Lakers: Potential second round preview, Houston Rockets edition

Los Angeles Lakers(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

After dominating the Blazers on Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers hold a 3-1 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers and the series looks like it’s already over.

The Los Angeles Lakers are looking like the dominant team that we saw back in March before the season suspension. Their defense has shut down one of the most potent offenses in the league and they have used their size to overwhelm their opponent.

With the purple and gold looking like this, I decided to get ahead of myself and proclaim them first-round series winners. Next up they’ll face the winner of the Rockets-Thunder series which is currently tied at 2-2.

Today we’re going to do sort of a series preview on a potential Rockets-Lakers second-round matchup. The Rockets feature the league’s leading scorer, James Harden, and a funky team that features no true center in its starting lineup.

Houston has doubled down on small-ball and it has actually worked for stretches. The Rockets’ record since trading Clint Capela, including the seeding games, is 12-10. That’s not exactly newsworthy and it could lead to trouble in a matchup with LA.

The main takeaway from Houston’s small-ball experiment is Russell Westbrook’s improved play. Houston’s star point guard started the season with some of the worst shooting numbers of his career and his fit in Mike D’Antoni’s three-for-all system was being questioned.

After the Capela trade, Westbrook found his groove and played extremely well until an injury forced him to sit out. Westbrook’s averages from February 6 (the day of the Capela trade) to August 12 (the last seeding game for the Rockets) were 29.7ppg, 7.7rpg and 6.1apg.

Those stats look tremendous, but what improved dramatically was his efficiency. Russ had a true shooting percentage of 57% after the Capela trade compared to 52.7% before the Capela trade. With Capela gone, Westbrook could take advantage of Houston’s floor spacing and drive or cut to the basket with less resistance from the defense.

How does this relate to the Los Angeles Lakers?

Glad you asked. The Lakers might have a problem in their hands with the Harden-Westbrook duo as LA is missing Avery Bradley.

Bradley usually defended the other team’s best guard and his absence could certainly hurt Los Angeles. During the regular season, Bradley had the best defensive rating of every guard on the Lakers’ roster. Facing two superstar backcourt scorers in Bradley’s absence, Los Angeles could turn to Alex Caruso as their starting guard alongside Kentavious Calwell-Pope. 

Moving on to the offensive side of the ball, the Lakers have a huge advantage against the Rockets: their size. Los Angeles boasts the best duo in the NBA in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Both players’ playing styles involve getting into the paint to score most of their points.

The Lakers averaged 52.8 points in the paint per game which was good enough for second in the league. On the other hand, the Rockets allowed 51.5 points in the paint per game, good enough for 26th in the league.

Davis stands as the player with the most to gain in a series against the Rockets. As was mentioned before, the Rockets don’t usually have a true center on the floor. Houston has no answer for Davis’ combination of size, strength, and skill.

LeBron might be bothered a bit as the Rockets can throw different wing players at him, but when he gets past them The King should have no trouble finishing at the rim.

Next. JJ Redick named as a dream trade target. dark

LA should start preparing for their next opponent. Damian Lillard is listed as out for Game 5 due to a knee sprain, so the Lakers should have no trouble finishing the Blazers off. This will earn them some rest as the Thunder and the Rockets are locked at 2-2 with Game 5 set to be played today.