While Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant led L.A. in scoring with 29 and 27 points apiece, it was the 3-point shooting of Steve Blake and Shannon Brown that really sparked the team, and allowed them to overcome big nights from Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks, who finished with 26 and 24 points respectively for the Rockets.
FIRST QUARTER: Rockets 33, Lakers 26
The Lakers overcame the emotion of their ring ceremony fairly quickly and settled into some effective basketball with the team's first unit. But it was the Rockets' guards who were the story, with Aaron Brooks and Kevin martin combing to score 27 of their team's 33 in the period.
Pau Gasol had 12 for L.A., and Ron Artest hit a couple of threes to keep the Lakers close, despite the team's 36.4 percent shooting.
Phil Jackson was asked before the game if he expected his rookies to get any minutes tonight, and he joked, "I hope not." But he inserted Derrick Caracter into the lineup just over three minutes in, once Lamar Odom was forced to the bench with two personal fouls.
SECOND QUARTER: Rockets 62, Lakers 51
It was the Chase Budinger show early, and the Kevin Martin show late. Budinger had nine points in the first 3:35 of the period, helping to extend the Rockets lead quickly to 10. Martin then poured in seven of his own after L.A had trimmed the lead to three, but also managed to pick up the first "Respect the Game" technical foul of the season. Martin was whistled for a personal foul after hitting Kobe Bryant from behind on a jumper that Bryant ended up banking in anyway, and gave an "air punch" as a reaction that the referees promised would be an automatic during the preseason.
THIRD QUARTER: Rockets 82, Lakers 77
After a largely lackluster period from both squads, one of the Lakers' newest additions gave his team a spark to make it a game heeding into the fourth. Steve Blake went on a personal 6-0 run to end the third, connecting on a couple of corner 3-pointers to cut an 11-point Houston lead to just five.
FOURTH QUARTER: Lakers 112, Rockets 110
Blake's two threes to end the third were the beginning of a 28-9 Lakers run that put the champs up eight, one that was capped by a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers from Shannon Brown.
The Rockets battled back, though, and took a 110-109 lead with under 30 seconds to play after a layup from Luis Scola that he scooped up and in around the outstretched arms of Pau Gasol.
But Blake once again came through, and drained a long 3-pointer -- his third of the night -- to put the Lakers up for good.
Houston had two final chances at tying it in the final seconds, but Scola missed a contested layup inside, and after instant replay gave the ball back to the Rockets on an overturned out-of-bounds call, Brooks couldn't finish on a drive to the rim.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE
The scoreboard that hangs over center court at Staples Center was replaced since last season, and while it might not be anything near the size of the one that spans more than half the length of the field at Cowboys Stadium, make no mistake -- it's huge by NBA arena standards. For someone like me who's been coming here for the past 11 seasons since the arena opened in 1999, it was more than a little disorienting, and definitely took some time to get used to.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE PART 2
Overall, both teams did a good job controlling their emotions with the officials, and only Houston's Kevin Martin received a "Respect the Game" technical foul. But after taking a hard hit on a shot from Budinger on a shot attempt in the second, Kobe Bryant gave a glare to the official that was "respectful" enough to get him a late whistle in his favor.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE PART 3
Fans rose to their feet with 9:30 to play, looking to explode for the first time all night. But as the Lakers came down trailing by two with the chance to tie, Lamar Odom missed a 20-footer from straight away and Matt Barnes missed a put-back attempt before grabbing his own rebound and being fouled on a second try, temporarily denying the fans their chance to cheer.
Barnes tied it anyway after the timeout at 86-all by connecting on both free throws, and after a stop, a Shannon Brown layup in transition gave the Lakers the lead, and gave the fans their first opportunity of the game to truly celebrate. Brown continued to inspire the crowd, connecting on three 3-pointers that extended the Lakers lead to eight with five and a half minutes to play.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE PART 4
The Rockets swore that Yao Ming was going to have a hard cap of 24 minutes a game, easing him back into the regular- season grind after missing so much time due to injury. But With his team trailing by 1 with 6:30 to play, Yao was approaching his limit, and was still out on the court. Press row was buzzing about it, looking down at the Rockets bench to see if there was any activity to send another player to the scorer's table to report as a sub.
But Yao took the decision of whether or not to extend his minutes out of his team's hands, picking up his sixth foul just as he crossed the 24-minute plateau.