No Trades, No Problem: Asik, Still a Rocket, Helps Roll Lakers
As Hollywood thrillers go, the game at Staples Center Wednesday night was a box office flop. The entire night was more slapstick farce than docudrama, though Lakers fans might argue it was a horror story. For the Rockets, that meant a 134-108 laugher over an injury and trade-depleted Laker team. There were very few cheers, while the jeers were reserved for Dwight Howard in his first return to LA since leaving for Houston in free agency. Howard even joined in the chorus of "Howard sucks!" while dominating his former team with 20 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
Photo by Jeff Balke Howard may be a villain to Lakers fans, but he remains a hero for the Rockets.
But, in a town where clever scripts can make stars of of talented and lucky screenwriters, the only plot twist Wednesday was the fact that it was the Lakers who made a trade prior to the game, not the Rockets. With the NBA trade deadline looming, rumors had been swirling around the Rockets, most of them involving Omer Asik, who has been disappointed with his playing time after the Howard signing. Asik, who remained a Rocket while the Lakers sent Steve Blake to Golden State -- the team the Rockets face Thursday night -- for a pair of bench players and salary cap relief, had hist best game in weeks with 7 points and 12 rebounds in 23 minutes of action, earning a bear hug from Howard during a timeout late in the game.
Prior to the game, Coach Kevin McHale said Asik's only job was to play adding, "I assume his check is coming on the first and 15th every month." McHale's dry sense of humor notwithstanding, Asik demonstrated why his value remains high for a team that can struggle with defense when Howard rests.
The win takes the Rockets win streak to eight games at the expense of the Lakers who, after the Blake trade, only dressed eight players, one of whom was on a minutes limit due to a recent injury. The Lake Show is a far cry from the team many expected to contend for a title at the beginning of last season when Howard was still wearing the purple and gold. If last season was a massive disappointment -- the Ishtar of NBA seasons, if you will -- this year more closely resembles Titanic. Their three stars, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, have missed a combined 100 games as they sag to 18-36 towards the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Conversely, the Rockets are finally at full strength -- Greg Smith even practiced with the team the last couple days -- and hitting their stride as they head into a very difficult part of the schedule. With the starters resting the entire fourth quarter, they should be fresh for their matchup with the dangerous Warriors, which comes on the second night of a back-to-back.
And while the trade deadline technically doesn't end until Thursday afternoon, don't expect the Rockets to make any moves, a first for GM Daryl Morey who has made trade deadline deals each of the last seven seasons. Unless they are bowled over by a ridiculous offer, the Rockets would best be served by continuing to gradually build the chemistry that was on display under the bright lights Wednesday night. In fact, not being involved in a blockbuster might even make the Rockets more likely the stars of a Cinderella story come June.