LOS ANGELES -- In the end, the Houston Rockets had too much to overcome.
Missing two all-stars and facing the top-seeded team in the Western Conference on the road, the Rockets couldn't compete in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Houston misfired on its first 12 shots, fell behind by 25 points late in the first half and ended the season with an 89-70 loss to the defending Western Conference champions.
The Rockets, who advanced to the second round for the first time in 12 years, have lost to the Lakers in each of their last six playoff series since Ralph Sampson's buzzer-beater knocked Los Angeles out of the Western Conference semifinals in 1986 at the Inglewood Forum.
"Obviously, the Lakers are more experienced than us, but I thought we were the better team," Ron Artest said. "Individually, it's a failure for me.
"With the team that we have, there was no reason why we shouldn't have advanced. But I thought it was a good learning experience for these guys. They've been through a Game 7."
At no point did this decisive game appear headed for a close finish, but Houston made the mighty Lakers work much harder than most would have expected to advance to the conference finals again.
"Obviously, seven games wasn't the forecast going into the series. But I've never had a problem respecting my opponent, so I don't have an additional amount of respect for them after this particular series," said Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who was suspended for Game 3 because of a flagrant foul he committed against Luis Scola.
The Rockets had gotten used to playing without Tracy McGrady, who has been sidelined since February after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee.
In the first round, backup centre Dikembe Mutombo went down with a knee injury. Then star centre Yao Ming was lost in Game against Los Angeles to a broken left foot.
Still, the Rockets won two games after losing Yao and had many Lakers fans wondering what was wrong with their team.
"I think it made it worse on us once us when Yao got hurt, because they went small and it totally changed our game plan," Lakers centre Andrew Bynum said. "They definitely showed us a lot of grit."
Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks, who showed an ability to penetrate the Lakers' defence during Game 6 at Houston, missed all four of his field goal attempts in the opening quarter and finished the first half one-for-six with five points and one assist.
He ended up with a team-high 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting in 39 minutes.
Artest didn't distinguish himself, either, missing seven of 10 shots in 39 minutes and finishing with seven points in his personal duel with Bryant (14 points, 4-for-12)
Luis Scola (11 points) could not repeat his sensational Game 6 in which he had 24 points and 12 rebounds.
The Rockets' high-point man in the first half was former Lakers castoff Von Wafer, who had eight points while the team shot a collective 32.5 per cent and trailed 51-31 at intermission. They were 36.8 per cent from the field overall and committed 16 turnovers.
"They had 22 points in the first quarter, so that's pretty good defence for us. But we didn't score any baskets," Brooks said. "They were zoning up and we didn't react well.
"They got off to a great start and kind of rode it from there. They stepped up their intensity, we fumbled the ball a little bit and I just had an off game."
The Rockets lost all four regular-season meetings with the Lakers and finished the regular season 53-29, one game behind Southwest Division champion San Antonio.