Lakers 102, Rockets 94

So much for life on the road for the Lakers. Not even three minutes into their game at Toyota Center and Lamar Odom was grabbing for his right knee as he tried to run down court after having a drive blocked by Shane Battier. Odom suffered a sprained MCL and is likely to be out for several weeks. The good news is that the ligament is not torn.

The Lakers play Dallas tonight. Feel free to play Phil Jackson and figure out how best to match up without Odom. The Mavericks start Devin Harris (Smush Parker), Jason Terry (Kobe Bryant) and Erick Dampier (Kwame Brown).
You have to decide if you want to play Luke Walton on Josh Howard and use either Vladimir Radmanovic or Brian Cook on Dirk Nowitzki. Or you can start Maurice Evans on Howard and play Walton on Nowitzki.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

HOUSTON–As bad as the last four minutes were Tuesday night for the Lakers, when they had to bring Kobe Bryant off the bench to avoid blowing a 27-point lead and escape with a 102-94 victory, the first four minutes were even worse.

The Lakers lost Lamar Odom to a sprained MCL in his right knee early in the first quarter against the Houston Rockets, an injury that sent their versatile forward to the hospital for an MRI and left him with an uncertain prognosis.

When he emerged from the trainers room after the game, Odom had a brace on his knee, a pair of crutches to lean on and an appointment to be reevaluated by team doctors today in Los Angeles.

“I would say wed be really happy if hes playing again in January, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “That would be probably our best case. He felt it was pretty loose when he came off the court.

Odom was hopeful that he could return in a week or two with rehab, although he admitted that he was trying to be optimistic. Bryant said he was happy Odom did not suffer a season-ending injury.

This two-game road trip was supposed to tell Jackson how well his team could make adjustments from one night to the next. Now the Lakers could be facing weeks of playing without Odom, who had been putting up the best numbers of his career.

The Lakers have the experience of playing the entire preseason and three regular-season games without Bryant. Jackson would not say who would start in place of Odom but his options include Vladimir Radmanovic, Brian Cook and Maurice Evans.

“We have to reorganize our team a little bit, Jackson said, “because Lamar has such an expanded role on this team.

Odom was injured two minutes in as he drove the lane and was blocked by Shane Battier. He said he didnt know if he sprained the knee going up or coming down on the play.

“I got the shot blocked, I tried to run back, tried not to show no pain, Odom said. “But on the way up and down, I felt like something was really wrong. Hopefully, it wont take no time. I can just rehab and get back quick.

Odom stayed in for another 1 1-2 minutes before Jackson called timeout and substituted Cook for him. Only 10 hours earlier, Bryant said Odom, averaging 18.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists, deserved to be considered a top 25 player in the league.

The Lakers rode Bryant harder than ever with Odom out, playing him all but 39 seconds in the first half. Bryant finished with 23 points on 8 of 26 shooting with eight rebounds and seven assists but his easy night was not to be.

Bryant had departed with 6:56 left and the Lakers leading 94-73, strapping a bag of ice to his right knee and trying to steal some rest with the second game of a back-to-back set tonight in Dallas.

But the Rockets staged a furious comeback and Bryant had to return with 4:00 remaining after a John Lucas 3-pointer cut the Lakers lead to 94-87. The Rockets scored 19 straight points in the quarter.

The Lakers held on for dear life as Bryant missed all four shots down the stretch and escaped only because the Rockets missed 4 of 6 free throws in the last two minutes. Scott Padgett came up empty at the line with a chance to tie with 1:17 remaining.

“The bench has to be more solid out there to finish a ballgame out, Jackson said.

The Lakers won the third quarter 30-13 as they opened up the floor with Bryants passing and some aggressive defense. They converted 10 Houston turnovers into 15 points and took advantage as the Rockets were quick to send a second defender Bryants way.

Yao Ming led the Rockets with 26 points but made just 1 of 5 shots in the second half and had three turnovers. Houston played without Tracy McGrady, who missed the game with back spasms, and will face the Lakers again Friday at Staples Center.

Odom almost assuredly wont be in action, playing on what would have been the first birthday of his son Jayden, who suffocated in his crib in June. After Tuesdays injury, a difficult week became even more so for Odom.