LOS ANGELES(AP) After dominating a Game 7 few people thought would need to be played, the Los Angeles Lakers poked a little fun at their maddening inconsistency against the Houston Rockets.
Asked what the Lakers learned from the Western Conference semifinals, which the Lakers clinched with an 89-70 win Sunday, Kobe Bryant cracked: "That we're bipolar.''
Now that all is well again in La-La Land, Bryant and his teammate can begin focusing on what they need to do against the Denver Nuggets in the conference finals. Game 1 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
"Our effort could be much better, you know, in Game 4 and Game 6,'' Bryant said. "But still, Houston played extremely well. In a series, it's about making adjustments. That's what we were able to. We made our adjustments. We came out and were ready to go. You can't take anything away from this Houston team. But we definitely could have played a lot harder.''
In Game 7, Pau Gasol dominated on both ends of the court, scoring 21 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. The Lakers looked like the conference's top-seeded team, not the maddeningly inconsistent one that was pushed to the limit by the undermanned, smaller Rockets.
The Lakers had been so up and down in this series that coach Phil Jackson said before Game 5 that they had a little bit of Jekyll and Hyde in them. That was the night the Lakers raced to a 40-point win at home, only to follow it up two nights later with a 15-point loss, the second straight game they were blind-sided in Houston.
It turns out that home-court advantage and a smothering defense were all it took to jump-start the Lakers, who made sure they didn't choke this one away against the No. 5 seed.
The Lakers dominated the paint on both ends, forcing the Rockets into turnovers and bad shots. They owned the backboards, taking a 55-33 advantage, and blocked 10 shots. They had an 8-0 lead a few minutes in and widened it to 25 points on Gasol's jump hook shortly before halftime.
After the game, Bryant patted Gasol on the shoulder and offered words of congratulations.
"I was just proud of the way he played,'' Bryant said. "He answered the challenge and he played like one of the best players in the world. I was just excited for him.''
Gasol kept Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks from penetrating, as he did often in this series. The Spaniard had 12 defensive rebounds and swatted away three shots.
Gasol made 10 of 19 shots. He left to a nice ovation with 3:34 remaining in the game.
"I think we learned that if we play hard every night and we're ready to compete, starting on the defensive end, we're going to give ourselves a chance,'' Gasol said. "Hopefully we're going to carry that into the next round and to a championship. That's something we need to do consistently, no matter what, no matter where we play.''
Trevor Ariza scored 15 points while Bryant and Andrew Bynum had 14 apiece. Bryant added five assists and seven rebounds.
Brooks was held to 13 points and Luis Scola to 11 for Houston. Ron Artest (seven points) and Shane Battier (three) were non-factors.
"Coming in here for Game 7, we knew they were going to give us their best shot, especially in the first quarter,'' Battier said. "To be honest with you, we just didn't have energy to match it. Unfortunately, after we got past the first quarter we played them pretty straight up, but the damage had been done at that point.''