The Rockets are all out of excuses.
The Lakers, already without the injured Kobe Bryant, lost Shaquille O'Neal via ejection in the second quarter after Craq threw (and missed) a vicious punch at Charles Barkley (who responded by flooring Shaq with a nice WWF-esque move) and still beat the Rockets 89-88 on the Compaq Center floor.
The Rockets, down 6 with under 2 minutes to go in the game, came back and had the ball down 1 with 17 seconds to go, but virtually dribbled the entire clock out.
Steve Francis missed a shot he basically got off after the buzzer. Francis was in fact fouled (said Laker coach Phil Jackson, "I thought my guy fouled him very effectively" -- drawing laughs), but there was no call and you can't cry over it. The Rockets shouldn't have waited that long to get a shot off in the first place.
The Rockets fall to 0-5 and 0-6 is a mere technicality after they play the Lakers in Los Angeles on Friday. Shaquille O'Neal will most likely be suspended, as will Barkley (who was ejected along with Shaq), but the Rockets have shown they can't handle the Lakers even without their two biggest stars.
Hakeem Olajuwon played for a paycheck if he gave that much, hitting just 5-18 from the floor. Sure he finished with 15 points, 10 boards and a pair of blocks, but as TBS analyst John Thompson said over and over, he lacks the fire that has made him Hakeem Olajuwon. They even asked Glen Rice after the game about Hakeem's lack of fire and Rice said Hakeem needs to realize his team needs his leadership more than ever.
Rookie Steve Francis had a very good game (26 points, 10 boards, 5 assists, 4 steals and 6 turnovers) but showed he's a rookie, making a costly turnover late in the game and also dribbled out too much clock at the end of the contest.
No other Rocket scored in double figures. Cuttino Mobley (1-6 from the floor, 9 points, 5 assists, 5 boards), Walt Williams (7 points), Shandon Anderson (6 points) and Tony Massenburg (6 points) weren't big factors.
Bright spot? We liked the play of Carlos Rogers, who scored 8 points and grabbed 5 boards in 20 minutes.