Lakers cruise over Rockets in Game 7
'Bipolar' team will face Nuggets
The "good" Los Angeles Lakers showed up Sunday, pounding the Houston Rockets 89-70 to advance to the Western Conference final for the second consecutive season.
Pau Gasol scored 21 points and added 18 rebounds to lead Los Angeles, who scored their first point 18 seconds into the game at Staples Center and never trailed after that.
Gasol helped Los Angeles dominate the boards, with the home team holding a 54-33 edge in rebounds.
"We all know what he can do offensively. I just felt like defensively, he had a superb game," teammate Kobe Bryant said of the Spaniard.
Bryant converted a layup and Trevor Ariza made a three-pointer as the Lakers took an 8-0 lead before Houston knew what hit them. After Aaron Brooks made a pair of free throws for Houston, Ariza hit another three in a Los Angeles run to stretch the lead to 17-6.
Houston misfired on its first 12 shots, and didn't get much better as Los Angeles led at halftime 51-31.
Bryant finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Ariza finished with 15 points while Andrew Bynum posted 14 points.
The Lakers will host Denver for Game 1 on Tuesday night for the conference final. Los Angeles took three of four in the regular-season series.
Los Angeles showed the extremes during their topsy-turvy series with the Rockets, with coach Phil Jackson likening them to Jekyll and Hyde. The Lakers lost the opener, won the next two and then alternated wins and losses.
After seeming to have a handle on the Rockets by drubbing them by 40 points in Game 5, they went on to suffer their second straight double-digit loss in Houston in the next game.
Asked what the Lakers learned from this series, Bryant replied: "That we're bipolar."
Aaron Brooks had 13 points to lead Houston in the final game, with Luis Scola adding 11 points and six rebounds.
Ron Artest, who finished with at least 21 points in the three previous games, was held to a series-low seven in the finale, adding eight rebounds and five assists.
"Obviously, the Lakers are more experienced than us, but I thought we were the better team," said Artest. "Individually, it's a failure for me.
"With the team that we have, there was no reason why we shouldn't have advanced. But I thought it was a good learning experience for these guys. They've been through a Game 7."
Aside from the opening minutes of the game, the Rockets were never closer than a nine-point margin, when Chuck Hayes made a layup early in the second.
Houston played the final four games without giant Yao Ming, who fractured his left foot.
"I think it made it worse on us once us when Yao got hurt, because they went small and it totally changed our game plan," Lakers centre Andrew Bynum said. "They definitely showed us a lot of grit."
With files from The Associated Press