After playing an even first half, the Lakers were demolished in the third quarter and fell 112-95 against Dwight Howard, James Harden, and the Houston Rockets Sunday night at Staples Center. Going into tonight’s game many wondered about the health of Kobe Bryant after he left the past 2 of three games early due to a sore shoulder and sore right achilles. With coach Scott and Bryant recently shutting down trainer Gary Vitti’s suggestion to shut Bryant down for two weeks, we the fans and reporters get more and more concerned regarding Bryant’s health seemingly each possession. Larry Nance, Jr. is also dealing an injury, a sore right knee, which meant Julius Randle got the starting role tonight. (His first since December 6th) Many have speculated Randle’s recent fall off has been fueled by him taking a confidence blow and getting his starting spot revoked.
Kobe came out the gate looking to get his team involved, and boy was it working. In the first 8 minutes, Kobe had 5 assists, 2 rebounds, and hit his first jumper attempted. Bryant surprisingly had a little bounce to his step early and had Staples Center buzzing, and finished the first quarter with 7 assists, 2 rebounds, and 5 points on 2-3 shooting.
Julius Randle also looked much better on both ends in his starting role. Randle chalked up 8 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in the first quarter, helping the Lakers take a 36-32 lead into the second. Bryant didn’t play in the second quarter, more than likely because he went all 12 in the first. Randle handled his new role as Kobe’s co-star in the first half well, scoring 12 points on 71.4FG%, grabbing 7 rebounds, dishing out 1 assist, and 1 block in the first two frames, clearly a response to getting his original starting spot back. It should be noted, coming off the bench last night vs Utah, Randle scored only 6 points and had just 6 rebounds. Being Randle’s first start since December 6th, it was nice to see him respond in a positive way. At halftime, the Lakers had 14 total assists, 3 players with double digit scoring, and were shooting 56% from the field as a team.
The Lakers trailed by 3 going into the 3rd quarter however, the Houston Rockets went on an early 7-0 to push the lead to 10. LA trailed 67-57 with 10 minutes left in the 3rd and it didn’t get much better from there. LA trailed 81-62 with 5:40 left in the 3rd and went into the 4th down by 19. The 2 major bright spots in the first half, Kobe and Randle, cooled off in along with the rest of the team. Kobe dished out only 1 assist, didn’t score, and Julius Randle also went scoreless, but grabbed a few rebounds. With the Lakers obviously being on the losing side of this one, Bryant was done for the night after the 3rd. He fished with 5 points on 2-5 shooting, 9 assist, and 2 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Randle can reclaim his starting role after this somewhat breakout performance. His 12 points and 11 rebound is his first double-double since December 30th against Boston. Just from observation, he’s clearly more comfortable and way more confident when he gets the starting nod.
Also, rookie three-and-D prospect Anthony Brown had a decent showing tonight, following his 9 point and 7 rebound performance in Utah with 10 points and 2 rebounds against Houston, a new career high for the second rounder. Brown is showing more confidence and a willingness to show more of his game as of late. Although this game got away from the Lakers in the second half, small steps when it comes to the young guys and Kobe Bryant being healthy when the final buzzer sounds will always be a small positive for LA this season, as sad as that may be.