After Houston's Game 2 loss at Staples Center, the Rockets' Jim Jackson ripped his teammates in a players-only meeting for their lack of fight.
That wasn't a problem on Friday when the Rockets rode the play of guards Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley (48 combined points) to a 102-91 home victory. Now it's the Lakers' character that is in question.
Coach Phil Jackson has done a good job keeping his team together, but based on the body language of his players in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Jackson has plenty of work to do.
Lakers' move: Kobe Bryant has to play smarter when he's double-teamed by the Rockets, who want him to try to beat the double-team off the dribble. Once Bryant sees a second defender approaching, he has to get rid of the ball more quickly.
In Game 3, Bryant often kept the ball too long and by the time he passed, his teammates were not left with enough time to get a good shot before the 24-second clock expired. That's playing into the hands of a Houston defense that limited the Lakers to 43.4% shooting on Friday.
In Game 3, Shaquille O'Neal had his power game working, but the Lakers went through stretches when they failed to get him the ball. Even with his struggles from the free-throw line, O'Neal needs to be involved in order to open up the half-court offense.
Forcing difficult jump shots is not the answer, but that's what happened in the fourth quarter of Game 3 when the Lakers tried to make a push.
The Lakers' problem on defense has been their inability to defend one-on-one. Too many times, the Lakers have been out of position. Many of Houston's nine three-point baskets in Game 3 were uncontested with the Lakers busy trying to rotate instead of staying with their man.
Rockets' move: After averaging less than 78 points in the first two games, the Rockets played at a quicker pace in Game 3 and topped the 100-point mark.
After two dismal efforts, Mobley responded with his best game, hurting the Lakers with isolation and pick-and-roll plays while also making Bryant work for his points. Coach Jeff Van Gundy needs to continue to run plays for Mobley, who is a more effective player when he's scoring.
Former Clipper Maurice Taylor also had a strong game with 16 points off the bench. Whenever Karl Malone is not playing power forward, the Rockets like to have Taylor in the game because of his offensive skills.
The Rockets should also continue to foul O'Neal early and often. The Lakers missed 10 free throws Friday, O'Neal accountable for nine of them.
By having O'Neal on the line, instead of dunking, Houston is able to disrupt the Lakers' offensive flow.
Something to look for: The Lakers' energy level. It's no secret that the Rockets are the younger team, but they should not be able to beat the Lakers to every loose ball.
In the fourth quarter on Friday, the Rockets picked up a couple of offensive rebounds off of effort alone, while the Lakers stood and watched.
If Jackson notices this trend again, do not be surprised to see him give even more minutes to younger players Kareem Rush and Luke Walton.