The Los Angeles Lakers thought they could easily steamroll past the Yao Ming-less Houston Rockets. They’re wrong.
After 48 minutes of play, the Lakers found themselves locked in a tight battle for the first Western Conference Finals berth.
Pau Gasol (30 points) brought his A-game with Yao sitting on the Houston bench, but this time, LA’s star, Kobe Bryant only had a quiet 15 points, while Lamar Odom left the game with 16 points in the third period after landing hard on his back.
Okay, the West’s conference’s semis series is now leveled at two wins apiece after Game 4.
The big question LA really has to answer now is—“When are they going to play with a sense of urgency?”
With the series reduced to a best-of-three, the Lakers have to realize there’s no more room to for complacency. They can’t even afford to think that just because Yao’s out for good in the playoffs, they could start looking ahead against Denver (Nuggets are up, 3-0 against Dallas) in the West’s Finals.
Funny thing here is that Houston played Game 4 without Tracy McGrady and Yao—the Rockets’ cornerstone on offense. And the Lakers got blown into bits and pieces, where they went down by as many as 29 points. The final score was 99-87, but what happened in the middle of the game was the real story.
Andrew Bynum certainly has to wake up from his playoff slumber.
Maybe, LA’s coach Phil Jackson will have to give him extended minutes, now that Odom is a doubtful starter for the Lakers in Game 5.
Obviously, Bynum’s size (he’s seven feet) would help the Lakers dominate the middle especially now that Yao’s 7’6” stratospheric presence won’t be around anymore.
LA’s much-ballyhooed “Bench Mob” like Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Shanon Brown, Josh Powell and Jordan Farmar will have to sustain the intensity of the first unit for the Lakers to create a momentum.
For Houston, Aaron Brooks will simply have to keep dishing those assists and attack the middle, should he find the Lakers’ interior defense soft.
Shane Battier gave a good account of himself in Game 4, shooting 4-of-5 from beyond the arc to finish with 23 points. Luis Scola added 11 and 13 boards in a strong display of inside presence.
Without Yao, the Rockets have to play with resilience, similar to the Game 4 effort they showed. That’s the only way to beat the more talented but undisciplined Lakers team.