Lakers’ task is not so tall


No one’s quite saying it around here, but in the words of Jerry Sloan, things look pretty bleak.

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is out the rest of the playoffs because of a hairline fracture in his left foot, and Ron Artest can’t stop getting tossed out of games, giving the Lakers one of the strongest 2-1 series leads the Western Conference semifinals has ever seen.

The good news for the Rockets, assuming there was any after Saturday’s medical-exam revelation and Friday’s 14-point home loss, was that Artest did not get suspended by the NBA and actually had his Game 3 shove of Pau Gasol knocked down a notch from a flagrant foul 2 to a flagrant foul 1.


The bad news for Houston today in Game 4 will be the absence of Yao, who is averaging 19.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in this series but looked slower and slower in Game 3, becoming Texas’ version of Greg Oden, painful gait and all.

Yao does not need surgery but will miss eight to 12 weeks while recovering, Rockets spokesman Nelson Luis said.

“It’s one of those things where they didn’t want to take any chances,” Luis said. “They’re thinking long-term with Yao.”

The Lakers, who were already beaten by overconfidence and the Rockets once this series, remained leery of Houston, Yao or no Yao.

“Without a doubt,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “This is a team that’s really survived a lot of adversity, and that’s what you have to admire about them, is that they’ve had difficult challenges all year and they’ve always come back.

“So we’ve got to be totally ready for how they’re going to come.”

Jackson spoke before Yao was officially declared out, but he appeared to already be warning a Lakers team that dropped to the level of several inferior teams throughout the season, the latest challenge now closing out this series with two more victories over the severely undermanned Rockets.


The Lakers expect to see a lot of Artest in the post, where he has been “killing us,” Jackson said, testifying on behalf of Artest’s 23.7-point, 4.3-assist average in the series.

The Rockets spoke bravely. They had no choice, saying they were prepared to play without Yao, who missed only five games this season, but sat out 27 last season and 34 games in 2006-07.

“We’ve played without him before and we’ve won without him before,” Houston Coach Rick Adelman said. “We’ve played well in this series when he’s been on the bench in foul trouble. Whoever’s there, we’ve got to be prepared to go out and play the way we’re capable of playing.”

While the Rockets were taking inventory of who wouldn’t play, a list that included Yao, Tracy McGrady and Dikembe Mutombo, the Lakers had no such issues.

Derek Fisher returns today after a one-game suspension for cracking Rockets forward Luis Scola, though he still isn’t ready to discuss it.

He declined to talk to reporters for a second consecutive day, an unusual action for one of the team’s most media-friendly players, though he did send out 17 pro-Lakers messages on Twitter during Game 3, so it wasn’t hard to guess what he would have said if he talked Saturday.


His Game 3 replacement, Jordan Farmar, played a solid game -- 12 points, seven assists, five rebounds -- but Jackson shooed away any thought of Fisher losing his starting spot despite some analysts’ observations that it might benefit the Lakers in this series.

“[Fisher’s] activity may not be as athletic as Jordan’s can be at times, but his strength, his ability to strip and get in there and wrestle with the big guys was sorely missed,” Jackson said.

The Lakers have an opportunity today with a full and healthy roster. The Rockets only wished they could say the same.


Odom showed ‘em

In his second game back in the starting lineup, Lamar Odom had 16 points and 13 rebounds in Game 3. He made seven of 11 shots, including both three-point attempts.

“I got open looks and was able to get involved in everything early and stay close to the basket,” he said. “That’s what I expect of myself.”

Gasol, on the other hand, had only 13 points on four-for-11 shooting and six rebounds.

“He’s such a great player and so versatile, sometimes I don’t think he knows how good he is,” Kobe Bryant said. “He tends to forget sometimes, so you’ve got to remind him what a great player he is. He’s been that one-two punch that we haven’t had here since Shaq was here.”



Moving up

In Game 3, Bryant passed Larry Bird for sixth on the NBA career playoff scoring list, finishing the night with 3,926 playoff points.

Bryant is averaging 29.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and five assists a game in this season’s playoffs.



NBA Playoffs



Lakers lead series, 2-1

at the Toyota Center

12:30 p.m. PDT, Channel 7