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Rockets eye upset in NBA decider

THE Los Angeles Lakers are confident they can wrap up their Western Conference semifinal against the Houston Rockets tonight (Shanghai time), despite having driven their fans to distraction with wildly erratic performances.

Under-strength Houston upset the top-seeded Lakers 95-80 on Thursday to level the best-of-seven series at 3-3 and force a deciding game at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

"There's nothing to worry about," an upbeat Lakers coach Phil Jackson told reporters after his team had been outplayed by the inspired Rockets in Houston. "It's just a game and we're just going to go out there and play.

"It's our home court. In the last game (at Staples Center) we beat them by whatever. We play a different game on our home court, and it's pretty obvious to see."

Jackson was referring to the 118-78 blowout by the Lakers in Game 5 on Tuesday after they had been stunned 87-99 by the Rockets two days earlier in Houston.

Series opener

However, many Lakers fans will not feel anywhere near as certain, given that their team succumbed to a surprise 92-100 home-court loss to the Rockets in the series opener.

Over the course of the six games, undermanned Houston has displayed great heart and grit, and is now stunningly poised to advance to the Conference final.

Having begun the semifinal without Dikembe Mutombo and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets suffered an even bigger blow losing injured All-Star Yao Ming after Game 3.

"This team has so much heart and they don't care what people say," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "Yao went down and we haven't blinked an eye. We're just playing to see how far we can take it and you've got to give them credit."

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who helped the Lakers win three consecutive National Basketball Association championships from 2000-2002, applauded Houston's effort in the series.

"I said after the last game they're not a chump team and they're not. They play hard, and they will play hard in Game 7," he said.

Bryant conceded the Lakers, Western Conference champions, had to develop more consistency if they were to clinch their first NBA title since 2001-02.


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