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The Rockets rebuilt their lineup around what Westbrook can do, but in the end, they still fell victim to what he can't

The Houston Rockets were eliminated from the 2020 NBA playoffs on Saturday, as the Los Angeles Lakers completed a gentleman's sweep with a 119-96 victory in Game 5. On its face, it's not a surprising result. The Rockets were a No. 4 seed. They needed seven games to squeak past the Thunder in the first round. The Lakers are a No. 1 seed. They have, irrefutably, two of the top three players still alive in the playoffs. They're a bigger and better team than Houston. 

But somewhere along the line we attached inflated expectations to the Rockets, in part because they have James Harden, in part because it's been burned into our heads that their mathematic approach to basketball somehow makes them less beholden to the actual talent on their roster, and also because we all still remember them coming this close to knocking off the Kevin Durant-Steph Curry Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference finals. 

But the Rockets aren't that team anymore. 

That team had Chris Paul. This one has Russell Westbrook. That's where we'll start with what has gone wrong for this Rockets team, and where it can possibly go from here. 

Russ was a bust.

There's a lot more going on with this closing Houston window -- if it hasn't already slammed shut -- than the shortcomings of one player, and this isn't to put everything on Westbrook. But he's just not as good as Paul. Not in a vacuum, and certainly inside this Rockets system that desperately needs a second elite playmaker/high-level shooter to offset the attention Harden draws. Paul, in effect, was the C.J. McCollum to Harden's Damian Lillard. 

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LeBron is averaging 26.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists over the Lakers' first 10 games in the playoffs

In the first round of the playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers lost Game 1 to the Portland Trail Blazers, then rattled off four straight wins to take care of business. Thanks to their dominant win in Game 5 over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, things played out the exact same way in the second round. Now, the Lakers are on to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2010. 

As expected, LeBron James led the way, finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in just 30 minutes to close things out. It was another incredible playoff performance from "The King," something we've become quite accustomed to over the past 17 years. This one was a bit special, though, as LeBron made some history in the process. 

He joined Oscar Robertson as the only two players in postseason history to put up at least 250 points, 100 rebounds and 80 assists through the first 10 games of a playoff campaign. 

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Not only did the Rockets have to think about the distraction, but they also lost one of their starters for 60% of the series.

The Houston Rockets’ season came to an end on Saturday, and James Harden says the Danuel House situation did not help matters.

The Rockets won the first game of their Western Conference semifinals series with the Los Angeles Lakers before losing the next four. The final three games of the series were played without House.

House did not play while being investigated and later thrown out of the NBA Bubble for having an unauthorized guest in his hotel room.

Harden says the situation hurt the Rockets in two ways.

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The last time the historic Los Angeles Lakers punched a ticket to the Western Conference Finals, Kobe Bryant , Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were the names prominently featured ...

The last time the historic Los Angeles Lakers punched a ticket to the Western Conference Finals, Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer were the names prominently featured in the postgame report following a second-round sweep of the Utah Jazz.

The most recent NBA appearance of any of those three came from D-Will on June 12, 2017.

A 10-year drought between conference finals berths wouldn't be noteworthy for most franchises. For the Lakers, a decade without this level of success feels like an eon.

After a 119-96 victory spearheaded by LeBron James' 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, they're back in the league semifinals.

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