Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs Houston Rockets (4)
I just realised I forgot to do this preview as well! I must be working too hard. A little under 4 hours until Game 1 tips off, just enough time to work the markets and hopefully make some coin. I’ve got Lakers to win the series, but I think Houston might take game 1. Worth a small wager at the odds. The Lakers haven’t played for almost a week and they aren’t always the quickest team out of the gates. Houston won the regular season 2-1.
The day after Houston traded Clint Capela and fully embraced the “Pocket Rockets” mentality, they had a match against the Lakers. Westbrook exploded and had 40+ points. Westbrook is going to have to be better and more consistent in this series. No more bad turnovers and more consistent scoring. He will need to be scoring at least 20 a night and getting back to around the triple/double mark. I would also love it if he did not attempt a single 3. Inside shots only, the closer to the rim, the better. Anytime Westbrook takes a 3, it’s a gift to the opposing defense.
Speaking of more consistent scoring, this is the moment for James Harden. He needs to be back to 40 points a game. He can’t afford to go ice cold in a game, let alone the series. It’s fantastic when the other guys can contribute points offensively, but that needs to be a bonus, not primary points. Bulk of the scoring needs to come from Harden. Look for him to be aggressive in driving and getting to the line and he needs to start hitting the 3. If it’s not dropping, he needs to be smart enough to find another way to score. He is certainly capable.
Obviously, Houston will need more than just Westbrook and Harden to score, but they need to look at everything else as just gravy. Points are going to be available for open shooters, they just need to make the shots. If Houston can manage to get out and run and turn this into a track meet, they will give themselves a chance. I imagine they will set a new playoff record for 3’s attempted at least once in this series, maybe twice. It’s good if they are dropping, but if they aren’t. D’Antoni really needs to adjust his game plan. I doubt he will though.
P.J. Tucker is going to have his work cut out for him defensively. I’m sure he won’t shy away from the challenge. It’s basically impossible to stop James and Davis from scoring, so he has to do his best to just make it hard for them. Nothing easy in the paint. Davis is usually happy to settle for jump shots anyway, so Tucker should try and keep him at a distance. If the rest of the Rockets can match Tucker’s defensive energy (which they show signs of sometimes) they will at least be able to keep themselves in the games late. The question is will they remain engaged enough defensively to give themselves a chance? If they are still in down the stretch, all it takes is one good shot to win a game. It all starts on defense.
If there is one thing that has continued to be true of the playoffs, year after year, it’s that LeBron James will get his. He is going to make his mark on this game. Safe to say he will be close to a triple/double most nights. If he can score close to 30 points, even better. AD will also have his points around the 35-40 per game. Houston should live with this and try and make the other guys beat them. They had success against OKC when they played 5 on 4 defense and basically left Dort all alone. They should replicate this strategy because L.A. have a lot of guys that are icy from outside. Green, Smith, Caruso and even KCP have all been inconsistent at best, and couldn’t throw a ball in the ocean at their worst. I’m looking at you, Danny Green. The Rockets need to take their chance to try and limit LBJ and AD by leaving one of these guys open when they have minutes.
Really, this series will come down to which team will step up, specifically, the other guys. I’m sure the dynamic duo for each team will play very well. It’s just about everyone else. Can the Lakers finally hit some shots and at least keep the 3 point disparity close? Will Houston stop bombing away from downtown and score some easy layups and not get decimated in the points in the paint statistic? Who is going to step up?
My money is on the Lakers. It’s far more likely that Danny Green and Co. will hit a shot then it is for the Rockets to stop taking them. I have a hard time believe the Rockets will remain engaged defensively the entire time. Surely, someone will get it going for L.A. When the Lakers are rolling, they can score with relative ease. I think Houston will have a couple of hot shooting nights, so I’m picking the Lakers to win in 6.
Just for fun, this is the order of victories : Houston, Lakers, Lakers, Houston, Lakers, Lakers.