Houston Chalk it up to growing pains.

Let’s not mince words. The Rockets 103-102 overtime loss to the Lakers hurt. A lot. On the precipice of a sparkling 4-1 record featuring wins against three Western Conference powers, Houston came up agonizingly short despite giving the defending champs all they could handle and then some.

It was a game the Rockets (3-2) could have won. Some will say they should have won. A bounce here, a break there and things might have been different. But that’s life in the NBA. It’s a make or miss league and oftentimes the difference between wining and losing can’t be seen without the aid of a high-powered microscope.

The atmosphere in the Rockets’ locker room after the game was understandably filled with disappointment and frustration. And you know what? That’s a good thing. Because this is not a team in need of moral victories. The Rockets have already proven they can hang with the big boys, so there was no satisfaction to be found in the word “almost.” The players and coaches wanted this win badly and knew it was there for the taking. It didn’t happen. So the next few steps are simple: Suffer. Learn. Grow.

That’s the sequence which lies at the very core of life and basketball is no exception. Take a look around: death and rebirth are everywhere, from the change of the seasons to the stripping away of muscle tissue so that it might return even stronger than it was before. The NBA regular season being what it is, it offers 82 such opportunities to experience little deaths, and subsequently, an abundance of chances to improve, resurrect oneself and come back better than ever. The teams that end up on top are the ones which take the time to master that process.

So the Rockets will regroup Thursday in order to learn from their mistakes and find out what they can do to improve going forward. They’ll divine a better way to deal with the double-teams and traps the opposition is sure to send their way after watching the Lakers successfully employ that strategy in an effort to limit Houston’s point guard penetration. And perhaps most importantly, they’ll be reminded of the fact that constant yet controlled aggression is the key to their long-term success.

“We were talking amongst the guys: we stopped attacking,” said Shane Battier. “We have to be an attacking team and we tried to just go in isolation mode and run the pick-and-roll. We’re at our best when we’re attacking the basket, taking threes and we got away from that. We have to do that every night, no matter who we’re playing.”

No doubt Wednesday night’s affair offered a harsh lesson in that regard. A little less stagnation could have proven to be the difference between endgame euphoria and bitter disappointment. But make no mistake, the Lakers are the champs for a reason and the fact that Houston held firm until the final buzzer should not be overlooked, nor should the sterling performances turned in from the likes of Chuck Hayes (14 points, 14 rebounds), Luis Scola (16 points, 13 rebounds) and Carl Landry (20 points, 8 rebounds).

But believe it or not, the best sign of all appeared amid the postgame gloom. For that’s when it became obvious that the Rockets derived no pleasure whatsoever from keeping it close. This was a team that didn’t just want to beat L.A. – it expected to.

“The rest of the basketball world is counting us out but we’ve never stopped believing that we could win games in this league,” said Battier. “Yeah, we’re young. Yeah, we have new pieces and, yeah, we’re the smallest team in NBA history. But we have competitors and we have fighters, and if we give the effort like we did tonight we’re going to win a lot of ball games. That’s the effort that we expect.”

In other words, sure, this one hurt. Growing pains always do. But once the pain subsides and the lessons are absorbed, these young Rockets will be back, better and emboldened by the experience. And given the promise and potential already on display Wednesday night, that’s an uplifting thought indeed.

Let the healing begin.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

Just disappointed for the players. They did everything they could to win that game and just didn’t get it done.

(on Aaron’s possessions down the stretch): We were trying to create something. They were doubling him and he’s got to get a little bit better at seeing that and not picking the ball up. A possession here and a possession there – we just couldn’t make a play when we needed to.

(Is this a measuring stick game?): It’s not a measuring stick, we’re five games into it. It measures us as far as if we play the way we’re capable of and if we compete then we have a chance to beat anybody.

I thought we had a great chance to win and thought maybe we should have won. But things happen and you have to move on, and you have to learn from what happened tonight and be a little bit better down the stretch the next time we play. We talked about this: they have one of the best finishers in the game and we’re trying to figure that out. I think our guys competed and they tried to do everything they could and just didn’t get it done. So you have to move on and try to get a win on Friday.

LUIS SCOLA

I thought we played a pretty good game we just couldn’t close it. It’s a tough loss. But if we play the way we did today and the way we’ve played the last few games, I think we’re going to be alright.

You have to close the games. Especially when the other team has a player like Kobe, he’s going to take over. It’s hard. We did every possible thing to stop him at the end but he’s just too good.

(on his 6 th foul): I want to see it on TV. I didn’t touch him. It was a good play on offense but I didn’t think it was a foul at all. It wasn’t a foul. But, hey, the refs only play a part of the game. We didn’t lose because of the refs. We lost because we couldn’t close the game in regular time and they just made the right plays at the end.

