Jim Parsons is in a prime seat, turning his back on Jack Nicholson, a real-life celebrity daring to root against the Lakers in LA. He's even wearing a Rockets hat. The Big Bang Theory star always puts Houston first — for him, it's hometown over fake glitz and not just because he is sitting next to Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
It seems safe to root for the Rockets this night too.
Kobe Bryant is back home, tweeting from his couch, texting an ESPN sideline reporter mid-game to correct commentator Jeff Van Gundy on the status of his dogs (Kobe has four and they're not wimpy). The rest of the Los Angeles Lakers seem as zoned out as a Coachella attendee early.
The Utah Jazz's complete choke seals the Lakers' long, arduous climb into the playoffs before they ever take the court. For much of Wednesday, this final night in the NBA regular season plays like a mere formality.
For Parsons, it's hometown over fake glitz and not just because he is sitting next to Rockets GM Daryl Morey.
And even when the Lakers do awake, when Dwight Howard starts defending with force, there is Chandler Parsons hitting a no-way, 30-footer off a scramble at the buzzer to force overtime. Pushing the game toward the 1 a.m. hour in Houston. Even Kobe can't help but tweet about the Lakers' brain cramp of not using their foul-to-give to take more time off the clock.
Surely, the Rockets are headed to San Antonio now . . .
Sorry Jim. It's all yanked away, quite literally blocked by Howard. And fellow LA 7-footer Pau Gasol's passing grace. The seventh seed and an agreeable matchup with a vulnerable Spurs team is gone, just another mirage stolen away from an LA visitor.
Lakers 99, Rockets 95. Doomed to Durant.
James Harden, Jeremy Lin and every other Rocket who clanged up a shot, and made the ball "sticky" in Kevin McHale's favorite phrase, basically threw water all over their own party. The Rockets are still in the playoffs for the first time in four years. But the only thing that figures to keep them there for any length of time is the NBA's maddeningly drawn-out first round scheduling.
In the end, the Rockets thud to the eighth and final seed in the power packed Western Conference, finishing a full two games behind the Golden State team many Houston fans spent most of the last two months dismissing as unworthy.
They're left playing the 60-win Oklahoma City Thunder and former University of Texas star Kevin Durant. First game . . . late Sunday night — far outside of the showcase network TV windows — which shows you what many people think of this series.
If the Rockets force the Thunder into sweating into a sixth game, it will be considered a major victory. Of course, they have to make sure they play five first.
There will plenty of emotion for Harden, the Thunder expendable turned superstar. But emotion hardly always works in Harden's favor.
"James is one of the best players in the league," McHale tells the CSN cameras in LA. "There's always a lot of attention on him."
Oklahoma City is both still young legged and battle tested — the worst possible combination for these run-happy Rockets.
Doomed to Durant.
Jeremy Lin's Dilemma
It didn't have to be this way of course. Everything is there for the Rockets on the Lakers' purple and gold court.
When the Jazz only manage a pathetic 70 points in a win-or-go-home game, much of the drama drains out of this LA-Houston matchup before the first tip. The Lakers suddenly seem relaxed — and often oblivious.
In the crucial first half of the fourth quarter when the Rockets see the lead melt away, Lin will be on the bench. Again.
The Rockets zoom by LA in the open court, building a 10-0 advantage in fast break points in the first half. Lin finds Omer Asik and Greg Smith for difficult lobs in traffic. He turns on the jets to beat the entire Lakers team down the court and gets to the rim late in the first half, putting Houston up seven.
But in the crucial first half of the fourth quarter when the Rockets see the lead melt away amid roaring chants of "Defense," Lin will be on the bench. Again.
By the time Lin gets back into the game it's an 81-81 affair. Lin will not do much to help things from there, missing the rest of his shots, several in an initial off-the-bench flurry. At least the first shot right off the bench seems uncharacteristically forced. The Rockets' momentum is long gone by the time Lin returns, but he's made the best of worst situations before this season.
Not this night. Not in LA.
Harden hits an amazing scoop shot, high off the glass as he falls into the cheerleaders, but little else down the stretch, somehow making a 30-point night seem almost quiet.
These playoffs will be about Harden's continuing development. It's on to Oklahoma City, his future and past colliding. The Rockets don't figure to have any celebrity fans in Chesapeake Energy Arena Sunday night. Time marches on. Kobe gets the last tweet. The Lakers get the Spurs. The Rockets get a consolation prize that's only laced with thorns.
Doomed to Durant.