||This article possibly contains original research. (February 2011)|
|Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets|
|Post Season Meetings||20–15 (LAL)|
|1981 Western Conference First Round||Rockets won, 2–1|
|1986 Western Conference Finals||Rockets won, 4–1|
|1990 Western Conference First Round||Lakers won, 3–1|
|1991 Western Conference First Round||Lakers won, 3–0|
|1996 Western Conference First Round||Rockets won, 3–1|
|1999 Western Conference First Round||Lakers won, 3–1|
|2004 Western Conference First Round||Lakers won, 4–1|
|2009 Western Conference Semifinals||Lakers won, 4–3|
The Lakers–Rockets rivalry began in the 1980s during the Lakers' Showtime era. The two teams have met eight times in the playoffs. In the 1980s the Rockets or Lakers represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Since 1980, the Lakers have won 10 NBA titles appearing in 15 NBA Finals, while the Rockets have won 2 appearing in 4.
The two met in the first round of the 1981 NBA Playoffs, where the Lakers were the defending NBA champions led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to face the Rockets, led by Hall of Famer Moses Malone, who barely reached the playoffs with a 40–42 record. The Rockets won Game 1 111–107, but the Lakers won Game 2 111–106. Houston won Game 3 in L.A. 89–86 in one of the biggest upsets in NBA history. The Rockets went on an improbable run to the NBA Finals before losing to the Celtics.
The two met again in the 1986 Western Conference Finals where the Lakers were again the defending NBA champions and faced the Rockets led by the "Twin Towers" of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. Unlike 1981, Houston was a formidable foe, winning 51 games and the Midwest Division title. After the Lakers won Game 1, the Rockets won 4 straight to eliminate the Lakers in 5. With the game tied at 112 and 1 second left, Ralph Sampson made a 12-foot no-look off-balance miracle jumper at the buzzer to give the Rockets their second trip to the NBA Finals. The Rockets would lose to the Celtics again in 6.
In 1990, the two teams met again in the first round. The Lakers were playing their first postseason without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with rookie Vlade Divac taking his place. The Lakers won the first two games in Los Angeles. The Rockets won Game 3, but the Lakers eliminated them in Game 4, and the Lakers finally got their revenge. They then lost in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Phoenix Suns in 5.
The two teams squared off in the First Round for the second straight time. This time L.A. was led by new coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr., a former Rocket. The Lakers won 58 games in the regular season but did not finish with the best record in the West for the first time since 1981. The Rockets, despite having Hakeem Olajuwon miss 26 games, finished with 52 wins, and Rockets coach Don Chaney was named Coach of the Year. However, the Lakers swept the Rockets 3–0. The Lakers went on to the NBA Finals, but lost to the Chicago Bulls in 5. The 1991 NBA Finals was the last for Magic Johnson and James Worthy.
The first-round meeting in 1996 between the two featured the first time that the Houston Rockets were the defending NBA champions. During the season, Magic Johnson made a comeback, playing in his first NBA regular season game since 1991. The Lakers were primarily led by Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel, Vlade Divac and Cedric Ceballos. The Rockets were led by future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. At the time, this matchup was one of the most hyped first-round matchups in NBA history. The Rockets and Lakers split the first two games in Los Angeles. However, the Rockets won the next two in Houston to take the series in 4. The Rockets were then swept in the Western Conference Seminfinals by the Seattle SuperSonics. This series marked the last time Magic Johnson played an NBA game.
The 1999 first-round matchup featured a star-studded lineup for both teams. The Lakers were led by the trio of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Glen Rice. The Rockets were led by a future Hall of Fame frontcourt led by Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen. The 1999 matchup featured Hakeem and Shaq meeting for the first time since the 1995 NBA Finals. The Lakers won the first 2 at home, but Houston took Game 3, led by Charles Barkley's triple double. L.A. won Game 4 and eliminated the Rockets. The Lakers would be swept by the San Antonio Spurs, who went on to win the NBA championship. However, the Lakers hired former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson and won three straight NBA titles. This matchup was the last postseason series for Charles Barkley.
Yao and Shaq controversy
Shaquille O'Neal received some media flak for mocking Chinese speech when interviewed about newcoming center Yao Ming, but he was able to downplay the media attention to the event. Yao himself stated he did not find it offensive, but could see how others might misinterpret the remark as racist. ESPN's highest-rated regular season contest was the first matchup between Shaq and Yao in Houston. The game between the Lakers and Rockets scored a 3.82 cable Nielsen rating. The Rockets won 111–107.
2004 NBA Playoffs
The two teams met again in 2004, with the Lakers the favorite to win the NBA championship. The Lakers added future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to go with Shaq and Kobe. The Rockets were a young team led by All-Stars Yao Ming and Steve Francis, both making their postseason debut. It was the only playoff meeting between Yao and Shaq. The Lakers won Game 1 on a Shaquille O'Neal putback dunk in the final seconds. Jim Jackson missed a 3 that would have won it at the buzzer. The Lakers won Game 2 easily, taking a 2–0 lead to Houston. The Rockets won Game 3 led by Steve Francis' first-ever playoff triple-double. It was the first postseason victory for the Rockets since Game 3 of the 1999 NBA Playoffs against the Lakers. The Lakers won Game 4 91–87 in OT. Steve Francis hit a jumper with under a minute left to send the game into OT. The Rockets held an 87–83 lead with under 2 minutes left. The key play was a 3-point play by Kobe that gave the Lakers the lead and made Yao foul out. The Lakers blew Houston out in Game 5 to win the series 4–1. The Lakers went to the NBA Finals, but were shocked by Detroit in 5.
2009 NBA Playoffs
They met again in 2009. The Lakers were heavy favorites to win, having swept the season series 4–0. In Game 1, Houston shocked L.A. with a 100–92 victory, in which Yao Ming scored 8 straight points in the final minutes after hurting his knee. The Lakers won the next two games to take a 2–1 series lead. In Game 3, Yao suffered an injury to his foot in the fourth quarter that was later reported to keep him out for the rest of the playoffs. However, the Rockets defeated the Lakers 99–87 in Game 4 in what was later deemed as Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks' "coming-out party." In Game 5, the Lakers crushed Houston in L.A. 118–78, but the Rockets earned a 95–80 victory in Game 6, which drew 7.35 million viewers, making it the most-watched basketball game ever on ESPN. However, the Lakers decisively took Game 7 89–70 to win the series 4–3. They went on to win the NBA title against the Orlando Magic. The Rockets were the only team in the 2009 playoffs to force a 7-game series against the Lakers.