The Los Angeles Lakers were fortunate to escape Houston with a victory in their first meeting, pulling out an overtime win despite not being at their best offensively.
The second half of their latest road performance unequivocally qualifies as their worst.
The Lakers look to bounce back from their most futile half in franchise history Sunday afternoon when they open a home-heavy stretch seeking their sixth straight regular-season win against the Houston Rockets.
Through one half of the Lakers’ first road game since, it looked like they were headed for another tight finish. Bryant had 19 points in the first half as Los Angeles trailed Denver 58-56 on Friday.
A pair of free throws shortly before halftime would be the last points Bryant would score, however. The Lakers scored 23 points in the final 24 minutes - a franchise-low for a half - and Bryant was shut out in a half for the first time since April 11, 2004, as the Nuggets cruised to a 105-79 victory.
“They beat the hell out of us,” Bryant said. “… They executed extremely well and we tried to keep it within a manageable distance. We weren’t able to do that though and they broke us open pretty good.”
The Lakers’ eight third-quarter points were two more than their worst quarter ever, when they put up six in a 102-80 loss to Chicago on Nov. 20, 1977.
“No one stepped up in the second half and played ball,” coach Phil Jackson said. “We ended up taking long shots and turning the ball over at the start of the third quarter. Those are the results you get.”
Ron Artest(notes) had 15 points in his return to Houston (5-4) after signing with Los Angeles in the offseason, and this game takes Trevor Ariza(notes) back to Staples Center for the first time since he averaged 11.3 points in a breakout postseason run for the Lakers last spring.
Ariza will be looking for a better shooting effort than he showed Nov. 4 against his former team, when he went 5 of 21.
Yet the biggest storyline as the Lakers begin a stretch of 11 of their next 12 games at home will be whether there’s lingering animosity between Ariza and Artest.
In their first meeting after essentially swapping uniforms following last season’s seven-game playoff series, the two earned offsetting technical fouls early in the first quarter, and at one point Ariza said Artest tried to put his hand around Ariza’s neck.
Artest said he thought about giving Ariza a hard shot, but backed down for fear of a fine or a suspension.
“You know if somebody hits me, I’m going to react,” Artest said. “I got hit with about three elbows. It’s just not fair. I don’t want to fight, I don’t feel like doing it. If you throw an elbow into Ron Artest’s chest, do you know who you’re hitting?”
Ariza, averaging a team-high 19.4 points but shooting 41.9 percent, was 10 of 21 and had a game-high 28 points Friday at Sacramento, but Houston was outrebounded 54-35 in a 109-100 loss.
“We knew that they were a good rebounding team, but I believe we could be one too,” said Luis Scola(notes), who’s averaged 17.2 points and 11.0 rebounds in his last six games. “We didn’t come prepared to play and we can’t afford to do that.”
Bryant has averaged 30.8 points in leading the Lakers to five consecutive regular-season wins against Houston.