May 2, 2009

Lakers-Rockets 2nd Round Match-up Preview

The Los Angeles Lakers will face the Houston Rockets in the second round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs and it looks like a tougher challenge for the Lakers.

I see the Lakers still relying on offense primarily to win games, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol leading the way. With Andrew Bynum's shift to the starting line-up to counter Houston's Yao Ming, Lamar Odom will provide the offensive spark off the bench. The challenge the Rockets present is in their defense.

The Rockets are a much better defensive team than the Utah Jazz, the Lakers' first round opponent. In the first round of the playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers, the Rockets held them to an average of 87 points a game. This number is 12 points the Blazers' regular season average output. The Rockets are committed to playing defense with Ron Artest and Shane Battier hounding the perimeter and Yao middle. I predict Artest & Battier giving Kobe a hard time in the series.

Despite the Rockets offense-dampening strategy, I see the Lakers out-pacing the Rockets. The Lakers managed to average 107 points against the physical Jazz team mainly because the Lakers dictated the tempo of the series and the Jazz weren't able to catch-up. This is the scenario that I'm predicting in the Rockets match-up.

In the player-by-player match-ups, the Lakers also have an edge over the Rockets. Kobe Bryant will definitely have his way scoring-wise over any Rocket defender. Aaron Brooks historically had performed poorly against the Lakers and only Ron Artest and Yao Ming can provide real offense for the Rockets. The x-factor though for the Rockets is Luis Scola, and the Lakers will try to have Odom or Gasol defending him and his 16-foot jumpers.

One more thing: The Rockets never won a game against the Lakers in the regular season. The Lakers' mastery over the Rockets and their offense will carry them over to the Western Conference finals.

My prediction: Lakers in 5.

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