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Farmar, Lakers send message to Rockets the old-fashioned way

By Damien Pierce, for
Posted May 9 2009 2:55AM

HOUSTON -- Phil Jackson isn't likely to become the first coach to embrace the latest social network trend.

He'd rather keep in touch with his friends around the NBA through a more traditional approach.

"I don't know about Twitter," the Lakers coach wryly informed the media when asked if he believed in sending messages. "I believe in sending messages that are a little more direct."

Naturally, his team sent a message to the Rockets -- and the rest of the league -- without needing to rely on Facebook or Twitter.

Jackson and Co. restored order in Lakers Nation and looked like a team poised to go much deeper in the postseason with a 108-94 victory in Game 3 of their best-of-seven series with the Rockets. With a 2-1 advantage, they'll return to the court Sunday afternoon with a chance to effectively end any notion that the Rockets have a chance of stealing this series.

Four days ago, it wasn't so far-fetched to think the Rockets might advance to the Western Conference finals. The Lakers weren't sharp in the opening game of the series and had a bad habit of squandering away sizable leads.

Now? The Lakers look like a team with a hot date in June.

"We never felt like we lost control of this series," Lakers point guard Jordan Farmar said. "They have to beat us four times. We had to take this one here, and now we have a chance to put the stomp down on them next game. We're on a mission to get where we want to go."

The troubling news for the Rockets is the Lakers pulled this off without their starting point guard and a somewhat ho-hum performance from Kobe Bryant. The Lakers star netted a game-high 33 points, but he endured one stretch between the second and third quarters where he missed 10 of 11 shots.

But on this night, Bryant didn't have to be at his best. The Lakers' supporting cast was that good. Trevor Ariza swished three of the Lakers' 11 3-pointers and Lamar Odom gave Houston fits in the paint with 16 points and 13 rebounds. On the defensive end, the Lakers suffocated Houston's offense with strong help defense that kept Houston's inside players from doing any damage.

Still, no one came through more than Farmar.

With Derek Fisher serving a one-game suspension, Farmar filled in for the veteran without a hitch. He netted 12 points and delivered seven assists even as he shared ball-handling duties with his teammates. More importantly, Farmar had only one turnover.

Not bad for a guy who wasn't in the rotation when the Lakers started this postseason run.

"I usually don't get nervous," Farmar said. "But I didn't want to disappoint myself."

The Rockets won't admit it, but with Fisher out and a chance to seize control of the series with a couple of games at home, there's no doubting that they have to feel like they let a golden opportunity slip away.

The Rockets arrived in these Playoffs as practically an afterthought. Tracy McGrady was finished with the season before anyone could even begin forecasting his prospects of finally leading a team past the first round and his teammates were relying on two unproven point guards -- Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry -- to navigate them through it.

Clutch City? Houston hadn't won a playoff series since Billy Corgan was getting along with the rest of The Smashing Pumpkins.

But three weeks later, the Rockets have knocked off the Blazers and are making the Lakers sweat. Unfortunately, they've only got one win to show for it in the first three games with the Lakers.

"We didn't play well enough offensively to win this game," said Rockets coach Rick Adelman, paying special attention to his team's 17 turnovers. "We got impatient and could never get it going."

It doesn't help that the Rockets haven't found a go-to scorer when they're desperately in need of a bucket.

Exhibit A: Houston's performance in the third quarter.

The Rockets shot a meager 24 percent in the period as the Lakers turned up their defensive pressure and cut off the passing lane to Yao Ming with their fronting defense.

Yao never got into a rhythm after that and ended up limping off the court with a sore left ankle late in the fourth quarter. The center will undergo tests Saturday morning to see if he's available for Sunday's game.

"I hope I can play," Yao said.

Without Yao as an offensive option, the Rockets don't have another offensive option that can consistently carry the load.

Houston often resorted to playing one-on-one basketball with Ron Artest leading the charge. The Rockets' volatile forward took matters into his own hands more than once when his team was in dire need of a basket, driving into the teeth of the Lakers' 'D' or taking fadeaway jumpers without much results. It wasn't a wise move against the Lakers.

"We settled for some isolation plays and they have a really good isolation defense," Rockets forward Shane Battier said. "The best way to attack them is to move the ball side-to-side and then attack them when the clock is low. We're getting a little impatient."

The Lakers, though, never lost patience.

With the shot clocking winding down at the end of the third quarter, Bryant showed as much.

He got tangled up with Artest before an in-bounds pass and for the second time in as many games, had some face-to-face time with the Rockets' forward. After exchanging a few pleasantries with Artest, Bryant snatched the in-bounds pass and drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer.

With that, the Lakers went into the final period with a 12-point lead. Game over.

"Houston is a very physical team," Bryant said. "I wanted to see how we would respond to this challenge."

Bryant got his answer -- and so did the rest of the league. No Twittering required.

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