The Rockets' red glare has officially been reduced to nothing more than a passing glance, a fact all but decided two days and two time zones earlier but finalized Tuesday night.
Having already clinched the season series with a victory Sunday at the Forum, the Lakers came to Texas to finish the job: to beat the Houston Rockets four times for the first time since 1987-88 and sweep them for the first time since 1982-83, both of which were accomplished with a 106-96 victory before 16,611 at the Summit.
Houston played without Hakeem Olajuwon and Vernon Maxwell, both of whom were sidelined with what was diagnosed as iron deficiency anemia earlier in the day, but there is no evidence to suggest their presence would have made a difference. The starting center and former starting shooting guard played in each of the previous three meetings and the Lakers won those by 18, 11 and three points.
Come the finale, the Lakers weren't able to flood Houston with big men, not with Sam Bowie home nursing a sore right knee and Vlade Divac in foul trouble after getting his fourth with 7:22 left in the third quarter. So they pecked away, getting the same job done methodically.
Elden Campbell had 17 points and 13 rebounds, the latter tying a season high.
Anthony (Pig) Miller added 12 points and 13 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench, his fourth double-double in the last 14 games after going without any the first 53.
Divac had eight rebounds along with 10 points and eight assists in 34 minutes, a poor showing by his recent standards but still part of the assault as the Lakers won the battle of the boards, 52-35.
Said Coach Del Harris: "In the end, too many bodies, too much strength, too much power. Just too much."
And, when it mattered most, too much outside shooting.
That was in the fourth quarter. The Rockets had gone from 13 points down in the second period to one up in the third to nine down in the fourth. A three-point basket with 2:52 remaining by Olajuwon's replacement, Pete Chilcutt, cut it to six and prompted a Laker timeout.
The answer, after failed possessions by both teams, came in kind: a three-point basket by a wide-open Cedric Ceballos with 1:54 to go.
Then it came again: a three-point basket by Nick Van Exel on the next trip, with 1:22 left.
Suddenly, the Lakers were up 12, 101-89, never to be challenged again.
"Our team is a really good fourth-quarter team," Harris said. "We've been outstanding all year in the fourth quarter, and they continue to amaze me in that regard.
"It's a good feeling. I want them to believe in that and accept that, that we are a good fourth-quarter team. I thought the last six minutes we were just outstanding."
Added Rocket Robert Horry: "You can't take anything away from the Lakers. They have beaten us all season. They came out and played their game and won. They hit some key outside shots, and that killed us."
That remains to be seen. For now, the Lakers lead the Rockets by 2 1/2 games with 14 left for fifth place in the Western Conference and also own the tiebreaker, should it be necessary.
Olajuwon and Maxwell being diagnosed with an iron deficiency at the same time, while rare, apparently is purely coincidental. Olajuwon--second in the league in scoring and blocked shots--reported feeling fatigued after Sunday's game at the Forum and underwent a series of exams the next day after returning home. Results of the blood test came back Tuesday showing the anemia and hypothyroidism, neither of which is believed too serious.
Maxwell had been complaining of the same fatigue-like symptoms, so he was sent to the doctor when Olajuwon's ailment was diagnosed. The Rockets say Maxwell's case is "slightly worse," but are saying only that he will take additional tests today.
Both players will sit out at least Thursday's game against the Clippers at the Sports Arena and then be re-evaluated Friday.
A Portland Trail Blazers' fan who was punched by Houston's Vernon Maxwell during a game last month filed a $4.5-million lawsuit against Maxwell and the Rockets. The lawsuit filed by Steve George seeks $1.4 million from Maxwell for his actions at the Feb. 7 game and the allegedly slanderous comments he made afterward. Another $3.1 million is sought from the Rockets for failing to control the player. . . . The Lakers shot 48.2% despite a combined eight-for-27 effort by starting guards Nick Van Exel (four for 11) and Anthony Peeler (four for 16).