Post-Game Update: Losing to a team at the end of a road trip that is without one of its two stars stings, that was one the Lakers should have had. The Laker offense in the third quarter sputtered as they looked too much to find mismatches or to go at McGrady when he got his fourth foul, rather than just run the offense and execute it. That’s where they lost the game, not the last play. Some quick stats from the third quarter (by my count): Kobe and Lamar together were 3 out of 7, the rest of the Lakers were 1 for 7; the Lakers were 0 of 5 from three point range and just 1 of six from shots inside the key. Combine those numbers with some slow defensive rotations (leaving Howard and Wesley good looks) and the Lakers go from a game in hand to a tight contest. About that last play, the Lakers have been much better this year about help defense but it disappeared there â€” McGrady drove past D. George (can’t blame him, McGrady can’t be stopped by one guy) but Smush just waves at him and neither Odom (on Swift) or Brown (on Howard) rotate aggressively. And that’s the ballgame.
First, let me say a couple things about the win against Washington: Good teams win when they donâ€™t bring their â€œAâ€ game. The Lakers were flat in the first half but in the second half they found some energy â€” Kobe providing much of it in the third quarter â€” and shot 50.7% (eFG%) from the field as a team to get the win. Besides the usual stellar performance from Kobe, good games from Chris Mihm (a team high +8 for the night, thanks to his defense) and Devean George (+7, and was rewarded by Phil with key minutes at the end).
Now they get the Rockets, who, back at the start of the season, were considered a team that could challenge San Antonio for the crown in the West (and count me among the people who thought that). But then they got off to a tough 3-11 start and media pundits â€” specifically Charles Barkley and the TNT crew â€” were quick to lay the blame at the feet of Yao Ming. But if thereâ€™s one thing Laker fans should know, and Barkley too of all commentators, itâ€™s that you have to have a good team around your stars to win. And right now Houston does not.
Yao is not the problem, so far this season he has been himself â€” his numbers are pretty much at his career levels. He has a PER of 22.8, has a true shooting percentage of 57.9% and is pulling down 16% of the available rebounds when he is on the floor and thee team is +14.8 per 48 minutes when he is on the floor. The only center in the league with a higher PER right now is Marcus Camby. As a team, the Rockets have done a lot better since the outside part of their inside-outside game returned â€” Tracy McGrady. He is scoring 25.6 points per 40 and has a PER of 24.8 and is +15.5. He remains one of the best players in the game and doesnâ€™t look like his sore back is slowing him much in the couple of games Iâ€™ve seen,
What has hurt the Rockets is that there is no support for the two stars. Bobby Sura was lost for the season and the Rockets offense has not run well without him the past two seasons. Stromile Swift was the big free agent acquisition but he is scoring just 16.8 points per 40 minutes, is +0.2 and has a PER of 15.3 â€” all average numbers for a guy who was going to put them over the top. Derek Anderson and David Wesley have not been impressive.
Look at the production by position and you see the only two positions the Rockets get above-average offensive production from is the three and the five â€” McGrady and Ming. On both offense and defense, it is the other three positions of the floor dragging the team down.
This yearâ€™s Rocketâ€™s team is playing good defense, they are ninth in the NBA with a defensive rating of 104.2 (points per 100 possessions). What has lagged is their offense, even in the last 10 games (where they are 6-4) they have an offensive rating of 104.3, up just 1 point over their season average (which is 22nd in the league).
The Rockets come in hot, winners of 6 of their last 8, but the Lakers catch a break and get Houston in the back end of a back-to-back, the Rockets lost to the Clippers last night. Los Angeles need to come out and take advantage of this, try to run on a Rocketâ€™s team that plays at the second slowest pace in the league. Do that and they can keep this hot streak going.