Following an extended break, the Los Angeles Lakers are back in play and will face the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
L.A. endured another long and potentially disruptive wait before learning their conference semifinals opponent as Houston needed seven games to overcome the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
But the history of the matchup seems to be favoring the Lakers. L.A. has won five of the past eight playoff series with Houston, triumphing in the last three and holding a 20-15 overall record in their head-to-head postseason games.
But the fact this season’s playoffs are taking place on a neutral ground could be a good omen for LeBron James and his teammates. L.A. have an unfavorable 12-16 all-time record when squaring off with the Rockets at Toyota Center.
Here is a look back at all of the times the Lakers have played the Rockets in the playoffs.
2009 Western Conference Semifinals
The Lakers notched a victory in the last playoff meeting with the Rockets. In Pau Gasol’s first full season alongside Kobe Bryant, L.A. beat Houston in a tough seven-game series and went on to best the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals to claim their 15th championship.
Bryant averaged 27.4 points in the series and 30.2 in the entire playoffs en route to earning his career-first NBA Finals MVP.
2004 Western Conference First Round
Despite a turbulent season marred by Bryant’s sexual assault trial, his infamous dispute with Shaquille O’Neal, and Karl Malone’s injury struggles, the Lakers defeated Houston 4-1 in the first round of the 2004 Playoffs.
The star-studded L.A. team reached the NBA Finals but only to fall in five games to the Detroit Pistons. The Lakers would then fire head coach Phil Jackson and trade O’Neal to the Miami Heat.
1999 Western Conference First Round
Alongside Bryant in his first season as a starter, O’Neal dominated the first-round series with Houston in 1991, averaging 29.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and leading the Lakers to a 3-1 win.
However, the San Antonio Spurs would then sweep L.A. in the next round and win their first NBA title later that year. The Game 4 was also the Los Angeles franchise’s farewell to The Forum as they moved to Staples Center the following season to win a championship in Jackson’s debut as the Lakers head coach.
1996 Western Conference First Round
The 1996 NBA Playoffs were marked by Magic Johnson’s comeback from the four year-break following his HIV diagnosis. But the Rockets, coming off two straight championship seasons — their only titles in franchise history — eliminated L.A by winning the first-round series 3-1.
Johnson then retired for the second, and final, time and the Lakers would undergo a significant overhaul in the offseason. Bryant, the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, arrived in L.A with Vlade Divac going to the Charlotte Hornets. Meanwhile, O’Neal later signed as a free agent.
1991 Western Conference First Round
L.A. swept Houston 3-0 in the 1991 NBA Playoffs — in Mike Dunleavy’s first season as head coach and Johnson leading the team alongside James Worthy.
But the Lakers would then lose the NBA Finals to the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan claiming his first of six championships. The loss ended the Showtime era in L.A.; Johnson announced he tested positive for HIV that summer and left the league for four years.
1990 Western Conference First Round
Despite Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s retirement, L.A. clinched the top seed in the West and beat Houston 3-1 to claim their first playoff series win over the Rockets.
But the Phoenix Suns would then stun Johnson, Worthy and their Lakers in the next round, leading to Pat Riley’s resignation and ending his nine-year spell as the L.A. head coach.
1986 Western Conference Finals
In the 1986 NBA Playoffs, Houston stood in the way of the Lakers trying to defend their NBA title. Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson led the Rockets to a 4-1 series victory with the latter hitting the famous off-balanced winning bucket in Game 5 to close it out.
In retrospect, the Rockets — who lost to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals — denied L.A. a three-peat that year. The Lakers reclaimed the crown the following season, a pattern that continued from the first ever playoff meeting between the two franchises.
1981 Western Conference First Round
In the first round of the 1981 NBA Playoffs, Moses Malone-led Rockets beat Lakers spearheaded by Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar. Houston won the series 2-1 and, just as they did in 1986, were later defeated by the Celtics in the finals.
Meanwhile the Lakers, who approached the series as the defending champions after winning the 1980 NBA title in Johnson’s debut season, would win the championship again in 1982.
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