(on the offense bogging down late): It was a pretty good game for them, too. It’s not always easy. We’re not going to get away with whatever we want to do every game. There will be games when they stick to their gameplan and they want to try to take away whatever we do. The good thing about it is we continued to play good defense, we kept playing hard and at the end we were right there. But then, that’s just how basketball is: one play can make you win or lose. But we put ourselves in a close game with a situation to win, that’s a great thing right there.

TREVOR ARIZA

(on the last possession of the game): I looked up at the clock, saw there was four seconds left and tried to get a good look and the ball got stripped.

(On the 3 pointer to take them to OT) “I didn’t even think about it. I really didn’t. I just know I hit the 3 to tie the game and take it into overtime.”

SHANE BATTIER

(On the loss) ”It was a tough loss. Guys played their heart out. We gave them all they could handle. We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch in overtime.”

Kobe was Kobe tonight. He hit tough shots. I stayed with my plan, did the best I could and sometimes that’s not good enough and that’s why he’s the best player in the world right now.

We were trying to get Bynum to foul out and couldn’t do that successfully. We have to maintain our motion and our ball movement – that’s when we’re most efficient offensively.

“The difference in our three wins is that we really moved the ball from side to side. That shifts the defense and allows those driving alleys to open up. Tonight we didn’t move the ball as well from side to side. As a result, their length wasn’t forced to move so, when we did penetrate, the alleys just weren’t there. And they’re such a long, athletic team that you really have to move them around.”

CHUCK HAYES

(On dealing with the loss) “We played hard, as hard as any game you can play, and to come up short hurts. You’ve got to move on. It comes with this job and it comes with this league. You look at the effort that we put and try to duplicate that for the next few games.”

(On the Lakers) “It’s the Lakers. They are the defending champs. They’re going to play hard. We’re going to give our best effort and because of that, there are a lot of emotions.”

We can score. As you can see from these last three games, we can put the ball in the basket. We don’t have one guy who’s going to go for 30 or 40 except maybe every now and then, but everybody can put the ball in the basket when we play well together.

It was just as much their game as it was ours. It all just came down to possessions. The ball is the key point. If you get the ball, you give yourself a chance to win. On that play when Bynum got the offensive rebound, I just mistimed the rebound, it took a second bounce on the rim, I think somebody else deflected it and somehow it ended up in Bynum’s hands. Even after that, he got the offensive rebound and missed but his length took over, he got it back and that’s when he drew the foul.

Houston dropped a 103-102 decision to the Lakers in overtime, extending Los Angeles’ winning streak over the Rockets to five straight in the regular season. The loss also snapped Houston’s seven-game home winning streak (3/18/09-10/31/09) during the regular season.

The Rockets took the battle of the boards tonight by a 54-48 count over the Lakers, marking Houston’s first 50-rebound game of the season.

Houston had six players in double-figure scoring, including all five starters. The Rockets came into this contest off a night that saw eight players in double-digit scoring in a 113-96 win at Utah (11/2/09), which also included all five starters.

The Rockets gave up 22 points off 20 turnovers tonight. Houston had a 2008-09 season-high 23 turnovers vs. the Lakers (3/11/09) and also turned the ball over 20 times at Los Angeles (4/3/09).

Carl Landry led the Rockets with 20 points (9-12 FG) and eight rebounds off the bench. Landry now owns five 20-point games in his career, including a 21-point outing (8-12 FG) last season vs. the Lakers (1/13/09). He also remains perfect from the free throw line this season (15-15 FT).

Luis Scola finished with 16 points (7-15 FG) and 13 rebounds tonight, which marked his third double-double of the season.

Trevor Ariza recorded 15 points (5-21 FG), a season-best nine rebounds and five assists. Ariza also answered a 3-point field goal from Ron Artest with 30.0 seconds left in regulation with a trey of his own with 14.2 seconds left to help force overtime.

Chuck Hayes registered 14 points (7-9 FG), 14 rebounds and two steals tonight. He also posted 12 points (6-8 FG), nine boards and three steals at Utah (11/2/09). Hayes finished with his first consecutive double-digit scoring performances since 2006-07 (13 on 3/12/07 and a career-high 16 on 3/14/07). Overall, it marks his 30th career double-digit rebounding performances and his sixth career double-double.

Kobe Bryant registered 41 points (15-30 FG, 11-15 FT) and four steals tonight. Bryant now owns eight career 40-point outings against Houston, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most 40-point performances ever registered against the Rockets.

Andrew Bynum notched 17 points (6-14 FG), 17 rebounds, a team-high five assists and three blocks tonight. Bynum now has four double-doubles in five games this season.

Ron Artest returned to Houston with 15 points (6-14 FG) and six rebounds, which marked his third straight double-digit scoring night. He also had 20 points (6-8 FG) in an OT win last night at Oklahoma City.

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