The Los Angeles Lakers have been thumped by the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of their semi-final Western Conference series.
Despite comfortably topping the conference, the Lakers have struggled to rediscover their mojo in the Orlando bubble, and comfortably lost to the fourth-seeded Rockets 112-97 on Saturday.
Superstar forward LeBron James scored 20 points before faltering in the fourth quarter — after missing four shots, he was relegated to the bench and sat out the waning minutes.
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The sad image of James sitting by himself away from his teammates circulated around social media following the embarrassing defeat.
NBA legend and former Lakers player Magic Johnson tweeted: “The Lakers had no energy, played slow, and were outplayed on both ends of the floor early in the game.
“The Lakers better realise quick the Houston Rockets are not the Portland Trailblazers!”
After the match, James conceded: “Offensively, we’ve got to clean up the turnovers.
“I don’t think we had many struggles defensively. We allowed James (Harden) to get to the free throw line way too much in the first half. More importantly we had 17 turnovers for 27 points. That’s all offence.”
Despite the forgettable performance — 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists — James did provide a match highlight in the second quarter. After receiving a pass from teammate Dwight Howard, the 35-year-old barged over Houston guard Russell Westbrook to complete a staggering dunk.
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Harden mustered 36 points for the Rockets, whose size disadvantage against the Lakers proved no handicap. Meanwhile, Westbrook added 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
“Our defence, that’s going to get us to where we want to go,” Harden said.
“This (Lakers) team is the best team in the West, if we can hold them under 100 points, defensively we’ve got something.”
Harden bounced back from a poor shooting night in the Rockets’ game-seven win over Oklahoma City on Thursday.
The Lakers hadn’t played since polishing off the Portland Trail Blazers six days earlier, but Houston still made them look sluggish.
Anthony Davis scored a team-high 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers.
“I think it’s the speed, they play with a lot of speed both offensively and defensively,” James said of the challenge posed by the Rockets.
“You can watch it on film, but until you get out there (you don’t) get a feel for it. And that’s what we did tonight. We got a feel for their speed, and we should be fully aware of that going into game two.”
Game 2 of the series will commence at 10:30am AEST on Monday.
— With AFP