Well, that's four in a row. Time to start looking for moral victories, as actual victories have been scarce of late. But while the losing is disappointing, there is a lot to be happy about as a Rockets fan.
What's to be happy about? I'm thrilled you asked, Mr. Strawman.
1. Rockets rookies played 72 minutes in tonight's contest.
Jermaine Taylor played against arguably the best SG in the NBA. He notched 15pts, 5rbs, 3asts, 1stl in 30 minutes of game action. Sometimes he drove the lane and looked lost, sometimes he couldn't handle his defensive assignment, but very few can. Mostly he played like he belonged in the NBA.
Jordan Hill, still on a sore ankle, still the tallest usable Rocket, got 8pts and 6rbs. He drew an assignment against the indispensable Laker, Pau Gasol. At times the grubby Catalan made Hill look like a rookie, but guess what? Hill did the same to Pau a couple of times. Hill is an NBA player, too.
Chase Budinger looked more assured on offense tonight than he has in the past, but it was hard to keep him in the game, as every defensive assignment was a bad one for him - Bryant, Artest, Brown. Chase is a problematic defender anyway, and each of those guys is a nightmare matchup for him.
2. Luis Scola - WC Player of The Month - 28/10/5/1. Ho hum, another All-Star caliber night for the Porteno Kevin McHale. Remember, this is against a big LA frontcourt, though Andrew "Ouch!" Bynum didn't play.
3. Aaron Brooks - at some point he's going to get the whistles for all the contact he takes in the lane. At some point he's going to realize that about 4 guys in the league can stay with him, and the artist formerly known as Derek Fisher isn't among them. The NBA is getting pretty handsy with Aaron Brooks lately, and that's a good sign, it means they know he's going to toast them. Even grabbing didn't help much as Fisher spent much of the game on the bench with foul trouble, and Farmar, LA's least loathsome player and best Brooks matchup, played more.
Raise your hand if you'd rather have Artest than Ariza for the next 4 years? Anyone? Artest looks painfully slow - the strong hands are still there, the defensive smarts are still there, and he'll occasionally nail an open, or weird, contested, J. Maybe this was just a tough night for him, off a butt-kicking in OKC, but it looks like the cliff is near for his productivity.
Only a team like LA could mask his faults so well, as opponents blowing by him still have to deal with the Laker frontcourt. Lots of people are touting Artest as a LeBron stopper. Nope, not anymore. That ship has sailed. And if LA's overall performance tonight is indicative of what LA has to offer the Western Conference, it's not going to come to that, anyway. As long as they have Kobe and Gasol, LA is not going to be easy to beat, but make no mistake they're ripe to be taken down.
Why do I say that? Because of tonight. The Rockets were without a center over 6'6", without anyone usable over 6'9" except a rookie, without a starting SG or SF (let alone C), without the heart of the D, Battier, and oh yeah, a center that gave LA trouble in Andersen. Even so LA had to play their starters big minutes. Everytime the LA mix began to look more like the Rocket starting lineup (ie the bench) the score narrowed considerably. This is a game that should have been comfortable after the Rockets went ice-cold in the 2nd and 3rd quarters (yes LA played good D, but I stopped counting missed wide-open shots at 10).
It wasn't comfortable for them. Here are minutes played - Artest 36, Odom 39, Gasol 40, Bryant 36. Only Fisher and Farmar platooned, and that's only because Fisher couldn't stay with Brooks and fouled often (I refuse to believe Jackson suddenly realized Farmar is his best PG, it just doesn't seem possible). Using the huge advantage of Gasol in the middle LA was able to build a big lead.
The LA bench is so awful they couldn't salt it away. Up by 20 for large stretches of the game, the only Laker bench player to see real minutes other than Farmar was Brown, who made a lot of shots with a hand in his face (I'd count on that happening every night for sure). Jackson felt compelled to leave his best players in for big minutes against Rockets rookies.
So yes, it's a moral victory, and I hate moral victories, but the baby Rockets game a solid account of themselves, and showed what a good bench can do.
HELLO LA BAND-WAGONEERS! Once again, lots of bandwagoneers around tonight. There's no way all of you people are from California and there weren't as many of you around before LA won the title. That pretty much defines bandwagon. Anyhow, plenty of replica jerseys - all exactly the same. Someone, ANYONE, get a replica jersey besides the ubiquitous Kobe shirt. No wait, don't, because that's just how pathetic and ridiculous you are. I want to remember you that way, and one single Gasol shirt would compromise the perfect conformity of your imaginations.