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Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers Game 4 preview

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NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s make or break time for the Houston Rockets.

A 3-1 series deficit isn’t an impossible thing to recover from (Denver did it in the last round, and the Rockets have done it twice in their history), but it is highly unlikely.

Houston’s biggest bugaboo returned in Game 3, and that is early fourth quarter play.

The Rockets have played 10 playoff games. In seven games, the score was within five or fewer points heading into the fourth quarter. Houston is 2-5 in those games, with one coming on a legendary bench spurt in Game 2 against OKC and the other being Game 7 of that same series. When James Harden sits to begin the fourth quarter, bad things happen.

This is why Russell Westbrook is here. This is why the Rockets traded their future for him. However, even more disturbing is how poorly Houston played when Harden returned to the game. The Lakers doubled Harden in the halfcourt, which Harden passed out of every time. The Rockets saw this almost every night in the regular season. Teams doubled Harden, and the Russ got to initiate a 4-on-3 halfcourt set by attacking the rim.

But in Game 3, the Rockets played as if they had never seen that defense before. It was as if Frank Vogel hit them with some new intergalactic strategy shit. Except, just to reiterate, he didn’t. Literally every team tried doubling Harden this season to varying degrees of success.

Houston played pretty well in Game 3 until it came to winning time. In the fourth quarter, as they have done throughout the postseason, the Rockets couldn’t score enough to make the opposing defense adjust.

The most frustrating part of the loss is that LeBron James tapped into his extra gear in the third quarter. He was blocking shots and somehow everywhere on defense. Offensively he was getting what he wanted and making great passes.

And yet, even with LeBron going into “I’m not losing this game” mode, the Rockets were still in the game heading to the final frame. They look LeBron’s best punch in the third quarter. It’s a shame they didn’t hit back.

Tip-off is at 6pm CT on TNT