In a game that saw the Houston Rockets lead the LA Lakers for all but 21 seconds and go on to lead by 27 before finishing off the Lakers 108-90 at Staples Center, there were a couple of memorable highlights, neither of which involved basketball.
Late in the fourth quarter, former teammates Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant got into a jawing match after Bryant, pressuring Howard defensively, took an elbow to the face. The two were separated but dropped a handful of verbal jabs at each other. Howard seemed to be saying, "I know you," while smiling a wide grin. Bryant, losing by a wide margin, was less forgiving, at one point saying, "Soft" to his former center.
Their much publicized breakup has been punctuated by a recent article quoting anonymous sources who said Bryant was the reason the Lakers were unable to attract any marquee free agents.
Moments after the altercation, Lakers first round draft pick Julius Randle went down hard and remained seated on the floor under his own basket. He was carted off the floor on a stretcher in an air cast. The team later revealed he suffered a broken tibia. It was that kind of night for the Lakers, who will test the patience of Bryant, new coach Byron Scott and the LA fans.
And while the Rockets didn't exactly look like world beaters the entire night, they certainly had enough firepower to dismantle the Lakers in easy fashion.
James Harden led the way with 32 points (on only 17 shots) and 6 assists in just over 30 minutes of action. In fact, he sat the entire fourth quarter. Howard struggled with foul trouble all night but still managed 13 points and 11 rebounds. Newly added small forward Trevor Ariza added 16 points including 5-8 from three point range, a welcome sight considering the guy he replaced, Chandler Parsons, struggled mightily in San Antonio Tuesday night.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the night was the play of Terrence Jones. The young power forward had 16 points and 13 rebounds (6 on the offensive end) and racked up a double-double before the end of the first half. He shot 50 percent from the floor and was active all night. If he is truly able to develop his game via hustle as the Rockets have wanted, he could be a very important part of the Rockets playoff aspirations this year.
Former Rocket Jeremy Lin made his debut with the Lakers and wasn't exactly Lin-sane. He had 7 points and 6 assists, but shot only 1-5 from the floor and had 4 turnovers.
As a team, the Rockets were solid defensively and had only 3 turnovers in the first half finishing with 13 in the game, an improvement over last season albeit in just one game. They scored 31 in each of the first two quarters and cruised through the second half allowing the Lakers to close within single digits for a brief time in the third before blowing them out and resting the starters. No Rocket logged even 31 minutes of action and Howard played just over 20.
That rest should help them as they travel to Utah to face the Jazz Wednesday night. Utah shouldn't be much better than they were last year -- they weren't good then -- and the Rockets will need to feast on some of the weaker opponents they face the first couple weeks of the season.
It is difficult to gauge what kind of team the Rockets will be after the beating they laid down on Los Angeles. The Lakers look to be an awful squad with Bryant and little else. But, a win is a win and the Rockets will be happy to add it to the positive side of the ledger.
Final Score: 108-90
Player of the Game: Terrence Jones Most impressive were Jones's hustle points and his presence around the basket. This is the player the Rockets need for an entire season. He has done it in stretches, but now needs to be consistent.
More Downs Than Ups: Patrick Beverley
Beverley struggled shooting the ball early and never seemed in the game. Having a point guard that is below average on offense in a conference that boasts some of the greatest players in the game at that position puts the Rockets at a deficit before they step on the floor every night. They don't need him to be a big time scorer, but they do need him to be reliable.
Surprise Player of the Game: Jason Terry
A veteran whose bread and butter -- three point shooting -- appeared to have abandoned him over the last couple seasons, Terry shot the ball well, particularly from distance and in a couple of key moments. His steadying influence off the bench will be a plus for this team.
Key Number: 22 (total team assists) and 13 (total team turnovers)
A team that puts up as many shots as Houston will turn the ball over, but when they keep that number under 15 and have 20-plus assists, they are going to win more often than they lose.
Stat You Likely Won't See Again All Season: 0-5 (Troy Daniels three point shooting)
Daniels is a sick, lights-out shooter from distance, but he had one seriously off night. He shot crazy numbers in the preseason and was fantastic both in the D-League and on the main roster last season, so expect him to bounce back even in limited minutes.
Highlight: Dwight vs. Kobe on the same night WWE was at Toyota Center
ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE? Vegas is just a few hours east of LA and Floyd Mayweather was in the crowd. Do I smell a big purse?
Next Game: at Utah Wednesday night
Tough back-to-back to open the season with the Rockets having to play late both nights, travel in between and face not just the Jazz but the altitude in Salt Lake City. They didn't play big minutes and the Jazz are still pretty awful. They should be 2-0 by the time the charter leaves Utah Wednesday night (or early Thursday morning).
Celebrities Spotted in Staples Center: Jack Nicholson (obvs), Will Ferrell, Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West (or Kimye as their friends call them)
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