Rockets go small, outlast the big Lakers
As the third quarter wound down in the Lakers’ game against the Houston Rockets, the video board at Staples Center fixed on a guest sitting two seats away from team co-owner Jeanie Buss.
It was Darren Collison.
The point guard and UCLA alumnus retired last summer, but he’s considering a return to the NBA with the Lakers as a possible destination. When the screen overhead showed Collison, he and Buss playfully put their hoods over their heads. As the camera lingered on Collison, he shifted his eyes as if he were uncomfortable with the spotlight.
The crowd cheered for him.
On the court, Collison’s college teammate Russell Westbrook scored 41 points to help lead the Rockets to a 121-111 win over the Lakers, who fell to 38-12 while the Rockets improved to 33-18.
“Tip your cap to him,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Westbrook. “He was terrific finishing, making mid-range shots and getting to the basket. His single coverage and James [Harden] penalizing or punishing the double team by hitting shooters and the shooters punishing by making threes was too much for us.”
“Russ definitely did what Russ is capable of doing,” LeBron James said. “We’ve seen it a lot throughout his career. He was wonderful tonight.”
Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 32 points and 13 rebounds, while James contributed 18 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds. Avery Bradley and Danny Green each scored 15 points for the Lakers. Harden had only 14 points on three-for-10 shooting.
The trade deadline passed without the Lakers making any trades, but that doesn’t mean their roster won’t change. They plan to monitor the buyout market.
As a retired player, Collison isn’t part of the buyout market, but in order to sign him, the Lakers would have to waive one of their current players as their roster sits at 15.
James was asked after the game if he thinks Collison would be a helpful addition.
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“I don’t know,” James said. “I don’t like talking fantasy basketball, I’ve never been one to talk fantasy basketball. We’ll see what happens, but I don’t really have too much to comment on that.”
Collison is not expected to make a decision until after the All-Star break and is likely to choose between the Lakers and Clippers.
The Lakers had been involved in conversations about two of the marquee players who moved this week — Marcus Morris, whom the New York Knicks traded to the Clippers, and Andre Iguodala, whom the Memphis Grizzlies traded to the Miami Heat. The Lakers didn’t have many assets to offer other than players, having traded away so many draft picks to acquire Davis. And while their players were attractive to other teams, the Lakers opted not to make dramatic changes to their roster.
They faced a team in Houston that did make dramatic alterations.
The Rockets traded away center Clint Capela, and then traded Jordan Bell, who might have filled in at the position. The 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker became their starting center and even joked about it on social media, posting a photo of himself wearing stilts.
“We’re not very tall, but we’re strapped and we’re strong,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said before the game. “I think we’re just taking advantage of what we have. and like I said, there will be some drawbacks, and we’ll have to adjust.”
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Against the Lakers, their experiment worked. While the Rockets were outscored in the paint by 22 points, they made 19 three-pointers, 10 more than the Lakers.
“They made a couple big shots, we had a couple turnovers and they had a couple stops,” James said. “When the game was going back and forth, it allowed them to kind of take that back and forth and they kind of took control in the last three minutes.”
As the Rockets pulled away, Collison and Buss left. Collison downplayed his visit.
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