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Lakers, Magic take series lead

KOBE Bryant scored a game-high 26 points as the Los Angeles Lakers crushed the Houston Rockets 118-78 on Tuesday to grab a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.

In the East, the Boston Celtics stormed past the Orlando Magic 92-88 to also take a 3-2 lead in their semifinals.

In Los Angeles, stung by their 87-99 loss two days earlier against a Rockets team without injured All-Star Yao Ming, the rampant Lakers never looked back after erasing an early deficit in the opening quarter.

Spanish forward Pau Gasol contributed a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Andrew Bynum added 14 while four other Lakers players weighed in with at least 10 points.

Guard Aaron Brooks top-scored for the Rockets with 14 points but the dangerous Ron Artest was limited to just nine by a smothering Lakers defense.

The best-of-seven series moves back to Houston for tomorrow's Game 6.

"I said to the team that was really a terrific effort, a great win," Lakers coach Phil Jackson told reporters. "But it doesn't do anything but just means that we brought home the seventh game and guaranteed ourselves homecourt advantage in this series."

Bryant, rested for the entire fourth quarter, was delighted with the way his team rebounded from their dismal display in Houston where Brooks scored a career-best 34 points.

"We just made our adjustments," the All-Star guard said.

"Brooks did such a terrific job last game getting into the paint, making plays, scoring himself. We had to try and make it a little bit tougher for him tonight.

"But we've got to stay focused. You have to understand that the effort that we gave tonight is not going to be enough on Thursday, it's just not."

The Rockets made a promising start, moving the ball swiftly around to race 13-6 up early on before the Bryant-inspired Lakers stormed back to lead 35-24 after the first quarter.

The hosts then built on a run of 11 unanswered points before a Shannon Brown three-pointer put them 19 points clear midway through the second period.

With the Los Angeles defense much improved on their woeful showing in Game 4, the Western Conference champions surged into a commanding 64-39 halftime lead.

The top-seeded Lakers tightened their grip in the third period, Trevor Ariza pouncing on an offensive rebound and curling the ball into the hoop before adding a two-point lay-up.

That gave Los Angeles an imposing 94-54 cushion going into the final quarter and they never eased up.

"We played absolutely the opposite than we did in the last game," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We got to the middle of the lane, we turned it over and we shot it poorly."

In Boston, Ray Allen's three-pointer with 1:20 left gave Boston its first lead since the opening minutes.

A lackluster 36 minutes left Boston trailing by 14 points with less than nine minutes to play.

The Celtics still trailed by 10 points with 5:39 on the clock, but then scored the 13 points to go ahead 88-85.

Stephen Marbury scored all his 12 points in the final quarter. Paul Pierce had 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Kendrick Perkins grabbed 11 rebounds, and Game 4 hero Glen Davis scored 10 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Dwight Howard had 12 points and 17 rebounds for Orlando, which needs a victory in Game 6 tomorrow to force the series back to Boston for a decisive seventh game.


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