Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error LOS ANGELES >> And that’s why you hire Luke Walton.The Lakers were facing another season of rampant losing, this time without Kobe Bryant. At last, their obsessive fan base had a reason to take up bowling on game nights.Then Walton showed up with a way of playing that should come equipped with a tree of lights and a Funny Car. If the season opener against Houston means anything, it means that the 2016-17 Lakers will be taking a 200 mph joyride. Even if it crumples up against the guardrail every now and then, it will be a trip.The first quarter Wednesday night ended 38-38. The first time the Lakers played Houston last year, they scored 45 points … in the first half. “Hey, Nick, this is the first time I’ve won this first game since I’ve been with you,” he said.The Lakers won because they took up defense in the fourth quarter, holding the Rockets to 18 points on 6-for-21 shooting. Clarkson scored 12 points in the period, including the elongated 3-pointer that gave the Lakers a four-point edge with 1:48 left.Harden satisfied his fantasy followers with 34 points and 17 assists, but the Lakers got him in foul trouble, and he was 1-for-5 in the final period. Walton used a number of Lakers to guard Harden, including Metta World Peace for 2:27, just to pick up three fouls and get inside Harden’s head.“Those weren’t fouls when he started playing in this league,” Walton said. “But when he was out there picking up Harden full-court, that set the tone for us. I thought our effort defensively in the second half was much better, and our small lineup was really good.”“We were able to do a lot of switching and communicating,” Clarkson said. “And the pace we played at was fun for everybody. We were out there playing and smiling. The coach has brought in a different vibe.”Walton is only one of the factors that have unleashed the Lakers. There is no Bryant to accommodate, and no Roy Hibbert for the Lakers to tow around. Walton had said that nothing would really bother him this year as long as the Lakers retained their passion. That shouldn’t be hard for a team this young and this liberated.Brandon Ingram, the second overall pick in the draft, said hello in solid fashion. He hit 3 of 4 shots in the first half, including a 3-pointer, but Walton had to like the way Ingram handled his first defensive possession, which matched him up against (gulp) Harden. But Ingram stood his ground and followed Harden to the corner, and Harden had to force a 3-pointer over Ingram’s endless reach.Sure, Ingram looks more like a flagpole than usual when he stands next to NBA muscle, but he played quite comfortably.“I like to have him bring it upcourt,” Walton said of the 6-foot-9 rookie. “Even if he’s not scoring, he’s making passes, he’s engaged into the game. I think he’s been great.”And Clarkson, Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. gave Walton the viable bench he envisioned. It outscored Houston’s subs 55-26.On Tuesday, Nance was talking about the final game last season, when Bryant’s epicurean 50 shots added up to 60 points and a win over Utah — which was abetted by lots of rebounding and defense from rookies and second-year men who had been ground down by 65 losses.Nance said he wouldn’t forget that night, that it showed “what we could do if we came together for a cause.”He also talked about what he missed and didn’t miss with Bryant gone.“You miss his presence, his competitiveness,” he said. “But now a lot of us can show what we can do.”Maybe the Lakers aren’t back, but the show is. On Wednesday, both L.A. and Houston shot 60 percent in the first half.No one is advocating the Lakers continue to scatter like pigeons when the other team drives. Houston scored 42 first-half points in the lane. But there was no backdown in the way D’Angelo Russell continued to take shots, the way Julius Randle continued to run and finish, the way center Timofey Mozgov, this offseason’s walking symbol for inflation, competed underneath.Oh, and the Lakers also won, 120-114, braving the best of James Harden and getting a massive fourth quarter from Jordan Clarkson, who wound up with 25 points.“We had to get that losing stink off us,” Clarkson said, “from the last couple of years.”He looked up at Nick Young, who was on his way out of the room.