HOUSTON — The Lakers didn't look like themselves for 21/2 quarters, not necessarily a bad thing right now.

They hung with the Houston Rockets, even led by 11 points, until reality checked into the game on James Harden's alley-oop lob to Dwight Howard for a dunk.

Yep, him again.

Howard and the Rockets rallied to beat the Lakers, 113-99, Wednesday at Toyota Center.

Lakers fans won't want to hear it, but Howard wasn't having any of the "What if?" talk, pretending to fall asleep when asked about his former team.

Yet the Howard debate was awakened for a day as the Lakers lost for the ninth time in 10 games.

A Rockets fan held up a mocking homemade sign: "Hey L.A., Miss Him Yet?"

Then an unhappy Lakers fan in attendance offered his own opinion: "You could've had it all, Dwight!"

And somewhere in the Twitter universe, musician and Lakers fan Flea tweeted his always-fervent feelings.

"Dwight made me sad when he fouled himself out on purpose in lakers final playoff game last year. It hurt my heart. His apparent lack of heart," Flea wrote.

Flea's forgiven for not knowing the exact details: Howard was actually ejected for arguing a non-call toward the end of San Antonio's first-round sweep.

Howard had 20 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday, slightly more than his averages, and he added a season-high four steals.

Oh, and there were no hard feelings after earning his first victory against the Lakers since leaving them as a free agent last July.

"I didn't think about it, really," he said. "I wanted our team to win despite the matchup with the Lakers."

Harden had 38 points, ensuring there wouldn't be any fourth-quarter surprises like Steve Blake's game-winner here two months ago.

The Lakers (14-22) actually had a lively first half, holding a 57-52 lead behind 15 points each from Pau Gasol and Nick Young, but Houston took the third quarter by a 33-15 mark as Harden outscored the Lakers by himself (17 points).

It soon made sense why ESPN and the NBA decided to dump this game from national TV, deciding two weeks ago to instead show Phoenix-Minnesota.

It didn't matter that the Hack-a-Howard strategy worked, Howard making only seven of 16 free throws in the final 4:41. Young's 25 points and 21 each from Gasol and Jodie Meeks weren't enough to damage Houston (23-13).

Not every Lakers player was down, though.

Kendall Marshall was optimistic about their chances Friday against the Clippers, revealing some friendly trash-talking with Clippers swingman Reggie Bullock, a former teammate at North Carolina.

"I've already guaranteed a win to him. I also told him that if he ever guards me, I might go for 30," Marshall said. Marshall wasn't close to 30 against Houston, scoring five points on two-for-13 shooting.

Flea pretty much captured it all for Lakers fans on Twitter after Robert Sacre's first-quarter blocked shot.

"Sacre blocking Dwight. Hahahah! Ahh it's the little pleasures in a season like this," he said.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com