It doesn’t feel the same with Kobe Bryant not even playing, but you take what you get. Dwight Howard had a big enough game against a hateful Los Angeles Lakers crowd while James Harden was the one who enjoyed playing against a no-defense and horrible team as the Houston Rockets cruised to a victory at the Staples Center, not needing anything special from Jeremy Lin.
Harden led the team with 29 points and 11 assists. Harden had plenty of openings to take the shots he loves to take and feed others, as it felt like almost every possession for the Rockets was an open court one, with the Lakers not looking like they can guard anything and anyone. Howard had 20 points and 13 rebounds, having a bit of a confused start to the game but looking dominant for most of the important parts.
The fans chanted that he sucks, so he sang along. By the end of it, it was hard to hide the joy on his face, although there’s one more game to play in Los Angeles against the Lakers and maybe that time Kobe Bryant will be playing. The Lakers will still be mostly a sad bunch, just waiting for the season to be over, but that win might have a big more feel to it.
The Rockets won 134-108 with 62 points in the paint and 18-of-35 from beyond the arc. Did we mention they found it easy to get open looks? James Harden hit five 3-pointers and everyone but Dwight Howard and Omer Asik attempted one. Speaking of Asik – he has pretty much accepted that he isn’t going anywhere, and was very good in his 23 minutes, finishing with 7 points and 12 rebounds. If the Rockets actually have him committed and willing to be the backup, their playoff stocks will take a big rise as we get closer to April.
Jeremy Lin finished with 9 points on 3-of-11 from the field. Not a memorable game, but it wasn’t necessary. This wasn’t one of the games that the Rockets needed Lin to gel everyone together and remind them it’s a team game and not a shooting contest. They’ll be more difficult tests in which he’ll be needed more, and get more than only 21 minutes. However, sometimes you never know what Kevin McHale is thinking about, and might make this an excuse to give Lin less minutes in the future until he realizes he needs him again.
And what of the Lakers? There’s not much to say. Kendall Marshall keeps putting up nice numbers (20 points and 16 assists), but what does it matter when they turn the ball over 19 times. Wesley Johnson scored 24 points, but Chris Kaman was struggling all game long against the Rockets’ centers, and it all felt like garbage time from the moment the Rockets got to their first double digit lead.
The Lakers aren’t an indication of anything for the Rockets – this was a game for the good feeling of Dwight Howard and to pamper up the stats of James Harden. Too bad for him, he won’t encounter a team that allows him to do whatever he wants every day, and playing a bit smarter under harsher conditions is still required of him.