The Western Conference semifinal that was over when the opening tip went up for Game 1, that was over when
Sunday in downtown Los Angeles will set the field for the West finals, either Nuggets-Lakers starting at Staples Center or Nuggets-Rockets starting in Denver, as work begins on rebuilding Staples. Here's what it won't determine: that the hearty Rockets have accomplished something special just getting this far and that the meandering Lakers aren't close to playing with a champion's focus.
He's on the hook for this as much as
Now, nothing. Big leads against the Jazz in the first round that turned into unnecessarily close games. An embarrassing showing in Game 4 in Houston. A terrible start to Game 6 with the chance to eliminate the shorthanded Rockets. The Lakers are on the brink because they are not playing with urgency.
For all the reasons to go Lakers-bashing, Houston has also pushed them to this ledge. A big trade in the offseason (Artest), a big trade during the season (
Trading Alston to the Magic cleared a path for Brooks, the second-year point guard. He started just 35 times in the regular season. But he's been in the opening lineup every game of the playoffs and against the Lakers is at 18.8 points and 48.1 percent from the field. Having a negative assist-to-turnover ratio is the strange part -- 2.5-2.83 -- but L.A. defenders can't stay in front of Brooks. If that there's still no speed bump Sunday to slow him down, the Rockets will have an energy injection and the Lakers will have to handle the frustration.
Houston has won two of three since its star center went out, so the cries about the Rockets being better without him should start anytime and triple if they're jetting to Denver. Funny stuff. A starting lineup no bigger than 6-foot-9 is a gimmick existence and no way to live a long life. They're better with him, no matter what happens.
Which leads us to the Showdown. The Lakers vs. Rockets, Lakers vs. themselves. Because it's not over.