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Rockets 99, Lakers 87: No postgame Capri Suns for Kobe and Co.

May 11, 2009 | 10:31 am

Capri Sun Why? Because that tasty, aluminum-encased nectar, a liquid tribute to athletic competition, is reserved for players earning a slug of what's often upwards of 100% pure juice.  Capri Suns were a reward for going out and giving the proverbial "all," win or lose, not a crew of players who thoroughly disappoint.  Besides, the Capri Suns are always handed out by the team mom, and as I noted in my game summary, this one felt like a matriarchal slap in the face.  No mama worth a salt lick is gonna reward her child for bad behavior. 

 A scant fifteen seconds had elapsed during yesterday's 99-87 Game 4 wipe out before the Lakers had firmly established that a lack of collective sharpness had infiltrated the team.  A lazy pass gets tossed by Trevor Ariza and picked off by Ron Artest.  Chalk up an easy field goal for Bill Bill.  Undoubtedly a bad start, and it proved a bad omen of the future awaiting the Lakers. 

Ariza's gaffe was followed by a flurry of Laker turnovers, bad shots and execution gone out the window.  Typically a team that can score in its sleep, the Lakers instead opted for sleepwalking.  As a result, they not only struggled to make a dent in the scoreboard- 16 points ain't exactly an opening quarter windfall- but halfheartedly put the contest on a silver platter for Houston.  And a bow-wrapped presentation wasn't even necessary, since the Rockets were clearly dead set on playing their asses off in any event.

Out of sorts on the offensive end, the Lakers compounded this issue with their lockdown lapses.  Aaron Brooks benefited mightily from Derek Fisher's inability to stick him, plus the lack of rotations to offset that failure.  The littlest guy on the court walked away with the biggest tally, 34 points entered into the box score on 12-20 shooting.  Moreover, Shane Battier, best known for his ability to "face guard," chipped in another 23.  Like his water bug lead guard, Battier profited from what ESPN's J.A. Adande rightly described as non-existent resistance. 

      Before Game 4, the Houston coaches emphasized using penetration to set up outside shots instead of forcing shots or interior passes in the lane. It helped that Kobe Bryant strayed away from Battier (he usually leaves players he doesn't respect) and Battier happily fired up 10 3-pointers and made five of them. Those shots alone matched Bryant's 15 points, and after a rare victory in this head-to-head matchup, Battier said, "This box score may be framed in my house somewhere. He's going to come back with a vengeance in Game 5. There's no question.

Luis Scola takes a rebound from Lamar Odom And down the line, no Rocket was met with the proper resistance while attempting to score (or grab a board, as the already height-challenged Rockets managed to sub Chuck Hayes for Yao Ming and still win the rebound battle 43-37).  But while the Lakers may not have put the "D" in "defense," they still made sure the alphabet's fourth letter was properly represented. 

Scanning the web for reactions, the sentiment largely consisted of "disappointment," "disgust," or both.  It ain't often that Lakers Blog readers walk lockstep with Times columnists Bill Plaschke or T.J. Simers, but I doubt you people will take much exception with the former phoning in his column as "tribute" to the purple and gold, while the latter chides the Lakers for a reluctance to label the disaster an "embarrassment."

       No question everything will probably be back in order Tuesday night in Staples Center, but with two more series and two tougher opponents yet to be played, a stinker like this shouldn't be so easily dismissed.  Fisher would agree only that the Lakers got off to a slow start, and would not agree that it was an embarrassing performance.  So much for accountability, the correct answer being the Lakers barely went through the motions, but then Jackson's postgame comments maybe explaining the team's lack of zeal.

Ron Artest defends Pau Gasol     "We've done what we wanted to do in Houston, get home-court advantage back," Jackson said. "We accomplished what we came to Houston to do."

      The Lakers crush the Rockets in Game 3, Plaschke announces the series is over and then Houston learns it will be without Yao. How much flatter can a team be, dismissed by Plaschke and disarmed without Yao?  But then once again we are reminded about the Lakers' most glaring deficiency -- a lack of killer instinct, which not only makes them vulnerable, but frankly doesn't make them championship-worthy right now.

More from the locals:  Gregg Patton of the Press-Enterprise felt the Lakers were much too easily satisfied with a split on the road, and the O.C. Register's Jeff Miller sums up the loss as a case of being "out-everything'ed."

     So the Lakers came out Sunday…and displayed the heart of a sixth-seed.  They were outrebounded by a team with no center, a team that started 6-foot-6 Chuck Hayes in the middle.  They were outhustled by a team that knows – absolutely knows now without Yao Ming – it has no chance of winning anything of consequence this postseason.  They were outclassed by a team that features Ron Artest, a player whose behavior once helped initiate an in-game riot.

     Sadly, the Lakers were the Fakers again, a team still just posing as a wannabe champion.

LO fall Painful to watch, and for Lamar Odom, painful to live.  Dude took a very hard foul while driving the cup, then had to leave the game with the back spasms.  His availability for Game 5 remains in question.

As CBS Sports' Ken Berger notes, there are dangers that accompany providing life vests for a team treading dangerous waters but perfectly willing to swim furiously.   And while we're broaching the subject, kudos are in order to a Rockets squad making the spirited best of a bad situation.  Although if you ask the people who know them best, like Houston Chronicle scribe Richard Justice, such mettle is nothing short of the expectations for this crew.  Sentiments shared by a proud Dream Shake blog.

      Simply put, these Houston Rockets are the most resilient professional sports team I have ever seen.  They may not win the championship, they may not even win this series, but no team faces and responds to adversity better than this group.  Every time something negative happens, the team shrugs it off and just goes about winning basketball games. 

    Battier hurt?  No problem.  McGrady struggling?  Yup, we know how to handle that.  Artest messes up his ankle?  We got ya covered, Crazy Pills.  Rafer Alston gets traded?  Party time!  Carl Landry gets shot in the leg?  Make room for more Chuck Hayes.  Now they just move on without Yao.  Winning one for the Great Wall.

      This is a credit to Daryl Morey, Les Alexander and the entire Rockets' management.  Without their collective foresight, the team would not have had the resources to overcome the continuous string of obstacles placed before them.  And yet they do it without so much as a complaint or a "why me?" (for complaining to a higher power is *my* job!  And I do it well.)

Wish the same could be said about my favorite roundball squad, but I do agree with Kurt Helin's thoughts over at the ol' Forum Gold and Blue.  It ain't over for the Lakers.  It's just unnecessarily more complicated.  Yeah, they may win Game 5 as "expected," but it's probably about time to stop "expecting" any outcome.  Instead, just make it happen.