Lamar Odom will attempt to play tonight
To say this was a wake-up call, a cliched phrase in the first place, wouldn’t do it justice.
It was a bolt from the basketball blue, a shock to the Houston Rockets’ defense-first structure, a night when the Lakers perked up -- finally, some would say -- and throttled the Rockets, 118-78, Tuesday at Staples Center.
The Lakers didn’t beat the Rockets as much as they demolished them, taking a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals two days after the Rockets humiliated them.
Game 6 is Thursday in Houston.
That the Lakers needed a jolt in the first place had been duly noted, publicly and privately, making them a cranky bunch heading into Game 5.
They delivered though, in many ways, taking a 64-39 halftime lead, extending it to 94-54 through three quarters and turning it into the Lakers’ largest playoff victory since a 47-point laugher over San Antonio in 1986.
Kobe Bryant had 26 points, Pau Gasol had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Andrew Bynum scored a playoff career-high 14 points after getting the start at center.
Lamar Odom, who suffered a bruised lower back in Game 4, came off the bench and had 10 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes.
After a resounding Game 4 victory without Yao Ming, the Rockets were no-shows Tuesday night. Ron Artest had nine points. Shane Battier had five points after puncturing the Lakers with 23 in Game 4. Aaron Brooks had 14 points but made only four of 11 shots.
The Rockets’ three-point shooting, so much a part of their stunning Game 4 victory, was way off the mark -- five for 29 (17.2%).
If the Lakers’ offense had a 1980s “Showtime” feel to it, so did the crowd, which unveiled the wave at a Lakers game for the first time in seemingly forever. It was the fourth quarter, with the Lakers ahead by more than 30 points, so the giddiness wasn’t totally unexpected.
A few minutes later, fans even started a surprisingly loud “We want Mbenga” chant. They got their wish when reserve center DJ Mbenga entered with 5:42 to play. The night was complete, for all intents and purposes.
“We don’t like to lose. Nobody in here likes to lose,” said forward Trevor Ariza, who had 13 points. “We played the way we know we can play.”
The evening ended a lot better than it started for the Lakers.
A little more than an hour before tipoff, Coach Phil Jackson still didn’t know if Odom was going to play.
“He was walking gingerly, and the back is an area that you really can’t protect,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to expose it all the time in box-outs and when you’re on the offensive end in a post-up situation.”
Odom, and Jackson, took a calculated chance. Bynum started but Odom entered with 4:22 left in the first quarter and made a three-pointer from the right corner a few minutes later. He made two of three shots and five of six free throws in his limited playing time.
Bynum was also effective, making five of six shots and breaking free of a slump that started in the playoffs.
Bryant was the opposite of exuberant after the game, speaking in a low monotone as he said the Rockets must be feared Thursday in Game 6 because they’re “not some chump team.”
He did give a decent review of Bynum’s game, however, saying the 21-year-old center looked “energized.”
“I was very happy,” Bryant said. “He was playing with the skills I like to see from Andrew.”
There were signs of a possible revival as early as the Tuesday morning shoot-around.
“I’d say they’re pretty determined,” Jackson said at the time. “They’re talking a real good game. Now it’s the action that counts.”
There was plenty of that.
Bynum scored the Lakers’ first six points and Jordan Farmar’s off-balance, 30-foot three-pointer provided a 35-24 lead after the first quarter.
Sasha Vujacic’s fastbreak dunk after a length-of-the-court pass from Gasol gave the Lakers a 43-24 lead with 10:14 left in the second quarter.
If it wasn’t obvious at that time, it soon became apparent. The Lakers are one victory away from returning to the Western Conference finals.