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Jackson Becomes Third Corner of Missing Triangle

Lakers: Coach ejected in 97-81 loss to Rockets, joining O'Neal and Bryant out of the picture on a cold-shooting night.


It was a triangle, but of a distinctly Bermuda variety:

All the marquee Lakers were lost along the way, and what remained in the Lakers' dismal 97-81 loss to the previously winless Houston Rockets on Friday night at Staples Center was an empty ship floating nowhere.

Kobe Bryant, missing . . . Shaquille O'Neal, missing . . . Coach Phil Jackson, sent packing . . .

And Glen Rice, trying to make up the big void basically on his own, kept missing, and missing, and missing . . .

"I know, to start with, I shot the ball terrible," said Rice, who made only two of his 12 shots and scored 11 points, which, in a very telling statistic, was the Laker team high for the night.

"They were the same shots [as usual]. They just didn't go in. Let's just hope that doesn't happen too many times this year."

Was the lack of Shaq that obvious?

"The only thing I was feeling was a lack of my shot," Rice said. "They just didn't go in tonight."

Bryant, of course, has been hurt since mid-October and is not due back until late November.

O'Neal was serving his one-game suspension for brawling with Houston's Charles Barkley (also suspended) in Wednesday night's game, and, studying Friday's game, you could definitely say that O'Neal is much, much more valuable to his team than Barkley is to his.

The Laker coach was a later casualty, drawing back-to-back technical fouls from referee Bennett Salvatore with 5:17 left in the third quarter and the game already pretty far gone.

"Well, I wasn't going to stay around and watch that kind of a ballgame," said Jackson, who was ripping Salvatore after another referee finally called an illegal defense on the Rockets.

"And I think some of the fans understand why, because I think they probably left the same time I did. It was a rabbit-eared official, but I deserved to be run, that's for sure."

Said Rice of the Jackson ejection: "When something like that happens, you know things are going pretty bad. He probably wanted to fire us up, but it didn't work, I guess."

So, the best Lakers were not available, and the Rockets beat what was left over, getting their first victory in six tries before a crowd of 18,359.

From the beginning, with O'Neal not even allowed in the arena for the game, you could say the percentages were not running in the Lakers' favor.

As in: 30% field-goal shooting in the first quarter, 34.1% in the first half, and 33.7% in the game as a whole.

Add in 17 turnovers, the fact that only Tyronn Lue among the 11 Laker players shot 50% or better, and the result was pretty understandable.

Houston was led by Steve Francis' 22 points and got 16 from Carlos Rogers and 12 apiece by Hakeem Olajuwon and Bryce Drew.

The Lakers lost for only the second time, but O'Neal will be back for Sunday's game against Atlanta, Jackson too, and Bryant a few weeks after that.

But Jackson was concerned only about the lack of fire he saw out of his team Friday.

"We just were stuck in mud out there tonight," Jackson said. "Our key was to keep that game close enough to win it at the end, but we just didn't find the energy to keep the game close enough. . . .

"We just didn't get a good shot. We didn't find good shots for Glen, he didn't have any rhythm. If Glen's not going to get some points on the board then Rick Fox has got to come off the bench and give us some punch scoring and we didn't have anybody give us anything in the scoring end of the game."

Without O'Neal and Bryant, the Laker offense was predictably earthbound in the first half, particularly in a 16-point first quarter that was the Lakers' lowest-scoring period of the season.

At halftime, the Rockets led, 52-36, closing the half on a 12-2 run.

It was exactly what Jackson feared before the game.

"Gotta find someone that scores," Jackson said. "I think Glen's going to find his scoring. I don't think we have to focus on him to find him to score. . . .

"Some people are going to step up and do the job for us."

The Rockets, without Barkley, were not exactly burning bright, either, but they did have a 15-0 run. Then, in the second quarter, once Houston started running, helped by numerous Laker offensive miscues, things started looking even uglier for the Lakers.

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