Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets: Round 2, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets Western Conference
Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets, Western Conference Semifinals

The Los Angeles Lakers shut down the Houston Rockets’ offense in Game 5 to cruise back into the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers were ruthlessly efficient at both ends, holding the Rockets to 37 percent from the field, including 26.5 percent from 3-point range, and making more than half of their attempts from the floor and behind the arc. James Harden was the only player to surpass 13 points for Houston while LeBron James led six Lakers in double figures with 29 points as Los Angeles again picked apart Houston’s defense.

Los Angeles Lakers win 4-1

In an era where flashy offense is what we all pay attention to during games, it was the Rockets’ lack of defense that doomed them again. Houston had no answer for Anthony Davis or LeBron James on the interior, and the Rockets didn’t receive the requisite payoff at the other end of the court with its small-ball lineup. It will be fascinating to see how the rest will help the Lakers against whoever emerges out of the other semifinal in the Western Conference, but Los Angeles has been on a tear in this postseason with an 8-2 record.

Game 1

September 4th, 9:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

These two teams took vastly different paths to the second round with the Los Angeles Lakers coasting past Portland in five games while the Houston Rockets eked out a seven-game victory over Oklahoma City. The Lakers are clearly centered on their two big stars – Anthony Davis and LeBron James – who have done most of the scoring, rebounding and distributing in the postseason thus far. Houston had to rely on more than just James Harden to escape Oklahoma City with Russell Westbrook missing the first four games of the series, but Westbrook also wasn’t at 100 percent upon his return.

The one downfall the Lakers might face is that lack of consistent secondary scoring behind Davis and James. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dwight Howard were the only other Lakers with multiple games in double figures in Los Angeles’ four wins against Portland. That might be considered a positive if the series-high for someone other than Davis or James was more than Kyle Kuzma’s 18 points in Game 4. It makes sense that Davis and James take most of the shots for the Lakers, but that puts pressure on the other players on the court to make their shots count when they’re open and have the ball in their hands. It’s difficult to make shots consistently if you never feel like you’ve found a rhythm, which is the big concern with Los Angeles.

The obvious issue for Houston is its defense, which has never been very good under Mike D’Antoni. But the larger issue might be its shooting, especially that of Harden. The star guard is never going to be afraid to shoot the ball, but he also didn’t make very many of his 3-point attempts against Oklahoma City. He shot under 30 percent from behind the arc four times in the series with the Thunder and he made just 28 percent of his 3-pointers after his Game 1 performance. Westbrook started to round into form in Games 6 and 7, but Harden hasn’t looked comfortable in the NBA playoffs and that is a big concern.

I’m actually quite surprised at the odds the New Jersey online sports betting sites placed on the Lakers to advance out of this series. I fully expected Los Angeles to be stronger favorites than the -670 odds at which it’s listed at some sportsbooks. FanDuel even has the Lakers as low as -520 to advance, which might be a wise bet just given the likelihood. Houston struggled to take care of Oklahoma City, which doesn’t come close to matching the star power the Lakers are bringing. This series looks like a giant mismatch on paper, especially given Harden’s shooting woes in recent games and Westbrook’s return to the lineup. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lakers swept the Rockets, but I’m going to give Houston one game and pick Los Angeles to advance in five games at +250 odds.

As for Thursday’s first game in the series, I fear for the Rockets against a rested Lakers roster that has had time to regroup from the first round. Davis and James were dominant in the first round series, and I don’t expect them to regress against a weaker defensive team in Houston. The Rockets don’t have the big man to slow down Davis inside nor do they have someone who can defend James, so Houston will need to help a lot when LeBron tries to drive the lane. After being pushed in a rugged seven-game series against the Thunder, the Rockets might not have the legs to keep up with the refreshed Lakers, so I’ll take Los Angeles laying the 6.5 points at -110 odds to win.

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Game 2 (Houston Rockets lead 1-0)

September 6th, 9:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

James Harden dominated with 36 points and Russell Westbrook added 24 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a massive Game 1 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in their NBA playoffs series. Anthony Davis scored 25 points and LeBron James scored 20 for the Lakers, who again fall behind 1-0 in a series against a team led by a high-scoring guard. The Rockets actually had three players finish with 20 or more points among the four who finished in double figures, and four of their five starters made at least two 3-pointers in the victory. Los Angeles made just 29 percent of its 3-pointers and never led after the first quarter.

