NBA Playoffs Betting Odds, Picks & Predictions: Rockets vs. Lakers Game 1 (Friday, Sept. 4)
Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images. Pictured: LeBron James
- The Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets meet in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series at 9 p.m. ET in Orlando.
- The Lakers are a 6.5-point favorite, roughly the same number as a Feb. 6 matchup in LA against Houston. Is this line an overreaction based on Houston's lack of rest and offensive struggles at times against OKC?
- Raheem Palmer breaks down Lakers vs. Rockets Game 1 and makes his bet.
Rockets vs. Lakers Odds
|Rockets Odds||+6.5 [BET NOW]|
|Lakers Odds||-6.5 [BET NOW]|
|Moneyline||-270/+220 [BET NOW]|
|Over/Under||225.5 [BET NOW]|
|Time||Friday, 9 p.m. ET|
Rest vs. rhythm.
The opening game of the Western Conference semifinals is another datapoint in the age old debate. Ideally you’d want a little of both, but which would you rather have?
The Lakers had several days off to rest their bodies, clear their minds and mentally reset for their second round series after making easy work of the Portland Trailblazers. On the other side, the Rockets face a one-day turnaround after a grueling seven-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder that came down to the last possession.
Oddsmakers listed the Lakers as -600/+420 favorites for the series and -6.5 favorites in Game 1, which suggests that rest between playoff series is favorable and creates an advantage for the Lakers. In comparison, the Lakers were -425/+350 favorites against the eighth-seed Portland Trailblazers, and -6 in Game 1.
Matchup wise, this series features a contrasting mix of styles between the Rockets small-ball lineup and the Lakers, who use their size to their advantage. Which team can impose their will on the other? Will small ball or tall ball win out? Do the Rockets have anything left in the tank?
Let’s try to figure it out.
Houston Rockets: 3 Is Greater Than 2
The Rockets strategy going into this series is simple. Use small ball lineups to their advantage and outscore the Lakers. Although Houston will likely get out rebounded by the Lakers, they will concede that in favor of spreading the floor and outscoring them from behind the arc.
The Rockets are shooting 35.9% from three point range, which ranks 12th amongst playoff teams. but they are shooting a whopping 51 threes per game, which accounts for 56.2% of their field goal attempts.
To put it short, the Lakers have a math problem (3 > 2) and three point shooting will be a huge difference maker in this series. If the the Rockets get hot, they will have a real chance to challenge the Lakers.
James Harden is a tough match up for the Lakers and without the presence of Oklahoma City’s Lu Dort, who defended him well in the first round of the playoffs, he should have an easier time. Outside of their Feb. 6 matchup in which Harden struggled with foul trouble, he’s torched the Lakers for 34 points in their Jan. 18 matchup and 39 points in their Aug. 6 matchup.
I expect the Lakers to trap Harden to get the ball out of his hands and Russell Westbrook should be a huge beneficiary of this. Westbrook has just played three games in the playoffs after returning from his quad injury and he’ll certainly have his chances to capitalize on Harden’s gravity for driving opportunities.
Of course, the question is, what version of Russell Westbrook are they getting? Are they getting the Westbrook who gave the, 41 points, 5 assists and 8 rebounds on 17-28 shooting against the Lakers in February or are they getting the version coming off his quad injury who’s averaged 14.7 points on 41.7% shooting?
LA Lakers: No Answer for AD?
There couldn’t be a more polar opposite for the Rockets than the Lakers. While the Rockets play small ball, the Lakers play multiple bigs in Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee with Dwight Howard coming off the bench. The differences continue.
The Lakers get 55.2% percent of their points from 2-point range, the highest percentage in the league, while getting only 29% of their points from behind the arc. The Lakers are making 12.8 threes per game compared to the Rockets’ 18.3, which leaves about 16 points the Lakers have to make up for in other areas.
Fortunately LA has some answers. The Rockets had the best defensive rating in the bubble at 101.7, but a lot of this was based on their opponent. They played an Oklahoma City Thunder team that played an offensively challenged Dort and a center in Adams who couldn’t make them pay for playing small ball. The Lakers on the other hand shouldn’t have any problems capitalizing on this diminutively sized Rockets team.
Anthony Davis should be in for a huge series as I expect the Rockets to be willing to let Davis post up, shoot mid-range jumpers and isolate at will, wagering that they can stop everyone else and outscore them from beyond the arc on the other end. McGee and Howard will get their opportunities as well. They’ll dominate the offense boards, get tip-ins, dunks and post up opportunities.
Although the Lakers punish the Rockets in ways Oklahoma City couldn’t with their big lineups, it does feel like this could play into their hands. It’ll be interesting to see if Houston’s offense can play McGee and Dwight off the floor and force the Lakers to go small while playing AD at center, which is really their optimal lineup.
Because the Rockets switch on defense, it’s likely we’ll see isolations from LeBron James. He can effectively switch hunt and terrorize every matchup he wants in this series and Houston will have no answers. It’s bit troubling for Houston that PJ Tucker is the best candidate to guard both Anthony Davis and LeBron James and he’ll need to guard AD, leaving Covington, House, Gordon, and maybe even Jeff Green and DaMarre to guard LeBron.
If there’s any cause for concern, it’s how the Lakers survive non-LeBron minutes and what role players can step up and hit open jumpers. Rajon Rondo is probable for Game 1, but the Lakers are -5.5 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor this season.
How I’m Betting Lakers-Rockets
The Lakers have only seen this incarnation of the Rockets once, in their Feb. 6 matchup just mere days after Houston traded Clint Capela for Robert Covington. The Rockets won that matchup 121-111 even when Harden struggled with foul trouble.
The market doesn’t have a ton of respect for Houston in this spot, listing them as 6.5-point underdogs, which ironically is the same number the Lakers laid to the Portland Trailblazers in Game 1. Although I understand the need for a bump coming off a seven-game series, I can’t help but think this is an over-adjustment.
The Lakers were laying -6 in their home game against the Rockets on Feb. 6. Considering that my numbers have the Lakers home court advantage at Staples Center at around 3.40 points, we would be looking at the Lakers laying an upwards of 9.5 to 10 points if this were a home game as opposed to a game on a neutral court. There’s no travel or home court involved, and yet this game is being priced like it is.
My full-season numbers make this closer to Lakers -3 and with the one day of rest the Rockets are getting before starting a new series, I think Lakers -5 is a fair number. At +6.5 or better, there’s some value.
The Rockets have superior guard play and can outscore the Lakers from three. That gives them a chance to steal one.
I think over the course of the series, the Lakers will wear down the Rockets. At some point, playing small ball against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard will cause Houston to run out of gas but early on, the Rockets have a puncher’s chance.
Pick: Rockets +6.5 (or better)