LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. >> The Houston Rockets may play small, but they don’t use size to determine toughness.
And in Game 1, their style caused big problems for the Los Angeles Lakers.
James Harden scored 36 points and the Rockets ran away from the Lakers 112-97 on Friday night, the second straight round the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference lost its opener.
“It doesn’t matter how tall you are. If you have the heart and you’re a competitor you can be out there on the court,” Harden said.
Russell Westbrook added 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and Eric Gordon had 23 points for the Rockets, the No. 4 seed who had just one day of rest after needing seven games to win their first-round series.
They sure didn’t look tired, flying around the court all night to make up for the size disadvantage they face with their small-ball style. They forced 17 turnovers that led to 27 points and played the much bigger Lakers even on the backboards.
“We’re small out there so we’ve got to be scrappy,” Westbrook said. “We’ve got to play hard.”
The Lakers never led after the first quarter and the Rockets blew it open by starting the fourth with a 16-3 run, turning a six-point advantage into a 101-82 cushion on Harden’s basket with 7:15 to play.
Anthony Davis had 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers. LeBron James had 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
He compared the Rockets to the speedy St. Louis Rams’ Super Bowl championship team of two decades ago, nicknamed the “Greatest Show on Turf.”
“There’s no way you can simulate their speed,” James said. “So getting out on the floor and having a Game 1 gives you a good feel for it.”