Houston showed no fatigue from its first-round series in dismantling the Los Angeles defense for a series-opening victory. The Rockets shot 48 percent from the floor, including 36 percent from behind the 3-point arc, as they kept coming at the Lakers with more energy and intensity. Harden and Westbrook were back to their typical selves in providing a one-two punch for the Houston offense, and Eric Gordon came up big with his 23 points while making half of his shots. What the Rockets also did well was keep James on the perimeter and prevent him from being able to penetrate and dish or drive to the basket.

Los Angeles really struggled from behind the arc in Game 1, converting just 11 of its 38 3-point attempts in the game. The offense has been a topic of concern for the Lakers, especially secondary scoring, and the Lakers did nothing to quell those fears in this contest. Alex Caruso had a good game with 14 points in 16 minutes on 4-of-7 shooting, but Danny Green, the only other Los Angeles player in double figures, scored 10 points on 12 shots. Davis and James were the only players aside from Caruso to shoot better than 33 percent while taking three shots or more in the game. The defense wasn’t great, obviously, but the offense is a bigger concern in this series in particular.

As expected, the Lakers are the favorites according to the New Jersey online sports betting sites to win Game 2, and I’d be hard-pressed to not back Davis and James in this game. Since James returned to Cleveland in 2015, the only teams to win consecutive games off a James-led team were the Golden State Warriors in those four straight NBA Finals matchups, the 2015-16 Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals and the 2017-18 Celtics in the conference finals. If nothing else, James might will the Lakers to a victory in Game 2 by himself to prevent his team from going down 2-0 in a series like this. So I’m jumping on board with the Lakers at -225 odds on the moneyline.

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Game 3

September 8th, 9:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

The Houston Rockets knew its formula for success had some risks to it against a team like the Los Angeles Lakers. Los Angeles happened to expose those weaknesses with the Anthony Davis and LeBron James dominating the paint and the Lakers tied the NBA playoffs series with a Game 2 victory. Houston played well offensively in the loss, but it could not slow down Davis or James on the interior as the duo took advantage of the smaller lineup the Rockets employ. The Lakers had three other players finish in double figures as well while Houston had six of their seven main rotation players finish with at least 10 points.

The Lakers didn’t waste any time in attacking the Rockets’ smaller lineup with their powerful interior of Davis and James. Those two barely outscored their shooting percentage as they scored 62 points on 61-percent shooting, but what that did was open the floor for their teammates to make an impact from the perimeter. Danny Green made three of his five 3-point attempts and Markieff Morris made 4 of 5 to help cut into Houston’s advantage in 3-point shooting. Kyle Kuzma had success against the smaller lineup as well with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting off the bench for Los Angeles. The Lakers will need to do a better job at making the 3-point shots more difficult for the Rockets, but they survived Sunday’s barrage at the very least.

Houston’s lack of defense in the small-ball lineup came back to bite them in a big way in Game 2 as the Lakers shot 56.6 percent from the field. The Rockets got what they needed offensively with 22 made 3-pointers and shooting 45 percent from the field, but they simply could not outscore the Lakers. Russell Westbrook’s offensive struggles certainly played a part as the point guard scored just 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting, though he did grab 13 rebounds, but as expected, the Rockets had no answer for Davis or James with their best lineup on the floor. Houston might not be able to completely stop the Lakers’ duo, but it will need to find a better way to limit their efficiency because the best chance Houston has in this series is making those two take a lot of shots to earn their points.

Los Angeles is a five-point favorite on the New Jersey online sports betting sites, but the Lakers are even bigger favorites on the moneyline. There are a lot of variables for Game 3 that will make the contest interesting. I doubt Westbook will struggle like he did in Game 2, but I also don’t expect the Rockets to make 22 3-pointers Tuesday either. The Lakers’ duo will definitely score, but I don’t know if the supporting cast will be as efficient as it was in Game 2. Either way, I think Los Angeles is the better team, so I’m picking the Lakers against the spread at -110 odds.

