Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers
Line: Los Angeles -6.5
Pick: Lakers -6.5
It’s officially time to bring out the annual joke that is definitely still not funny but just has to be said… Houston, we have a problem.
Yes, the Rockets have hit desperation mode in the NBA Bubble down three games to one. Scarier than the series record though is the fact that in game four, it looked like the Lakers solved the Rockets offensive gameplan.
I made a TikTok on this which you can see here:
Essentially, the cliff notes version is that the Lakers have decided to trap James Harden to get the ball out of his hands. Then, instead of competing to protect the rim like most would in an odd man situation, they cheat to the three point line. This closes out quickly open three point shots and forces the shooter to either create off the dribble or pass.
If they choose to create, the Lakers bet is that Anthony Davis and LeBron are so good at protecting the rim that it’ll force the only area to be open to be the mid range. This is of course the last possible thing Houston wants to shoot and therefore it slows down their offence and jumbles them up.
The easiest way to put it, is Laker’s coach Frank Vogel has figured out how to use Houston’s own strategy against them.
It’s no coincidence the only Rocket to really play well in games three and four was Russell Westbrook, the only player they have who takes mid range jumpers or can create when Harden is doubled. Houston really only has two options to counter this.
First, Harden just has to play better. If he can find a way to score consistently on his stepback in single coverage or even quickly when they start to show the double, that opens up more for everyone. Part of why the doubling is working so well is because Harden shooting a paltry 2/11 from the field more or less takes away the Rockets most important weapon.
If Harden can’t get to 30 plus points, the Rockets may have no hope even if my second option works.
That second option is for the Rockets to start taking some mid range shots. Not all of them, just enough that the Lakers have to respect it. If the Lakers only have to guard two areas instead of the entire floor it makes their lives much easier.
Let’s say Robert Covington up fakes, takes two hard dribbles and shoots from 17 feet. Normally he just pauses and lets the defence re-set because he isn’t sure what to do. But, if he were to become an actual threat then the Rockets may have something.
This issue gets to the real elephant in the room and why I have the Lakers closing out the series tonight.
Houston just doesn’t have enough guys who can create on their own. With Danuel House being sent home after nursing a COVID test a little too much, the Rockets depth is virtually nothing.
This series was won by the fact Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, House and the rest of the Rockets bench has been brutally outplayed by the Lakers bench. Playoff Rajon Rondo is back, Markieff Morris is playing like his brother and Alex Caruso is fulfilling every Laker’s fans wildest fantasies.
The Rockets only real hope for this series was that by bombing threes, their depth players would inevitably outplay the Lakers by so much it would make up for how much top end talent they have. Instead, they’ve gotten brutally outplayed and as such, have earned there now 3-1 deficit.
Houston may find a way to win this game out of shear three point randomness but with the Lakers defensive strategy I’m not even sure if they can get enough off for that to happen. It would take a special Mike D’Antoni offensive gameplan to make that happen and even then they’re still down 3-2.
This series felt over in game four. We’ve also seen time and again Harden’s Rockets have lacked the necessary mental fortitude to defeat adversity.
Houston may prove me wrong but I have a strong feeling this game will be a fairly comfortable around 10 point Lakers win.