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It's Showtime!

April 17, 2013 5:19 pm EDT

Rockets ready for high stakes showdown with Lakers

LOS ANGELES, CA - Consider it the ultimate pop quiz prior to the final exam.

To be sure, the extreme significance of Wednesday’s showdown with the Lakers isn’t exactly what the Rockets had in mind when this week began. Houston hoped to enter this contest with the seventh seed already sewn up and in complete control of an opportunity to move up to the sixth spot. Monday’s disappointing defeat in Phoenix put an end to that, of course. Nonetheless, the Rockets couldn’t ask for a much better postseason aperitif than what awaits them Wednesday night at Staples Center. Rest assured that the bright lights, big stage and media blitz that play such a significant part of playoff basketball will be fully present and accounted for this evening prior to tip-off.

The high stakes are clear. For Houston, a win means avoiding Western Conference champion Oklahoma City and setting up a first round matchup with either San Antonio (if current sixth seed Golden State wins in Portland tonight) or Denver (if Golden State loses). The Lakers, meanwhile, may very well be playing for their playoff lives if Utah manages to win in Memphis this evening. So for a Rockets team rather short on postseason experience, tonight’s tilt promises to provide a valuable preview of what they’ll encounter when the real fun begins this weekend.

“Tonight we’re going to be in a hostile, hostile environment,” said Jeremy Lin. “Probably the craziest it’s been all year in any arena, I believe. So if we come out here alive and win this game it will mean a lot. And if we don’t, we’ll learn a lot. So it’s definitely valuable.

Added Chandler Parsons: “It’s exciting. There’s no bigger stage and there’s a ton of media surrounding it. We’ve got to block all that out and just come in here and play our game – not worry about anybody else or what’s going on in the game before us. We just have to come out here with the mentality that we want to win the game and focus in on what we have to do to do that.

“I think we’re ready for it. We’re excited, we’re young, we’re amped, we’re hyped. Our style of play fits this kind of stage great, just getting up and down, exciting to play, exciting to watch. I think we’re ready for it and I think we’re mature enough to block out the distractions and go out here and play basketball.”

Indeed, the Rockets showed no signs of being even remotely overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding their present situation during this morning’s shootaround. They appeared loose but focused, and eager to remove the bad taste left behind by the loss to the Suns. Recent history suggests Houston is well equipped to do so. Since the conclusion of their 7-game losing streak in January, the Rockets are 12-2 in games immediately following defeats. That number speaks to their resilience, the high variance performance typical of youth, and also to their talent. And whereas the Lakers will be forced to play without future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash tonight, Houston will have all hands on deck. Yes, that includes James Harden who admitted to feeling some stiffness after a knee-on-knee collision with Luis Scola early in Monday’s game, but said Wednesday morning that his knee is much improved and good to go.

“It’s going to be a great experience tonight,” said Harden. “A great opportunity to come to LA, they’re fighting for their playoff lives and we’re trying to get a win. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, everybody is going to be watching and it’s what we want.

“We just want to get a good win and get our swagger back going into these playoffs. We just have to do whatever it takes to win.”