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    Rockets sustain surge, win West semis opener against lethargic Lakers

    Sep 5, 2020
    PHOTO: AP

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — The Los Angeles Lakers are playing from behind again in these NBA playoffs.

    James Harden scored 36 points and the Houston Rockets ran away from the Lakers, 112-97, on Friday night (Saturday, Manila time), the second straight round the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference lost its opener.

    Russell Westbrook added 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Eric Gordon had 23 points for the Rockets, the No. 4 seed who had just one day of rest after needing seven games to win their first-round series.

    They sure didn't look tired, flying around the court all night to make up for the size disadvantage they face with their small-ball style. They forced 17 turnovers that led to 27 turnovers and played the much bigger Lakers even on the backboards.

    The Lakers never led after the first quarter and the Rockets blew it open by starting the fourth with a 16-3 run, turning a six-point advantage into a 101-82 cushion on Harden's basket with 7:15 to play.

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    Anthony Davis had 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers. LeBron James had 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

    Game Two is on Sunday.

    The Rockets committed to playing small in February, believing they weren't built to compete with the best of the West playing conventionally. They debuted their style with a victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles and proved again why it they think it can work.

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    They were constantly on the move defensively, deflecting passes and corralling loose balls

    It's the kind of plays they have to make while staring a lineup that has nobody taller than 6-foot-8 Robert Covington. They opened the game with 6-3 Gordon guarding the James and Harden defending 7-footer JaVale McGee.

    The Lakers playing for only the second time in 11 days. They beat Portland in Game 4 of their series on Aug. 24, but then didn't play again until five nights later after the playoffs were delayed as players and the NBA committed to finishing the season following the Milwaukee Bucks' decision not to play a game as a statement against racial injustice.

    They didn't appear to have any rust at the start, breaking to a 7-0 lead. But the rest of the first quarter was tight from there, Houston leading 29-28 after Rajon Rondo's final shot came after the buzzer. The Lakers never led again.

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    The Lakers are one of sports' marquee franchises, their 16 championships one behind Boston for most in NBA history. But they are in the second round for the first time since 2012, a month before James won his first NBA title and Davis was drafted with the No. 1 pick.

    And it was a rocky start to it, just as it was when the Blazers beat them in Game 1 of the last round.

    Gordon scored Houston's first nine points of the fourth quarter before Westbrook's 3-pointer extended the lead to 97-82 with 9:07 remaining. Gordon then scored again before Harden's basket while Davis was trying to draw a charge ended the run.

    Harden made a 3-pointer for the last basket of the half and a 63-55 lead, giving him 25 points in the half.

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    TIP-INS

    Rockets: Houston played the final game of the first round, edging Oklahoma City 104-102 on Wednesday. ... Austin Rivers scored 10 points off the bench.

    Lakers: Assistant coach Jason Kidd missed the game because of what coach Frank Vogel said were severe back spasms. They are already without assistant Lionel Hollins, who didn't join them in Disney for the restart and has been working remotely. ... The Lakers kept their regular starting lineup, keeping JaVale McGee as the center.

    RONDO RETURNS

    Rondo got his first action in the bubble when he checked in for the Lakers in the first quarter. He scored eighth points. Rondo missed all eight seeding games while recovering from right thumb surgery, then was bothered by back spasms when he was set to play during the first round.

    POSTSEASON PAST

    This is the ninth postseason meeting between the teams, with the Lakers leading 5-3. They went on to win the championship after the last one, a 4-3 victory in the 2009 Western Conference semifinals.

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