But then the fourth quarter hit and the Lakers struggled to put points on the board, as they repeatedly broke down defensively and allowed the Rockets to get the shots they wanted.
The purple and gold committed fouls and lacked discipline down the stretch, which resulted in several high-percentage shots for the Rockets. With that said, Kobe Bryant’s singular talent almost bailed out the Lakers as he inexplicably was given two clean looks from three-point range late.
The Black Mamba converted the first look to cut the deficit to one point, but missed the second try after Greg Smith gave him the daylight he needed to raise up for the potential game-winning trey.
If this were an isolated December game, we could simply write it off as one loss in an 82-game schedule. But the contests leading up to this game seem to paint a different picture; one that few seem to recognize.
Put it this way: if these types of outcomes were happening to the Charlotte Bobcats would anyone truly be surprised? Not really.
And that might just be the problem.
The Lakers have faced injuries to Steve Nash, Steve Blake and now more recently Pau Gasol. Mind you, they’ve had the opportunity to play the majority of their games this season with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Spaniard all in the lineup and yet are still playing sub-.500 ball.
This begs the question: are we allowing their star power to mask the fact that they are a mediocre team?
Once again, this does not come as an overreaction to their most recent setback in Houston.
The Los Angeles Lakers have lost five of their seven road games and have yet to defeat a quality opponent unless we take into account the Golden State Warriors (10-7). The Lake Show has lost games to the Dallas Mavericks (8-10), Portland Trail Blazers (8-11), Sacramento Kings (5-12), Utah Jazz (11-11) and Orlando Magic (7-11).
The tricky thing about this team is that their talent on paper is so overwhelming that fans and basketball analysts expect them to bulldoze most opponents, especially the marginal teams in the league.
To their credit, the Lakers have double-digit victories over the Detroit Pistons (6-13), Golden State Warriors (10-7), Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets (9-10), Houston Rockets (9-8), Phoenix Suns (7-12) and more recently the New Orleans Hornets (5-12), but that’s hardly a murderer’s row of quality NBA teams. Indeed, their body of work so far is quite unimpressive.
Let’s be clear here, this isn’t to suggest that Lakers will spend the remainder of the season running on a treadmill, basically stuck in the same spot. But one has to wonder if that’s what lays ahead for a team featuring arguably the best off guard and best center in the NBA.
With injuries to Steve Nash and Steve Blake, the Lakers have turned to Kobe Bryant as their point guard du jour, a task that has to be relatively taxing given that the 17-year veteran has to play the role of scorer and facilitator at the same time. Thus, there are times when Bryant foregoes the team concept in favor of featuring himself to give the team some scoring punch. This isn’t an indictment on Bryant, it’s the reality of the situation at present time.
Kobe has done a good if not great job of creating high-percentage shots for himself in the fourth quarters to keep the team afloat or pull it out of a funk. Despite some of the best work of the Black Mamba’s career, though, the Lakers have a less-than-stellar record.
Whether it’s because of turnovers, missed shots, poor spacing, bad execution, blown defensive assignments or teams taking Mike D’Antoni’s team out of its rhythm by purposely sending Dwight Howard to free-throw line, the Lakers are simply finding ways to lose.
The optimist would say that the absence of Nash combined with the lack of production from Pau Gasol are clearly issues affecting the team, and those should easily be remedied with time and patience. But wasn’t Mike Brown fired under those exact circumstances?
Far be it for me to say that the Lakers have a lot of built-in excuses, but truth be told, the team just hasn’t been good this season.
Usually, there’s one kind of team that tends to make excuses for lack of success: a losing one.
And whether anyone wants to admit or not, the Lakers are of those teams at this current juncture of the season.