The Western Conference semifinals matchup between the Lakers and Rockets is technically a battle between Los Angeles and Houston. However, there are actually more L.A. natives on the Rockets than there are on the Lakers.
That might not be saying much considering the Lakers don’t have a single player on their roster from California — let alone Southern California — but the number of players on the Rockets that grew up in the Los Angeles area is still notable. Between Tyson Chandler, James Harden, Austin Rivers and Russell Westbrook, there are four players on the Rockets that were born in the Golden State. Chandler, Harden and Westbrook all played high school basketball in Los Angeles. Westbrook stayed on the west coast for the college, too, famously playing for UCLA.
Those ties — in conjunction with the historical allure of the Lakers — had the Rockets hoping they made it to the second round, Rivers recently told Sam Amick of The Athletic:
“We’ve been waiting for this — you know what I mean?,” Rivers continued. “I mean we’ve been waiting to play (the Lakers). Who doesn’t want to play the Lakers? We all grew up watching the Showtime Lakers, and Kobe Bryant. And now, (they have) arguably the greatest player of all time — you’ve got LeBron (James) there. It’s a fun thing to go against, to compete against. You get up for that. Anybody who says they’re not is lying.
“We don’t talk about it. It’s just a competitive thing. It’s no different than you guys (in the media) being excited to (cover) it. You want to cover it for a reason because you know that it’s an exciting team and they’re the Lakers.”
The Rockets got their wish and survived their seven-game series with the Oklahoma City Thunder to face off against the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. As if that wasn’t good enough, the Rockets also won Game 1 against the Lakers.
If Chandler, Harden, Rivers and Westbrook really bled purple and gold, though, they’d let the Lakers win on Sunday. I’m just saying: they sound like fake fans to me. They’ll have a chance to prove their loyalty in Game 2 on Sunday. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m. on ABC.