NBA Scores: Defense lets Lakers down against Rockets

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It's fashionable to blame Dwight Howard's free throw shooting for the Lakers' loss to the Rockets on Tuesday night, but the real issue was the team's defense.

Rockets 107, Lakers 105

So ... the Lakers are 8-10. Let me repeat that: the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10.

For the second straight game, the other team's decision to intentionally foul Dwight Howard will obscure the Lakers' real problem: terrible defense. On this night, Howard went 5 of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter, including two big makes with 2:09 remaining to give the Lakers a two-point lead. Five points in five possessions isn't great, but it's far from awful. With better defense, the Lakers could have made the Rockets pay for this strategy.

Alas, that didn't happen. The Rockets got great shot after great shot, and the Lakers' breakdowns were across the board. Let's take a look at a few in particular.

PLAY 1: On this play, Howard and Metta World Peace fail to communicate on a circle cut by James Harden, allowing the Rockets' star to get an easy layup. Take a look:

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Does Howard help World Peace? Nope, think again.

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PLAY 2: Harden curls out to the left wing, and Antawn Jamison decides he should leave his man to go cover him even though World Peace has locked and trailed him well.

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This forces Howard to guard two people, and Greg Smith easily gets a layup.

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PLAY 3: This is what happens when Kobe Bryant cheats so blatantly to stop Carlos Delfino from getting open in the right corner. Delfino simply readjusts his route and Kobe is nowhere to be found.

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Harden passes to Delfino, and Chris Duhon is supposed to guard two people. Here's what results.

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PLAYS 4 AND 5: These two decided the game, and they both just so happened to feature World Peace letting Harden go right to the basket using his strong left hand. Howard has to help once Harden beats World Peace off the dribble, and Harden just dumps the ball off to Smith for easy shots.

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You can't blame those breakdowns on Howard's free throw shooting, nor can you expect them to magically go away once Steve Nash gets back. The Lakers need to get their defense in order, and fast.

Heat 105, Wizards 101

I'm still not sure what to think of this game. If you're looking for a one-sentence summary, here it is: The Heat got bored defensively, the Wizards played just well enough for three and a half quarters and Miami missed a zillion open three-pointers down the stretch that would have given them the win.

One of those threes was by LeBron James in the closing seconds. On the one hand, he clearly has a good look here.

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On the other hand, look how quickly Shaun Livingston closed out on him.

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Perhaps a pump fake and a drive to the rim would have been better.

In any event, the Heat lost this game because their defense was pathetic. At this point, Miami is 22nd in defensive efficiency. Things need to change if they want to repeat as champions.

Thunder 117, Nets 111

The Nets' defense has come along much quicker than anyone anticipated given their roster, but this game was a reminder that Avery Johnson has his work cut out for him. The absence of Brook Lopez doesn't explain all the defensive breakdowns that allowed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to live in the paint.

Grizzlies 106, Suns 98

As was the case in their win over the Pistons on Friday, the Grizzlies needed to dig their way out of an early hole against a team they should have blown out. On the bright side, Zach Randolph was an absolute monster, scoring 36 points and grabbing 22 rebounds. The Suns' frontcourt is depressing.

Pacers 80, Bulls 76

This game was decided on a non-call in the closing seconds. Luol Deng caught a backdoor pass from Joakim Noah and surged to the rim for a layup, but Roy Hibbert met him there and stopped Deng from getting the shot at the rim. Was there a foul? You be the judge.

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It looked to me like Hibbert went straight up, so I'd say the referees made the right decision not to call a foul. Tom Thibodeau obviously disagreed.

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Meanwhile, Paul George scored 34 of the Pacers' 80 points. As someone who badly wants to see George break out, this makes me very happy.

Timberwolves 105, 76ers 88

The Timberwolves' bench scored 57 points. The 76ers' bench scored 23 points. That pretty much decided it. I can't wait for Alexey Shved to be the Timberwolves' starting shooting guard once Ricky Rubio comes back.

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