LOS ANGELES -- Two days after being blindsided in Texas, the Los Angeles Lakers returned the favour.
Kobe Bryant needed only three quarters to score 26 points and the Lakers bounced back from their Game 4 flop, routing the Houston Rockets 118-78 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
The top-seeded Lakers did everything they didn't do in Sunday's 99-87 loss at Houston -- hustled, rebounded and played tight defence on Houston's smaller lineup, keeping Aaron Brooks in check and limiting wide-open shots.
On Sunday the Lakers trailed by 29 points. On Tuesday night, they had a 29-point lead by late in the second quarter, on a three-pointer by Bryant, who led seven Lakers in double figures.
The 40-point margin tied the Rockets' worst playoff loss ever. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks 116-76 on May 7, 2005.
The Lakers can wrap up the series Thursday night in Houston.
Then again, they've been prone to lapses in these playoffs, which is probably why Bryant warned that it's not going to be easy to finish off the Rockets.
"We've got to stay focused and understand that the effort we gave tonight is not going to be enough on Thursday. It's just not," Bryant said. "We're not playing some chump team. I don't care how many people they have out. This is a tough team, it's a tough team full of competitors."
The Rockets played their second game without Yao Ming, who sustained a season-ending stress fracture in his left foot in Game 3.
Bryant looked more like himself after being held to 15 points on Sunday. With the Lakers far ahead after holding the Rockets to only 15 points in each of the second and third quarters, he sat out the fourth period.
"We played just the opposite we did the last game," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "We turned it over in the first half, shot it poorly. We said if we turn it over against this team we're going to be in big trouble. That's exactly what we did.
"It just kind of fed their energy level. The second and third quarters are about as bad as we've played in a long time."
Pau Gasol had 16 points and 13 rebounds, Andrew Bynum 14 points, Trevor Ariza 13 and Jordan Farmar 12. Lamar Odom and Josh Powell had 10 apiece.
Brooks was held to 14 points after scoring a career-high 34 on Sunday. Ron Artest had a horrible night shooting, 4-of-15 for nine points. The Rockets shot only 32 per cent.
"There are seven games. That is the great thing about the playoffs," Artest said. "It is not like football where there is one game, so you can only stay positive."
Houston had an early lead, but Chuck Hayes, who replaced Yao, picked up his second foul by midway through the first quarter.
The Lakers gained control by outscoring Houston 23-6 during the final six minutes of the first quarter. Bryant had eight points, making three straight shots at one point. Odom sank a three-pointer and Farmar another three at the buzzer for a 35-24 lead.
"We just made our adjustments, really," Bryant said. "The last game they played a different style, a little bit more uptempo, spread the floor out a little bit. They got off to a great start and we never recovered.
"Tonight we did a good job covering for our defensive assignments. We didn't blow too many of those; made plays."
The Rockets had nine turnovers in the first half.
"We had a good first couple of minutes and then we started to turn the ball over," Artest said. "But we are going to adjust. That is the thing with the Houston Rockets."
With Bryant sitting out at the start of the second quarter, the Lakers didn't lose any of their intensity, going on an 8-0 run to push the lead to 43-24. Gasol made a hook shot and two free throws, Odom made two free throws and Sasha Vujacic blocked a shot by Von Wafer, raced down the court and took a pass from Gasol for a slam dunk.
With Houston going cold, the Lakers piled it on, taking a 64-35 lead on Bryant's three-pointer with 1:31 before halftime. It was 64-39 at the break.
Notes: Odom didn't start, but entered the game late in the first quarter in place of Bynum. Odom had been listed as questionable with a bruised back, the result of taking a hard fall on Sunday. ... Luke Walton had six rebounds off the bench for the Lakers. ... Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea played the national anthem. He didn't remove his black hat.