The Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets are about to embark on a series full of superstars, three-pointers, and extreme facial hair. In round one, the Lakers took care of the Portland Trail Blazers in five games, and the Rockets won a seven-game battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Lakers are well-rested—in fact, they’re so well rested that anyone on the team who had annoying injuries or soreness will likely be feeling better. They’re also likely to see Rajon Rondo in game 1 since he’s listed as probable. He had been out with back spasms. The Rockets only got one day’s rest, so they could be a little drained and tired.
During the season, both teams faced each other three times, with the Rockets winning two of those games. In the Lakers’ only win, Anthony Davis did not play and LeBron James had 31 points and 12 assists. In one of the losses, James didn’t play and Davis scored 17 points and 12 rebounds. Both teams will definitely be ready to battle.
We’ll see how the Lakers adjust to guarding James Harden and Russell Westbrook. With defensive specialist Avery Bradley opting out of the restart, they’ve needed other players to step up, and Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma have done that big time: they managed defensive ratings of 90.9 and 94.2, respectively, in the first round. But they’ll definitely need Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to up their defensive game as well.
X-Factors for both teams:
If you’re a fan of basketball, then you are most likely a fan of PJ Tucker and how much heart he plays with. For the Rockets to have success against the Lakers, he’ll need to slow down Anthony Davis. Davis could very well dominate against Tucker, so Tucker will have to come out ready to defend and to make Davis work hard to get the shots he wants.
Kyle Kuzma will definitely need to continue his improvement—and perhaps even play his best basketball yet—this series. Throughout eight seeding games and the first round of the playoffs, Kuz has scored a total of 162 points, which is fantastic and a good sign going forward. Kuz also played great defense against the Portland Trail Blazers; if he didn’t have a good scoring game, he was defending. He’ll likely be tasked with guarding James Harden, and that’ll be a fun challenge.
Both benches will need to step up this series and produce some reliable offense. These two teams love them some three-pointers, so they’ll need to actually knock down those shots. If both benches start knocking them down, we could see some absurdly high-scoring games.
Robert Covington has been an excellent addition to the Rockets this season and is more than capable of providing scoring should the Rockets find themselves in need. In the Rockets’ last five games, he’s averaged 16 points, 2 steals, 6 rebounds and 1 assist. He’ll need to keep that up.
Honorable mention: Danny Green could emerge this series as playoff DG and start knocking down shots from the perimeter, and if he does, the Lakers could be unbeatable. Against the Rockets this season, he’s taken 13 three-pointers and made seven of them.
This series has the potential to be a long one. The Lakers focus a lot on defense, and the Rockets (while they’ve been great on defense), have a lot of firepower on offense. In order for the Lakers to win, they’ll need to get their offense going. For the Rockets to win they’ll need to keep up that good defense and make life tough on AD. I’ll say the Lakers will win in five games, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes to seven games.
(Stats from: Basketball Reference and StatMuse)