Moore: How NBA Western Conference Playoff Matchups Look at the Half-Way Mark
Photo credit: Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: James Harden and LeBron James
Editors note: These odds have been updated through Jan. 20.
The Saturday night primetime game returns in the NBA tonight as the Houston Rockets take on the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s got everything you would want: MVP candidates, big star power, the Lakers franchise draw and two legitimate contenders for the Western Conference title.
What’s interesting about the West is how, unlike in recent years, even though the Lakers are rolling at the top of the standings, there’s not a sense that their ascendance is inevitable. The Lakers are vulnerable… just like the rest of the teams in the West, just perhaps less so. So ahead of this matchup, I wanted to take a look at the odds-on favorites to win the West and what their prospective playoff paths look like.
This matchup analysis is not built solely on the regular season records of the various teams, but instead the makeup of those teams and how those matchups played out in the games so far, regardless of the outcome. Matchups are more important than win-loss records in the regular season when it comes to a playoff series.
Odds as of Saturday morning and via FanDuel, where Action Network users get a risk-free bet up to $500.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
- WESTERN CONFERENCE TITLE ODDS: +190
- STATUS: GOLIATH
- STRONG AGAINST: NUGGETS, THUNDER
- WEAK AGAINST: CLIPPERS
- UNDECIDED: JAZZ, ROCKETS, DALLAS
- RECORD AGAINST OTHER TOP-7 WEST TEAMS: 10-4
The Lakers are the toast of the league again, and they look like they are rolling on the way to a title. LeBron James has put in an MVP-caliber season; Anthony Davis has been phenomenal with fewer responsibilities and getting to just operate as the tip of the spear for an offense.
They dominate teams like the Nuggets, who don’t have the kind of athleticism on the interior or size on the perimeter to disrupt the lob. It’s a major matchup issue for Denver, and given the Nuggets’ lack of elite shooting this year, it’s a nightmare matchup even beyond the talent disparity.
Utah’s a little more complicated. The Lakers looked like they could simply win a rock fight with the Jazz early in the season, but Utah’s offense has looked radically different since Donovan Mitchell took over at point guard.
The Jazz obviously have the size to counter the Lakers with Rudy Gobert — it’s whether or not they can generate enough offense to counter James, essentially. Utah is 15th in 3-point attempts per 100 possessions but first in 3-point percentage. If the Jazz adjusted their approach and just rained hellfire, they might be able to outpace the Lakers (24th in 3-point attempts per 100 possessions.)
The Clippers are 2-0 vs. the Lakers, with the second requiring the huge comeback on Christmas. But not only are the Clippers deeper with more perimeter weaponry, but they have the elite, top-level defenders to counter James.
The Clippers bigs have issues with multiple rotations, but the Lakers are typically trying to dominate with raw size and athleticism; the Clipper bigs are more comfortable with that game.
You will never feel great about going up against LeBron James. The one player to have on your side against him, however, is Kawhi Leonard.