop out. Kurt Thomas is the first help defender on the weak side, but given the Howard assignment, he doesn’t want to give him any space to prevent any subsequent lobs. And on the far side, Melo is playing a good eight-to-10 feet off Darius Morris, but either didn’t have the foot speed or the effort to get between Kobe and the basket as the pass came. The result is Kobe being freed for one of the easiest baskets he’s going to see in any given game. Let’s check the play out in real time.

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Here we have another horns set with Ron on the floor instead of Morris, otherwise, everything else is the same. Nash brings the ball up the floor and enters to Pau in the pinch. On this set, however, Nash cuts off of Pau’s inside shoulder through the paint to go find Ron’s man (Kidd again).

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After Nash sets his screen, Ron heads toward Dwight, who sets a second screen on Kidd. This time around, the spacing is a bit different, but it’s the same concept. Nash stays near the block with Felton fighting to stay between him and the basket. Tyson Chandler is between Dwight and the basket. Instead of trying to keep defenders along the perimeter to clear space for Kobe, the Lakers have gotten all of the defenders on the strong side away from the 3-point line.

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The result is a wide open 3-pointer for Ron, which he knocks down. The Lakers actually ran this exact same set for Ron just a couple of possessions earlier and the outcome was the same (Ron wasn’t missing much in the 2nd quarter of the Knicks game). They have also run a similar set for Jodie Meeks which cleared him up for a wide open three-pointer. Check the play in real time.

I find it fascinating that one of the best point guards in the league has been able to get his teammates wide open shots by not passing the ball. We still haven’t seen the full value of Nash’s impact on this Lakers team, but what we do know is that Nash gives this offense a lot more to work with. D’Antoni has been able to run so many different kinds of sets throughout the game just because of the ability of Nash to create when, seemingly, nothing is there. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what else D’Antoni has in store with Nash running things.

There was a lot to take in during the Lakers Christmas win over the New York Knicks, but the biggest take away is just the simple fact that they were able to pull out another tough win. This time on Christmas to extend their current win streak to five games, their first Christmas win since 2008. The second biggest take away for me was how well the Lakers mixed things up offensively. It’s becoming increasingly more clear with each minute Steve Nash is on the floor that this Lakers team is a different animal with the Point God running the show. Let’s take a look at the different sets the Lakers ran against the Knicks defense.

  • For the second straight game, D’Antoni decided to utilize the horns sets to get easy buckets for the Lakers. Nash has been bringing the ball down, dumping it into one of the bigs, and setting back screens for wings in the corner. In an early set, this action got Kobe a wide open layup after Nash’s back screen. Pau made a beautiful pass as Kobe cut and Bean threw it down. A similar set also freed up Ron for two of his 2nd quarter threes.
  • There was also an extension of horns that led to a glorious 4-5 between Pau and Dwight. Nash dumped the ball into Pau and cleared through like he had been doing in the other Horns actions. But instead of Howard immediately rolling to the basket or setting a pin down screen for Kobe or Ron, he set a screen for Pau then rolled. Pau threw a gorgeous lob and Howard threw it down.
  • There was a set late in the fourth where D’Antoni brought Howard away from the basket without Pau on the floor. Nash dumped it into Howard at the top of the key and cut off his left shoulder. Kobe came over the top of Howard and received a pass at the top of the perimeter. Howard then set a screen on Kobe’s man which freed Kobe for a wide open 17-footer.
  • We also got to see a few 1-5 P&Rs between Nash and Howard or some 1-4 P&Rs between Nash and Pau — and we were able to see Nash’s pure brilliance. He waited for defenders to fully commit to either himself or the roller and just pick them apart from there. We saw plenty of Nash floaters and a sick fade away when the defense concerned themselves with the bigs. And we saw a few brilliant passes that either led to two points or free throws when defenders decided to step out on Nash. They tried to run this another time, but it ended in a turnover.
  • Lastly, I saw about 3 or 4 1-2 pick and rolls with Nash and Kobe — something that I was hoping we’d see this season after seeing how effective it was with Ramon Sessions last season. The two standing out to me at the moment ended with Jodie Meeks driving baseline after a ball rotation and the other ending with a turnover, but the Kobe-Nash P&Rs did create favorable mismatches for Kobe each time they ran it.

Overall, I was impressed with the Lakers effort on the day. They weathered both Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith having great games — and fantastic third quarters — and gutted out a tough win against a good team. Ron Artest, especially in the second quarter, was fantastic today. Kobe had an efficient shooting night. Steve Nash was point godly. Pau had some great passes. Dwight knocked down free throws when they counted. And, most importantly, the Lakers won. I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas gift from the NBA. Enjoy the rest of your Christmas, FB&G. Happy holidays to you and yours.

Tonight was a strange one in Washington, if for no other reason than the fact that the Lakers struggled to close out an awful Wizards team. Jodie Meeks had his best night as a Laker and Cartier Martin was added to the long list of career nights from obscure ball players with is 21 and eight performance which included five three pointers. Meeks started a little slow, blowing a wide open layup in transition, but found his rhythm and shot the ball incredibly well. He was four-for-five on corner threes and hit a fade away from the left wing with the shot clock winding down to open the fourth quarter on a shot that he normally wouldn’t have taken without the confidence. He was also able to get to the rim a few times. He had two transition layups after Wizard turnovers. He also dove from the weak side with Kobe posting up 15-feet away. With Kobe drawing so much attention, Meeks was unbothered as he cut and was able to finish with an easy basket.

