The Lakers' size appeared to be a strange advantage for the Rockets for much of Game 1 and Game 2. Houston was able to beat Los Angeles off the bounce, and more importantly, LeBron James and Anthony Davis found little room to operate inside. But the tide has completely turned through four games. The supersized Lakers are rolling past James Harden and Co., placing the Rockets on the brink of elimination after a 110-100 loss on Thursday night.
"We got down on ourselves a little bit," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said postgame. "We’ve been battling uphill the last three or four days. We’ll lay it out on the line [in Game 5] and go from there."
Houston hung tough through the first quarter in Game 4, but Los Angeles began to dominate the contest as it neared halftime. James Harden made just one field goal in the first 24 minutes. He finished the night 2-of-11 from the field, making just one of six threes. The Rockets ran circles around JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard in Game 1, isolating them onto the perimeter before speeding into the paint. Neither center was active in Game 3 and Game 4, yet the Lakers remain relatively massive. They're more slim than small at this point, maintaining flexibility with Davis surrounded by four capable perimeter defenders. The Rockets have been out of rhythm for much of the last eight quarters. Their season could end before they find an answer for the supersized Lakers.
There's a world in which the Rockets can still compete with the Lakers as their offense struggles. Houston frankly clamped Los Angeles' stars in Game 1, generating 15 turnovers as it flexed the NBA's No. 1 playoff defense. Houston flew around the floor with maniacal energy and effort in Game 1. It won the points-in-the-paint battle. A similar performance could have kept it close on Thursday, but there wasn't enough in the tank.
"[There was] a lack of spirit," D'Antoni said. "Just seems like we got down and lost our way a little bit."
Los Angeles cruised for much of Thursday night as the Rockets looked stuck in mud. The Lakers held a 17-0 transition edge through three quarters, and they punished Houston on the offensive glass. The size disparity wasn't necessarily an excuse for the Rockets. Effort was the issue. Series standout Rajon Rondo tallied a trio of offensive rebounds on Thursday, and Danny Green added three more. The lost 50-50 balls irked D'Antoni far more than Houston's struggles from three.
Houston now sits in a daunting 3–1 hole, with elimination looming on Saturday night. Danuel House's status is unclear, and even if the swingman returns, it'll be for naught if the Rockets deliver a repeat of their performance in Game 4. The Lakers' superstars are dominating the series. The Rockets' MVPs are struggling. Their stay in Orlando could be over sooner than later.