Reporting from Houston — The Houston Rockets played without starting guards Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry, but the Lakers were also short-handed.
They played without common sense.
Andrew Bynum picked up an ill-timed ejection late in the third quarter and the Lakers disintegrated with stunning speed in the final minutes of a 107-104 loss Tuesday to the Rockets at Toyota Center.
What started off so well for the Lakers — 40 points in the first quarter — ended in a hail of red streamers, messy defense and a hole down low where Bynum had played so capably.
He was ejected with 1:10 left in the third quarter while awaiting a free-throw attempt by Marcus Camby, picking up his second technical foul for expressing dissatisfaction with the refereeing.
He kept smiling as he high-fived teammates on the bench and a handful of fans in courtside seats before walking slowly across the court to the locker room. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
"I'll answer all questions tomorrow," he said to reporters as he towed a roller bag to the team bus, looking straight ahead.
Bynum picked up his first technical foul while complaining after a non-call with 7:34 left in the first quarter.
The Lakers actually went on a run without him, even taking a 97-88 lead on Pau Gasol's jump shot with 5:01 to play. Then the Rockets went on a 12-0 run and never trailed again.
"I was irritated. We need [Bynum] on the floor," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "Nobody can put themselves in jeopardy to get themselves removed from the ballgame."
As for Bynum's exaggerated manner in leaving the court …
"The league will take care of that," Brown said. "If he wants to do that, that's on him. I have no problem with it."
Kobe Bryant didn't seem overly disappointed.
"One of his big strengths is the chip on the shoulder that he plays with, so you can't expect him to have that one night and then knock him for it the next," Bryant said. "I like the chip that he plays with."
Bryant had 29 points but missed 17 of 27 shots, including a three-point attempt with 16.9 seconds left that would have tied the score at 104-104. He chuckled when asked about the Rockets' defense.
"I'm going to stop taking shots when the shot clock goes down," Bryant said. "You all look at that stuff and look at what I shoot from the field and think that's great defense. I'm going to stop shooting the ball when the shot clock's low."
It was an awkward game for another reason. It was Gasol's first visit to the place that had apparently traded for him a few months ago as part of the Chris Paul trade blocked by the NBA.
"It was obviously a situation that I guess I was not prepared or ready to get traded," Gasol said. "But now that's behind at least for a few months and I'm trying my best to focus on our team to reach our goals, which is to try to fight for another championship.
"It's good to know that there are teams out there that are willing to have me as a main guy."
Bryant tied the score at 101-101 with a 22-footer, but Goran Dragic answered with a three-pointer with 28 seconds left.
Luis Scola and Courtney Lee each had 23 points for Houston. Dragic had 16 points and 13 assists as the Rockets played without Lowry (bacterial infection) and Martin (sore right shoulder).