LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Los Angeles Lakers are grumpy for letting a big chance get away from them in Texas.
Come Tuesday night, one of them is going to have a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.
The top-seeded Lakers no doubt figured that they would have a chance to close out the Rockets in Game 5 at Staples Center. But that was before the Rockets embarrassed Los Angeles 99-87 on Sunday, tying the series and picking up their pace a day after finding out that the 7-foot-6 Yao had a stress fracture in his left foot.
“Yeah, we had a great opportunity,” Los Angeles’ Kobe Bryant(notes) said. “I’ve been on teams who have made this dumb mistake before. It’s important for my guys to stay up and get ready to play and understand that come Tuesday we’re going to face a really hungry Rockets team that believes they can win this series.”
The series is guaranteed to go back to Houston for Game 6 on Thursday night.
“We could’ve had a huge advantage, put ourselves in a great position to finish the series off tomorrow, but we didn’t and we own up to it,” center Pau Gasol(notes) said. “That’s why we’re going to come out tomorrow and show what we’re made of.”
The Lakers could be without forward Lamar Odom(notes). He was listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s game after an MRI and CT scan showed he has a bruised lower back. He was hurt Sunday when he drove into the lane and collided with Shane Battier(notes), landing hard on the court.
The Rockets would love to be the ones going back to Houston with the series lead.
They were in a good mood after watching film following their arrival in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon.
“We have a free mentality,” said Battier, who outplayed Bryant in Sunday’s wipeout. “Every shot that everyone takes is a free shot. If it goes in, great. If not, we tried. We have nothing to lose. No one expected much out of us. We expect an effort out of us, but we’re going to take our shots, play hard and take our chances.”
The Rockets are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The Lakers are trying to get back to the NBA finals a year after losing to Boston in six games.
Bryant said the Lakers’ mood Monday was “grumpy, a little quiet,” but that they will just have to deal with the disappointment of the wire-to-wire rout, when the smaller Rockets’ lineup took advantage of Los Angeles’ defensive lapses.
“You can’t get it back. You’ve just got to move forward and get ready for the next one,” he said.
The Rockets stunned the Lakers—and most everyone else—by racing to a 29-16 lead in the first quarter. They never trailed and led by as many as 29 points before the Lakers at least made it look respectable toward the end.
“We didn’t understand the type of energy Houston was going to come with,” Bryant said. “We didn’t have that type of energy.”
It wasn’t a case of the Lakers taking the Rockets lightly without Yao, Bryant said.
“Naw, man they just kicked our (rear),” he said.
The Lakers say they need to have the kind of energy the Rockets had Sunday.
“If we want to be a championship team we have to go after it every single game,” Gasol said. “We can’t take for granted that because we’re better individually or maybe collectively that we can play 70, 80 percent. We have to play 100 percent from the get go.”
Gasol said the Lakers were “outhustled and outplayed and we could have won if we really wanted to.”
They didn’t, but the Rockets know what the Lakers are capable of.
The Lakers seemed to be in control of the series after Bryant scored 33 in a 108-94 victory on Friday night.
Outscoring Bryant 23-15 on Sunday is going to be a nice little memory for Battier.
“It’s not going to happen too often. So this box score may be framed in my house somewhere,” he said. “He’s going to come back with a vengeance in Game 5.”
“Maybe it’s a bowlegged thing, a knock-kneed, pigeon-toed thing, but boy, they can’t keep up with him,” said bulky 6-6 forward Chuck Hayes(notes), who started for Yao on Sunday. “He uses his speed to his advantage to get to the paint. For such a little guy, he finishes pretty well.”
AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.