Just for old times' sake, the Houston Rockets, or as they're known in Lakerdom, the Grinches who almost stole last season, won this season's first trip here.
Of course, there's a limit to how many times the Lakers can let down against the same team . . . even if the number was getting up there, and they had to fight the Rockets to the wire to win, 88-79, Tuesday night in a defensive struggle, or the NBA version of mud wrestling.
Gritty as the Rockets are, starting the night 20-14 without Yao Ming, they couldn't have hit the ocean from a boat in the first half when they shot 36%, and finished four for 23 on three-point attempts overall.
Not that the Lakers expect to dominate people with Pau Gasol out, and Kobe Bryant getting smacked across the broken finger on his shooting hand, and having to trot out his left-handed repertoire.
Of course, with Pau out, the over/under on Andrew Bynum's points went from 10 to 20. The over came in, with Bynum going for 24 -- his high since Nov. 22, which was, of course, before Gasol started the season.
The Rockets are one of this season's biggest surprises, although the Lakers got a preview in last spring's second round when the Rockets came back after Yao was hurt in Game 3 and forced a Game 7 here.
That was the Lakers nightmare in which the Rockets trailed, 2-1, when Yao left . . . after which the Lakers mailed in Game 4 and were routed . . . were thumped again in Game 6, before finally rolling over the Rockets in Game 7 . . . when Bryant, asked what he had learned about his team by someone looking for a quote about their heart and/or courage, answered "That we're bi-polar."
And Trevor Ariza acknowledged, "We were stubborn. We thought we could win on sheer talent."
Ariza is now with the Rockets, who have no confusion about what they can do with their sheer talent.
Of course, after learning Yao would miss this entire season, the Rockets wondered how long they could fool people.
It's January, and they arrived as the No. 7 team in the West.
"Yeah, I think we did [wonder]," Coach Rick Adelman said before the game, "because we didn't have that guy we could go to, night in and night out. . . .
"I've been through it enough to know 35 games doesn't make a season. So far we've done a nice job with the schedule and everything but you look at this league right now, you've got the Lakers way up there, and then you've got a lot of people bunched together. You could have a four-, five-game losing streak and suddenly just drop quickly."
Everything about the Rockets is a surprise. With only one player who's 6-9 in bare feet, rookie reserve David Andersen, they're among the league leaders in points in the paint and second-chance points.
They have no stars, but all tough guys, best exemplified by reserve forward Carl Landry, the best player you never hear of until he gets hurt.
Last season, he was shot in the leg in a harrowing late-night robbery attempt, hiding in bushes while his assailants searched for him . . . and missed only eight games.
Three weeks ago, he lost five teeth when his mouth ran into Dirk Nowitzki, two of them winding up embedded in Dirk's elbow.
Landry underwent six hours of dental surgery the next day . . . and was back two days after that, having missed only one game.
Picture a lot of guys as tough as Landry and you've got the Rockets.
"Pretty much nobody thought we'd be 20-14 at this time so we're doing a pretty good job," said Landry. "We even beat the Lakers and lost by one to them at home, and they've only lost [six] games."
The Lakers have still lost only six, but now lead the season series with the Rockets, 2-1.
That leaves one more game, more good news for the Lakers, who would just as soon see the Rockets go surprise someone else.