Friday , Apr , 23 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Lakers try put Rockets in deeper hole

Houston, TX (Sports Network) – The Houston Rockets are a desperate
basketball team and need a win tonight to avoid falling into a 3-0 hole
against the Los Angeles Lakers, as the teams continue their best-of-seven
Western Conference quarterfinal set at the Toyota Center.

The second-seeded Lakers edged out the No. 7 Rockets, 72-71, in Game 1 when
All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal scored the go-ahead basket on a two-handed
dunk with 16.4 seconds remaining in the contest. Game 2 was a different story,
as the Lakers used a strong second half to oust Houston, 98-84. The first two
games of the series were played at the Staples Center.

LA’s All-Star guard Kobe Bryant led the Lakers in scoring (24 ppg) in the
first two games, while O’Neal averaged 21.5 points and a team-high 11.5
rebounds. Point guard Gary Payton has also been solid, averaging 14.6 points,
4.2 boards and 5.5 assists.

The Rockets’ All-Stars Yao Ming and Steve Francis, both of whom are playing in
their first postseason action, have been Houston’s best players. Yao has
averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, while Francis leads the team in scoring
(18 ppg), rebounds (9.5 rpg) and assists (8.5 apg). Swingman Jim Jackson has
played well, as he has scored 15 points per game to go along with 8.5
rebounds.

The Lakers are 4-2 in their last six Game 3s in the postseason, while the
Rockets, who are appearing in the playoffs for the first time since 1999, have
won five straight Game 3s.

Houston, which was 27-14 at home during the regular season, is 5-5 in its last
10 playoff games as the host. The last time the Rockets hosted a playoff game
was on May 15, 1999 against the Lakers when the team played at the Compaq
Center.

LA has lost three straight and four of its last five playoff games on the
road. The Lakers finished the regular season with a respectable 22-19 record
as the visitor.

The Rockets have comeback twice to win a best-of-seven series after dropping
the first two contests. In 1994 and 1995, Houston beat the Suns in seven games
in the Western Conference semifinals after losing Games 1 and 2.

The last time Houston won a playoff series was in 1997, when it ousted the
Seattle SuperSonics in seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals. The
Rockets would go on to lose to the Utah Jazz, 4-2, in the conference finals.

This is the seventh time that the teams have met in the playoffs. The squads
are battling for the sixth time in the first round, as the Lakers eliminated
the Rockets in three of the previous five first-round meetings.

The Lakers and Rockets have met only once before in a best-of-seven series, as
Houston dismissed LA in five games in 1986.

Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday at the Toyota Center.

HOU LAL