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NBA PLAYOFFS

ON THE NBA

Forget the fact the Lakers have home-court advantage in Game 7, this one was strictly pass-fail.

If they couldn’t put away what remained of the Houston Rockets in Game 6 before 18,501 frenzied fans in red “Beat L.A.” T-shirts in the Toyota Center, or 18,501 Texas National Guard troops in full combat gear, the Lakers weren’t the great-going-on-awesome team people thought they were when the playoffs started.

This just in . . .

Oops!

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I guess we can put Thursday night’s 95-80 loss to the Rockets in the failure column. The best thing you could say for the Lakers, it wasn’t an outright embarrassment -- oh, I forgot, neither was Game 4 -- but it was the next thing to it.

Remember those heady 70-win days?

The Lakers aren’t vaguely that team any more. Now they’re not awesome, or favorites to win the title, or assured of coming out of the West, or even getting into the West finals, for that matter.

The best Coach Phil Jackson, still looking for silver linings on this tornado that just popped up on the horizon, could come up with was, “I’m looking forward to Sunday’s game.”

Why, asked someone -- and not our T.J. Simers (actually, it was the Los Angeles Daily News’ Elliott Almond.)

“It’s the next one on,” said Jackson. “Why not.”

Phil Jackson to the end, he did note that their play on the road “concerns me but what are we going to do about it now? We can’t stew on it.”

If people are beginning to question everything about the Lakers, from their hearts to their heads, their reputation preceded them into Houston one last time.

The local mood was all about saying farewell to their gallant, if obviously overmatched Rockets.

In a bad sign, the Houston Chronicle ran a front page story on 12-year-old Angel Garza, who was sent home from Hamilton Middle School for carving the Rockets logo into his hair, a la Ron Artest.

Let that be a lesson to you, kids. Don’t do anything like Ron Artest.

“Pulse getting faint for Crutch City Rockets,” went the headline over a column by the Chronicle’s Jerome Solomon, who wrote in closing:

“Sadly, unless this is a movie -- fitting against Hollywood’s team -- Crutch City gets buried today.”

Welcome to show business!

The start was the now-traditional one with the Rockets inspired and the Lakers unable to play a lick of defense, which is why things have gotten so far out of hand so often recently.

Who cared if the Rockers didn’t have Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady. By the time Luis Scola was done wheeling and dealing -- he had 14 points in the first quarter, and outscored Pau Gasol 24-14, overall -- it looked like they had discovered the Argentine Yao Ming. Or Wilt Chamberlain.

Everything went down the drain. If there’s no question the best Lakers lineup has Andrew Bynum at center, Bynum has to play well to make it happen.

Thursday he played hard, taking seven rebounds in 19 minutes, but missed all three of his shots and didn’t score.

Remember how the Lakers were going to measure themselves over the season, to be at their best in the postseason?

Bryant, asked about that afterward, grinned.

“You know what, you’ve got to just grind these things out, man,” he said. “We could be playing much better on a more consistent basis.

“The key now is to win, by any means necessary.”

Of course, before they get ready for the next series, they had better get ready for this one, as they did only intermittently.

Meanwhile, if someone who gives his name as Vic the Brick calls 911, tell him not to worry, Phil and Kobe say everything’s fine.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com


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