Below are five things to take from the Lakers’ 134-108 loss Wednesday to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center:
1. Dwight Howard dominated in his return to Staples Center. The boos poured down from Staples Center anytime Howard touched the ball. The Lakers offered no pre-game montage highlighting his lone season here. Fans shouted chants, such as “You Suck Dwight,” and mocked him with “Dwight Coward” jerseys.” The spectacle amounted nothing more than a distraction from the Lakers’ current mess.
Howard flexed his muscles in every way imaginable, dropping 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting, 13 rebounds and three blocks in only 29 minutes. Howard bullied Chris Kaman in the post seemingly on every possession. Howard snarled with every putback dunk. He even drew a first-quarter technical after spitting out a few expletives. It remains to be seen if the Rockets will ever be a championship. But relative to the Lakers’ current situation, Howard’s in a good place. And he effectively provided a rebuttal to the Lakers’ taunts, endlessly exposing the Lakers’ defensive weaknesses that have contributed toward eight consecutive home losses and 23 of their last 28 games.
2. Steve Blake was traded just before the game. He had already dressed in pre-game warmups when he learned the Lakers dealt him to the Golden State Warriors for seldom-used shooting guards Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. The Lakers lost a significant piece and few bright spots in the Lakers’ depressing season, an unselfish and playmaking point guard that looked comfortable in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced system. But with the Lakers far from playoff contention, they made a cost-cutting move that saves them about $4 million in combined salary and luxury taxes. The Lakers’ payroll remains at $76.9 million and the luxury tax threshold stays at $71.7 million, meaning team could make more moves leading into Thursday’s trade deadline to fall under that number.
3. Jordan Farmar played limited minutes. In his first game back since staying sidelined for the past four contests while healing his left hamstring, Farmar posted nine points on 3-of-6 shooting and four assists in 19 minutes. That marks a stark contrast to when Farmar played 33 minutes in the Lakers’ win Feb. 5 in Cleveland where he played a season-high 33 minutes despite missing over a month’s worth of games beforehand.
The Lakers will likely take this conservative approach considering Blake’s departure and the uncertainty surrounding Steve Nash, who has both an upper respiratory infection and persisting nerve irritation in his back.
4. The Lakers remain undermanned. It’s become numbing for the Lakers, but it’s an unescapable reality. The Lakers sat Kobe Bryant (fractured left knee), Pau Gasol (strained right groin), Nick Young (fractured left knee), Xavier Henry (bone bruise in right knee). The only return to the lineup entailed Jodie Meeks, who posted 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting in 34 minutes in a surprise start because of Blake’s departure.
5. The Lakers thrived offensively. They had solid offensive efforts from Wesley Johnson (24 points on 9 of 13 shooting), Kendall Marshall (19 points on 7 of 14 shooting and 16 assists) and Jordan Hill (10 points on 5 of 7 shooting and seven rebounds). But that doesn’t mean much when the Lakers allow James Harden (29 points), Chandler Parsons (18 points), Donatas Motiejunas (12 points), Francisco Garcia (11 points) and Patrick Beverly (10 points) to produce without much resistance.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org