Kobe’s night was also an interesting one. He’s been moving in and out of what we can consider a point guard roll, and tonight he did a decent job facilitating. He finished with seven assists, but had countless other passes that led to wide open jump shots and attempts around the rim (Howard was fouled on a couple of those, and of course, the missed Meeks layup). On the other hand, however, Kobe took a lot of shot tonight. And a lot of them were unwarranted, low percentage shots. Bean finished with 30 points, but it took 29 attempts to get him there, which resulted in this heinous shot chart.

Kobe shot chart

Kobe was brilliant from 7-15 feet on the night, but everything beyond that was horrendous. Bryant has been suffering through back spasms, which may be the reason why his shot has been off. Whatever the case, his insistence on jacking up shots was both a gift and a curse for the Lakers tonight. The offense seemed to go into a stand still for long stretches, especially in the fourth where it seemed Bryant was intent on getting to 30. As a result, Dwight Howard didn’t see the ball in the paint for long stretches, and other guys weren’t able to benefit from his kick out passes that have led to open jump shots. Howard only finished with eight shot attempts and 12 points on the night in 32 minutes (foul trouble kept him out for some stretches), but he did finish with 14 rebounds.

D’Antoni also continued to play with lineups on the night. In the first quarter, eight guys saw time on the floor, including Robert Sacre who made the most of his minutes. He only finished with four points and four rebounds, but he played a bit better than he did against New York and proved that he can be more than just a body off the bench. One of his buckets came after an offensive rebound that he turned into a dunk. His other was on a baseline fade away — something that we hadn’t seen from him in any of his garbage minutes or preseason. Sacre only got extended minutes because Hill was down with back spasms, but it was nice to see him come in and play his role well and not hurt the team in the process.

Overall, a six point win over the Washington Wizards wasn’t the most encouraging victory we’ve ever seen, but it was definitely needed nonetheless. Winning streaks have to start somewhere, and if you can’t get one started against the Wizards, you’re in for a very long season. Like much of every game this season, the Lakers issues on the defensive end of the floor still persisted and they had some untimely turnovers, but tonight, I’d rather ignore those issues just enjoy the win. It had been a while.

With about 7:20 left to play in the fourth quarter, Chris Duhon got into the lane and fed Jordan Hill, who threw down a dunk to extend the Lakers lead to 11 points. The Lakers next two possession ended with a missed Duhon three pointer and a Duhon turnover. Toney Douglass followed those possessions with a layup and a three pointer — cutting the Lakers lead to seven points.

Kobe and Dwight check in for Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill. Still, the Lakers offense can’t get anything going. Antawn Jamison turns the ball over that leads to a Greg Smith layup and a foul. He hits the free throw to cut the Lakers lead down to four. Kobe hits a jumper, extending the lead back up to six, but on the ensuing possession, James Harden — who was having an awful game — find a way to get behind the Lakers defense unnoticed and is given the ball at the rim for an easy bucket. Lead back down to four.

On the Lakers next possession, Ron throws the ball away and Duhon fouls Harden on the other end. Harden makes one of two and cuts the Lakers lead down to three points. Over the next few possessions, Kobe misses a long two, gets to the line and makes one of two free throws, and makes a sweeping layup in transition, pushing the Lakers lead back up to six. The Rockets’ Smith gets back to the free throw line, knocks down both, and then the Hack-a-Howard strategy ensues.

The Lakers next five possessions saw Dwight Howard at the free throw line. In those five possessions, the Lakers yielded five points and gave up seven to the Rockets — then immediately gave up a Smith layup on the Rockets very next possession, completely eliminating the Lakers 11-point lead in just over five minutes of play.

The rest of the game saw Kobe taking shot-after-shot and the Rockets making free throw after free throw. Kobe hit a three with the Lakers down four, but his efforts down the stretch — and really for the whole game — were futile as the Rockets would hold on to a two-point margin.

Despite outplaying the Rockets for 3.5 quarters, the Lakers lose their fifth game in their last seven contests. Furthermore, the Lakers have now given up 73 points in the fourth quarter of their last two costing them wins in two games they could have easily have won with better execution down the stretch. Unlike the game against Orlando, turnovers and defensive rebounding were a huge problem tonight. The Lakers gave up 21 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over, which is essentially 40 extra possessions for the Rockets.

On the plus side, Duhon had a decent game starting at the point. He was able to effectively get into the paint a few times to find guys for open looks and had a few nice entry passes to Dwight that led to easy buckets. Duhon had seven assists to go along with six points and five rebounds.

Jamison also had a nice night for his first start of the year. He shot six-for-11 from the field with 15 points and nine rebounds. He continued his hot shooting from behind the arc hitting three of four from long range. Jordan Hill also had a double-double as well with nine points and nine rebounds off the bench after not seeing the floor at all in the game against Orlando.

The Lakers as a whole seemed to play with a lot more energy on the night, which was a positive after watching the lethargic fest against Orlando, but still, this team couldn’t leave the arena with a win. The Lakers’ didn’t see any new problems tonight, but they haven’t found a way to remedy what they already know is wrong and another tally has been added to the loss column.