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Game 4 (Los Angeles Lakers lead 2-1)

September 10th, 7:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

The Los Angeles Lakers had three players score at least 20 points and they went after the Houston Rockets defense to take a 2-1 series lead. Anthony Davis and LeBron James were their usual selves with 26 and 36 points, respectively, as the Lakers tried to exploit the interior of Houston’s defense when the Rockets played their smaller lineup. It’s a big reason the Lakers shot 55 percent from the field and were able to pull away in the fourth quarter after a back-and-forth opening 36 minutes in the game.

Rajon Rondo was the story for the Lakers, especially in the fourth quarter. He had 21 points and nine assists in the game, but he became the first player in a decade to score at least 12 points and dish out five assists in the fourth quarter of an NBA playoffs game. His floor vision helped the Lakers build their lead in the fourth quarter as he scored eight of the 10 points in a quick 10-0 spurt while having an assist on the other basket. If he can continue to play at this level, and Kyle Kuzma continues to be efficient and effective when he’s substituted into the game, the Lakers are that much more dangerous this postseason.

Houston got all it could ask for from James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who combined for 63 points and 6-of-13 shooting from behind the arc. Jeff Green added 16 points as well for the Rockets, who again played well enough offensively to win but struggled defensively. It’s an interesting dilemma Houston is facing right now against the Lakers, one to which there is no simple solution. In the last two games, the Rockets have shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range and 45 percent or better in general. However, the Lakers have made 56 and 55 percent of their shots in those two contests to win by comfortable but not overwhelming margins. If Houston can slow down the Lakers inside the paint, it can find a way to get back into the series without going on a massive 3-point shooting spree.

Houston’s defensive concerns are legitimate and something it must address before Game 4. The issue is I don’t know if the Rockets have anyone on the roster who can slow down Davis or James on the interior. The scoring contributions from Rondo are an added bonus for the Lakers, but it’s been the play of Kuzma that has really stood out to me because he’s also taken advantage of his mismatches in this series. If he can continue to score 14-16 points per game and make 70-80 percent of his attempts, Los Angeles will be difficult to stop. So I’m going to stick on that train and bet on the Lakers laying six points at +107 odds at the New Jersey online sports betting sites.

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Game 5 (Los Angeles Lakers lead 3-1)

September 12th, 8:00 p.m., AdventHealth Arena

The Los Angeles Lakers continued their dominance of the paint against the Houston Rockets to take a 3-1 lead in their NBA playoffs series. Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Rajon Rondo all had double-doubles with points and rebounds as the Lakers held a 52-26 edge on the glass. Both James and Rondo came within two assists of triple-doubles as Los Angeles led the entire way in the game. It didn’t matter that James had a rough shooting night because James Harden also struggled to 21 points on just 2-of-11 shooting in the loss.

The Lakers continue to use their size advantage to dominate the paint against the Rockets, but Game 4 brought up some interesting challenges for Los Angeles in future rounds. The Lakers have done a decent job at running the Rockets off the 3-point line as Houston isn’t taking as many 3-pointers recently, but the Rockets are making more of them. Despite Harden making just one of his six attempts. Houston still made 42.4 percent of its 3-pointers as the rest of the team made 48.1 percent of its 3-point attempts. That is a scary number to allow from behind the arc, especially against teams that don’t shoot the perimeter shots as often. The Lakers also nearly squandered their lead in the fourth quarter with a rash of turnovers that allowed Houston to cut the lead to five with a few minutes left.

I’ve wrote about Houston’s problems in the paint so many times before in this series, but Game 4 might have been the worst Houston has looked on the interior. The Rockets were outscored 62-24 in the paint and they allowed 19 second-chance points while only scoring two themselves. The Lakers literally had twice as many rebounds as Houston did in Game 4 and made 58.6 percent of their shots inside the 3-point arc. If not for those turnovers, the Rockets likely would have lost this game by 20 or 30 points, showing the gap between these two teams. Not even a better shooting performance from Harden could have saved the Rockets, which is another reason the situation is so dire.

Houston’s lack of size is a gamble that has not paid off in this series as Los Angeles has used Davis to exploit that mismatch way too often. The Rockets even shot a decent percentage from behind the arc in Game 4, yet it didn’t matter as they never led in the game and were continuously beaten on the interior. Basketball is moving away from a traditional big man, but you still need someone who can defend the rim and the paint, and the Rockets don’t have that player right now. As a result, I’m headed to the New Jersey online sports betting sites and putting my money on the Lakers laying 6.5 points at -110 odds to finish the series.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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