The Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets now sit fourteenth in the Western Conference but are only six games back from first place in the Western Conference. After a tough stretch against what should be inferior teams, the Rockets are desperately searching for answers in the West.
The Rockets posted losses to the Timberwolves, Jazz, and Mavericks in a three-game road trip. While Harden dominated in each game, once again he was provided with very little support. The Rockets bench unit has been particularly weak in their recent losing streak.
The Los Angeles Lakers
After splitting a home and home with the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers went to Memphis and took an easy win 111-88. The Lakers saw even contributions from many players as six scored in double figures as the team shot a collective 39% from three.
The Lakers are rolling right now and it seems that it is because players have learned their place in the rotation. 26 games into the regular season surely isn’t enough time to perfect their synergy, but the progress in a LeBron-led team is astounding. Against a weaker bench unit in the Rockets, look for the Lakers to take advantage with the Rockets stars out.
What’s at Stake?
In 217 regular season games, the Los Angeles Lakers lead the all-time series against the Houston Rockets 136-81.
If the Houston Rockets win this match, they would be 1-1.5 games back from the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference rankings.
If the Los Angeles Lakers win this match, they would be a mere 0.5 game back from clinching first from the Warriors, dependent on a Warriors loss.
Questions to Answer
Who will spark the Rockets bench unit?
Will the Lakers continue to play deep into their bench?
We’re going to compare the two teams in an attempt to predict who has the upper hand in this match up.
The Lakers bench averages 41.2 PPG
Amongst players that average more than nine minutes per game in over fifteen appearances for the Lakers off the bench, the combined scoring average for that unit is 41.2 PPG. The Lakers bench is full of dangerous guards that can penetrate and score from the outside and that strength in depth has balanced the roster well.
Just looking at Josh Hart, the Lakers are in good hands with the bench unit. While not a pure playmaker, sharing the backcourt with Lance Stephenson with the injury to Rajon Rondo has given him freedom offensively and open looks to convert on his current 39% clip from three.
The Rockets bench averages 30.3 PPG
The Rockets reserve unit is not promising. While Eric Gordon continues to score, he is doing it on such low efficiency the return is almost negligible. While the scoring needs to improve, it should also be noted that the Rockets’ defence takes a serious dive when Capela leaves the court.
In an attempt to remedy the bench scoring woes, D’Antoni has done more to combine the starting stars with the bench unit. Allowing Chris Paul or James Harden to take turns with the substitutes in order for one to always be on the court with Capela. The strategy has spelled the streaks of poor scoring, however negatively affects substitution timing, which has shown a modicum of increased fatigue amongst Houston’s stars.
Houston Rockets Roster Notes
F Carmelo Anthony is still on the roster, but the Rockets have no intention of having him rejoin the lineup.
F-C Marquese Chriss is still listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury.
G Brandon Knight is still sidelined with a knee injury and is targeting a return Dec 13-17.
C Zhou Qi is unlikely to play after suffering a left ankle sprain.
Los Angeles Lakers Roster Notes
G-F Brandon Ingram is still out with an ankle injury and will be reevaluated in on Tuesday.
G Rajon Rondo will miss at least the next two games for the Lakers before returning from a hand fracture.
Josh Hart has Cooled Down
After a blistering start to the season Hart has cooled down since the end of November. Since November 29th Hart has only scored in double digits twice, but has remained a net positive on the court in every match.
Hart will always be a defensive option on the court for the Lakers, but when he isn’t on his day the Lakers struggle. Going 0-5 from three against the Spurs may be the extreme, but with one less outlet on the court for the Lakers it becomes tough not to include the likes of James into the lineup.
PJ Tucker has his Hands Full Again
PJ Tucker, once again in his career, has the unenviable task of matching up against LeBron James. At 6’6 and 245lbs, Tucker certainly has the physical profile to deal with James but it will be his contributions on the offensive end that will keep the Lakers truly honest.
Currently averaging 7.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and shooting almost 40% from three, PJ Tucker has been the role player the Rockets wanted when they signed him to his three-year contract. While he’ll primarily be matched up with James, don’t be surprised to see Tucker guard from wing to post in an effort to slow the Lakers offence.
Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets Predictions and Odds
The odds makers have the Houston Rockets favoured over the Los Angeles Lakers by 4.5, with an over/under of 110.