Kobe Bryant expected to play tonight
That was unexpected, and uncomfortable, for the Lakers and, in the end, unfortunate for them too.
The Houston Rockets brought their defense and showed it to the Lakers’ players, coaches, courtside fans and anyone else tuning in expecting to see a one-sided Lakers victory.
It was one-sided, for sure, but not the way anyone outside of a 310, 213 or 818 area code would have predicted.
The Lakers were stunned by the Rockets in Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinal series, 100-92, Monday at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant couldn’t find his shot, Andrew Bynum couldn’t find any rhythm as a starter and the Lakers couldn’t find the basket nearly enough times to avoid the upset. They shot 44.3%, made only two of 18 three-point shots and were 12 for 19 from the free-throw line.
They have plenty to discuss before Game 2 in the best-of-seven series, also at Staples Center.
“I don’t know if we can play much worse, to be honest with you,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
In the days leading up to the game, Lamar Odom said the Rockets were as good defensively as any team “that I’ve seen in a long time. They’re committed to defense.”
His words proved accurate, the Lakers unable to generate much of anything.
Bryant missed Sunday’s practice because of a sore throat and had 32 points on a subpar 14-for-31 shooting effort that included some easy baskets in the final minute. Pau Gasol had 14 points on six-for-14 shooting. Trevor Ariza had 10 points, Odom nine, Derek Fisher eight.
“It’s tough to play worse than that,” Gasol said. “Our shooting was pretty poor, I would say. Maybe that affected us a little too much and carried to the other end of the floor. I’m sure we’re going to shoot a lot better during the series and the next game.”
Houston center Yao Ming, meanwhile, was the most effective player on the floor, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
Lakers fans who were still in attendance when the game ended let out a surprising chorus of boos.
Bynum, re-inserted into the starting lineup after coming off the bench the last two games of the first-round series against Utah, had 10 points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.
He picked up his first foul 25 seconds into the game. He picked up his second foul two minutes later while Yao tried to get position on offense. Odom promptly checked into the game.
Lakers players and coaches seemed irritated by the officiating, especially toward the end of the game. The Lakers were called for 26 fouls, the Rockets 14.
Beforehand, neither team wanted to delve too deeply into the Lakers’ four-game sweep of the Rockets in the regular season.
“It means nothing,” Rockets Coach Rick Adelman said.
Said Jackson: “We discounted that. That doesn’t mean anything in the playoffs.”
It certainly didn’t Monday, when Ron Artest had 21 points and quick second-year guard Aaron Brooks scored 19 to complement Yao’s effort for the Rockets, who made 47.9% of their shots.
The first half had enough action to last half a series.
Bryant and Shane Battier had a minor shoving match after fighting for a loose ball. Derek Fisher and Brent Barry went tumbling into a cameraman under the Lakers’ basket after Barry fouled Fisher on a fastbreak layup attempt. And Trevor Ariza toppled a cameraman and a TV monitor while chasing the ball near midcourt.
The lasting image of the half, and perhaps the series, might be the blood streaming down the left side of Battier’s face after the Rockets forward took an inadvertent elbow above his left eye from Sasha Vujacic.
When the half was over, the Lakers trailed, 43-40.