2020 NBA Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Lakers vs. Rocketsby Troy Pierce September 3, 2020 0 comments
The Los Angeles Lakers ousted the Portland Trail Blazers in five games, winning the final game against a Blazers squad missing their best player, Damian Lillard. The Houston Rockets went an exciting and hard-fought seven games against Oklahoma City, the last of which came down to the wire with the Thunder unable to capitalize on their final possession of the series-deciding game with just seconds remaining.
Regular Season Matchups
Houston won the regular-season series, 2-1, outscoring Los Angeles by 16 points across three matchups. Each contest of this matchup delivered varied circumstances for each squad with injuries and personnel changes playing a big role to this point. With only one full-strength matchup between the two teams, it can make it difficult to gauge what a playoff series might look like with the pair matched up.
The Lakers have their work cut out when it comes to stopping the two-headed monster that is Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Over the course of the regular season, Los Angeles struggled to stop the duo, even with Avery Bradley in the lineup, with the exception of the teams’ Feb. 6 matchup where Harden would finish with just 14 points, going three of 10 from the field and a measly one-for-six from beyond the arc. He would, however, shoot a perfect seven of seven from the free-throw line, notching seven rebounds and seven assists along the way. Harden was his usual self in the other two matchups, scoring over 30 points in each game.
Finding a way to limit the impact of Houston’s dynamic duo will not be easy; the Lakers will have to hope for an off game from one-half of the duo if they want an easier path to victory. For the Lakers to be successful against Houston’s explosive backcourt, Los Angeles will need to step up their perimeter defense, and, of course, limit their fouls as much as possible. Danny Green has provided a consistent impact on the defensive end, blocking shots and forcing turnovers without fouling, and continues to be in bubble play despite his shooting woes. Los Angeles hopes his shot comes around and he continues to be a positive force on the defensive end.
Houston struggled overall with the Lakers’ size, getting out-rebounded in each contest. Their most recent matchup in the bubble doubled as the Lakers’ largest rebound advantage (plus-14) in any matchup between the two teams this season. Houston simply cannot match the Lakers’ size, especially with their commitment to small ball. Houston has struggled to rebound the basketball, allowing over 50 rebounds seven times and over 60 rebounds twice since the restart.
Houston did do a solid job of defending Anthony Davis in their Aug. 6 matchup, forcing the Lakers’ superstar into seven turnovers and limiting Davis to just 17 points despite allowing him nine free-throw attempts and an efficient shooting night from the floor. Davis and Dwight Howard would combine for 27 rebounds, further showing that Los Angeles knows how to use their size to their advantage. Houston has also shown their ability to eliminate Los Angeles’ other weapons by restricting Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, and other rotation players’ ability to impact the game.
Keys to the Series
The Lakers need to take advantage of their size in this series. Their ability to have multiple bigs on the floor at any given time will allow Los Angeles to wear down Houston’s key rotation players that will take on the task of guarding the Lakers’ big men. Rebounding is certainly a tangible way to take advantage of size, but getting Houston’s defenders into foul trouble not only frustrates the opponent but also creates easy scoring attempts for Los Angeles.
The Lakers need Kyle Kuzma to continue his outburst that has been present since entering the bubble. If Houston cannot find a way to eliminate his impact like they did at times during the regular season, the Rockets could be in for a tiring series. Kuzma has been a legitimate third option throughout play in the bubble, but he did struggle at times in the first round.
The Rockets will undoubtedly look to take advantage of their explosive perimeter game. Houston will need to own their small ball identity and play fast to take Los Angeles out of the game, using their lack of size to their advantage. A fast-paced offense combined with a focused effort on the glass and a strong defense will be Houston’s best bet to win this series.
Each team in this series has very clear advantages over the other. This series will go in favor of whichever squad is more effective in executing those advantages. The Lakers are the favorite in the eyes of many and have the more impactful advantage, owning size that their opponent simply cannot match. With Anthony Davis coming off a series averaging 29 points and nine rebounds, it doesn’t look easy for the fourth-seeded Rockets.
Prediction: Los Angeles defeats Houston, 4-2
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