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What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Mark Medina discusses how mental health and the stresses of being inside the NBA bubble has become an issue players are talking about as the playoffs press on.

USA TODAY

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Too many forces conspired against the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

A 3-1 deficit, Danuel House Jr.’s dismissal from the NBA campus for having an unauthorized guest in his room in violation of health and safety protocols and the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers seeking a spot in the Western Conference finals.

The Rockets were overwhelmed by things they could control and things they couldn’t, and the result was predictable.

The Lakers defeated the Rockets 119-96 in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals and advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2010 — the last time the franchise won a championship. The Lakers will play the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Denver Nuggets series, which the Clippers lead 3-2.

“It’s the reason I wanted to be a part of this franchise, to take them back to a place they were accustomed to being and that’s compete for a championship.”

—LeBron on bringing the Lakers back to their former glory pic.twitter.com/dh6srkjkcN

— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) September 13, 2020

Sensing the opportunity to end the series and move on, James scored 19 of his 29 points in the first half, including 11 in the first quarter when the Lakers built a 33-11 lead. The Rockets dug into that deficit and trailed just 65-59 with 10:27 left in the third quarter.

But a 30-10 Los Angeles run to end the quarter pushed the margin to 95-69. Four Lakers scored at least six points in the quarter, led by Danny Green’s eight.

James also had 11 rebounds and seven assists — his 133rd career playoff game with at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Five other Lakers scored in double figures: Markieff Morris (16 points), Green (14 points), Kyle Kuzma (17 points), Anthony Davis (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (10 points).

LBJ propels LAL to WCF! ✨@KingJames‘ 29 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST help the @Lakers win Game 5 and advance to the Western Conference Finals!#LakeShow#NBAPlayoffspic.twitter.com/P9zHPgCu0g

— NBA (@NBA) September 13, 2020

Once again, the Lakers out-smallballed the Rockets. The Lakers were 19-of-37 on 3-pointers, and the the Rockets were just 13-of-49 on 3s. And while the Lakers went small, they were still bigger than the Rockets, outrebounding them 50-31.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel had his team prepared and ready to play from the start and pointed out to his team that the Clippers had a chance to close out the Nuggets in Game 5 on Friday and failed to do so.

“Not only did they (Nuggets) stave off elimination, they were beaten for the first three quarters for the most part,” Vogel said. “Closing out that fourth quarter, it’s just a microcosm of the game. Those are the … lessons we talked about with our team.”

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni understood the hole his team faced, especially with House missing the rest of the series as the league investigated the incident and made a ruling. Houston won Game 1, then lost the next four in the series.

“We have a difficult road, but at the same time, looking forward to the challenge just thinking about today,” D’Antoni said before the game. “That’s the mindset. We talked about it, just win today. Win each quarter and then we’ll go from there.”

The Rockets won the second and fourth quarters but were blown out in the first and third, and exit the playoffs in the second round for the second consecutive season.

James Harden scored 30 points for the Rockets.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

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