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Lakers begin post-Kobe Bryant era with a 120-114 win over Rockets

The Lakers rang in the post-Kobe Bryant era with a 120-114 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.

In front of a capacity crowd at the Staples Center, Jordan Clarkson led the Lakers with 25 points in 24 minutes off the bench. The third-year guard made eight of his 12 field goal attempts, and made three key plays in the game’s final moments. James Harden, in his first game as the Rockets’ starting point guard, finished with 34 points, 17 assists and eight rebounds. But it wasn’t enough, as the Lakers inched past the Rockets for the shootout win.

The Rockets sprinted up and down the court all night, and the Lakers seemed to be comfortable playing on the run. The Rockets are now led by former Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, so it was not surprising that they played at a breakneck pace.

Both teams shot well in the first half, which resulted in eye-popping scoring totals. The score was knotted, 38-38, after one quarter. The Rockets led 71-66 after two quarters. Harden had 16 points and 14 boards at the break. The Lakers were led by a balanced attack, as D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov each scored 12 before halftime.

Harden was back at it at the start of the third, as he knifed into the lane before lobbing his third alley-oop to center Clint Capela. That gave him 16 assists while the Lakers, as a team, had 17. But Russell kept the Lakers just a small step behind, hitting a three to trim the deficit to two points with 5:57 left in the third.

The three was Russell’s fourth of the game, and gave him a game-high 19 to that point. After it rolled through the rim he turned to the crowd, turned his palms upward and smugly shrugged. They responded with a loud cheer, and D’Antoni called a timeout.

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At the start of the fourth, Harden went to the bench and the Lakers’ second unit — Clarkson, Lou Williams, Brandon Ingram, Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black — fought their way to a 100-100 tie with 8:31 left in the game.

The game stayed on a see-saw from there, as the Lakers built a small lead only to see the Rockets knot the score once again.

As the game clock dripped below two minutes, Clarkson nailed a three to give the Lakers’ a four-point lead. One possession later, Clarkson collected a Nick Young air ball and scored a second-chance layup off the backboard. Then he stripped Harden on a drive, and Randle hit a jump hook on the other end to stretch the lead to six.

The Rockets called timeout with 45.2 seconds on the clock, and Clarkson sprinted to half court while flexing his muscles. He screamed, “Let’s go!” Russell ran into him in celebration, and they walked side-by-side to the bench sporting identical scowls.

Shortly after, they hugged as blue and gold streamers fell from the ceiling. The Lakers, a team that is supposed to experience many growing pains this season, weren’t plagued by their youth and inexperience on the season’s opening night.


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