Los Angeles Lakers

Rockets Stun Lakers, 112-97, in Game 1

James Harden bounced back from his struggles in Game 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring 36 points, as the Rockets stunned the Lakers, 112-97 in Game 1.

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They say styles make fights.

If that's the case, then expect the Conference Semifinals matchup between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers to go the distance.

James Harden scored 36 points and the Rockets completed a 112-97 win to take a 1-0 lead over the No. 1 seed Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.

Halfway through the 2019-20 season, the Rockets decided to go all-in on their small ball style of play, trading away their starting center for yet another "Three & D" forward.

Their new style, known as "micro ball" is positionless and a mix of speed and sharp-shooting. Robert Covington, a 6'7" forward they acquired in that four-team trade back in February, started at center in Game 1.

"It's the speed. They play with a lot of speed both offensively and defensively," said LeBron James when asked what stood out to him in Game 1 about the Rockets. "You can watch it on film, but you can't get a feel for it until you're on the court."

Meanwhile, the Lakers' style could be considered the exact opposite. Large and long, the Lakers have three centers listed at seven-feet or taller. LeBron James, who is closer to 6'10", is their primary ball handler. Needless to say, it's two clashing styles on display in round two.

 "We'll go to the tape and look at a lot of ways we can go," said Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel when asked about the contrasting styles in Game 1. "We have to be better. This one is behind us, we'll have to do better in Game 2."

James did his part, finishing with 20 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Anthony Davis has 25 points and 14 rebounds.

The difference in the game came down to both teams three-point shooting. The Rockets are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league and showed it on Friday, shooting 36 percent (14-for-39) from beyond the arc.

The Lakers three-point shooting has been their Achilles heel inside the bubble. When the Lakers hit their shots, they win, when they miss, they lose. On Friday, they mostly missed, shooting 28 percent on 38 attempts, just one less than Houston, a recipe for disaster if your Los Angeles, especially when you miss, which leads to long rebounds and transition baskets for the Rockets.

"Offensively, we have to clean up the turnovers," said James. "It's got to be a complete turn around in Game 2."

Despite their lack of size, the Rockets scored more points in the paint, 42-40, than the Lakers, and matched them on rebounds with 41 apiece. Two categories the Lakers have the advantage in. Houston also had 27 points off 15 Lakers turnovers in the game, the most points off turnovers in the playoffs so far.

"I don't think we played into their hands, but we have to attack them on the glass and make them pay when they go small," said Davis.

The Lakers jumped out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, but the Rockets rallied and took the lead just before the end of the first quarter. They would not relinquish that lead the remainder of the game.

The Lakers cut the lead to just two points at the end of the third quarter, just before Harden headed for the bench. Without Harden, Russell Westbrook went off, propelling the Rockets on a 14-0 run to start the fourth quarter, and Houston turned a two-point lead into a 19-point blowout before Harden returned.

Westbrook finished with 24 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.

The Lakers lost the opening game of their first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers as well, before winning the next four games to win the series 4-1.

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