This season, the Lakers have been able to win games by scoring points. On Sunday, that didn’t come so easy, which Kobe Bryant credits to the absence of center Pau Gasol.
“Obviously, we can’t run as many low post opportunities as when Pau is here,” Kobe Bryant said when asked about the difficulties the Lakers will face without Gasol in the middle. “We’ve got to change it up.”
Gasol, who’s averaged 18.8 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field, went down with a sprained ankle during the opening minutes of the Lakers’ 108-98 loss to NO.
So the Lakers, without Gasol, took the floor on Sunday against a Rocket team which had won 21 in a row, the second longest winning streak in NBA history.
With the Lakers being deemed as “back”, it was obvious the NBA wanted to make sure a heavy weight fight was set, as they changed the tip off time and made it the second of an ABC Doubleheader.
After a hard fought three quarters of play, Houston was able to pull away in the 4th and eventually win, 104-92 for their 22nd win in a row.
With All-star center Yao Ming out for the remainder of the season, Houston keeping pace in the highly competitive Western Conference as been on the shoulders of Tracy McGrady. But on Sunday, however, it was the other Rockets stepping up in the 4th quarter which ultimately lead to their Sunday win. In fact, McGrady was held scoreless until the 3rd quarter, yet Houston lead by double digits at the half.
Both Bryant and Lakers head coach Phil Jackson are fans of Houston, who along with that 22nd consecutive win, improved to 9-0 since Yao Ming went down.
“The thing we have to learn from this team is how hard they play,” Bryant said. “This is a team that plays really, really hard. They get a lot of hustle points. They do a lot of the dirty work. That’s something we have to learn to do in terms of winning the hustle points, taking the charges and doing the things that don’t show up in the box score.”
Though the streak is impressive, Houston has been criticized by some sportswriters and fans alike because of their recent competition. Of Houston’s 22 wins, 13 have come against teams that would not make the playoffs if they started today. Despite that, Bryant says, the streak is something Houston should celebrate.
“People who say that are the same people that said that me scoring 81 wasn’t nothing because we played against the Toronto Raptors, you see what I’m saying?” Bryant said. “That’s absolutely (silly). Every team in the NBA is a tough team. Any time you go on a 21-game winning streak, that’s absolutely amazing. “If it were easy, then more teams would have done it.”
Now back to the Lakers.
With Gasol out, Jackson thinks Bryant will have the most difficult time since defenses will now be able to key in on him. That was certainly the case Sunday, as Bryant, the second leading scorer in the league at 28.3 points per game, was held to 24 on 33 shots including a 2-10 4th quarter with Battier contesting every shot.
No other Laker attempted more than 10 shots, which Jackson says, will need to change if the Lakers are to keep track with the other teams in the West with Gasol out.
“He’s not going to have to shoot this often,’’ Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “But he’s going to have to play every game.” “I thought he took some that were a little bit difficult down the stretch, trying to get the team back in it,’’.
With Dallas and Utah being the only 2 games remaining on a 4 game road trip for the Lakers in which they’ve started 0-2, they’ll need to mend fences quickly. Race for homecourt in the Wild Wild West is only growing more intense.