After dispatching the Portland Trailblazers in five games, the Lakers will now face the Rockets in the Conference Semifinals. The games will certainly be harder the deeper teams advance. The Lakers have had some time to rest and get practices in while they waited on who they would face in the semifinals. They got the answer last night as the Rockets defeated the Thunder in a exciting game seven.
For the Rockets, James Harden is their catalyst and leader. Harden is one of the most explosive shooters and one-on-one players in today’s game. He’s going to be a handful for the Lakers to stop. Although Harden has struggled the past couple of games in the playoffs doesn’t mean the drought will last. He can turn it on and any given time. Then you have Westbrook, who is arguably one of the most athletic players you will ever see. He can drive to the basket with quickness. The Rockets game is very much a drive to the basket and kick it out to the shooters game. They will shoot a lot of perimeter shots, especially from three where they can be deadly. Eric Gordon is another shooter that teams have to deal with. PJ Tucker can pull opponents bigs away from the basket due to his ability to shoot as well. Where the Rockets are very strong in their perimeter game, they are very weak in size. They play ‘small ball’ and can easily be beat inside the paint, where the Lakers have to take advantage.
The size of the Lakers is what the Rockets have to be concerned about. The Lakers have Davis, McGee, Howard, Morris, all whom have length. Green, Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope have to shoot the ball well in this series and keep the Rockets honest. The key to the series is going to be the Lakers crashing the boards on both ends. They should be outrebounding the Rockets in this series. The Lakers also have to play strong perimeter defense. They haven’t exactly been crisp on that end, but they did enough to take the Blazers out of their game in the first round. They will have to do the same against the Rockets. The toughest task will be building a wall in the paint while still trying to protect the perimeter. Harden and Westbrook are going to try and attack every chance they get. When the defense collapses, they will kick it out to their shooters. In this series, the Lakers might have to go small with Davis playing the five if the Rockets get going from the perimeter. They cannot allow the Rockets shooters to get hot in stretches.
For the Lakers, they have to take advantage with their size and post up Anthony Davis as much as possible. He should be getting shots over the Rockets bigs anytime he wants. LeBron James will get his points and he will attack with aggression as he normally does. The Lakers really need their shooters to step up big time. I expect this series to be a battle, and I predict the Lakers will take it in six games.