Houston Rockets vs. L.A. Lakers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
James Harden and the Houston Rockets are making the trip to face the Los Angeles Lakers in what will be Mike D'Antoni's first-ever game on the sidelines for Tinseltown.
Kobe Bryant and company are coming off a commanding win over the Phoenix Suns, while the James Harden-led Rockets will look to rebound after suffering their second loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
For the Lakers, a win would mean hitting the .500 plateau for the first time and getting the D'Antoni-coached era off on the right foot.
After losing five of their last seven, the Rockets will look reach .500 again as well, while also attempting to prove how dangerous they are against a formidable opponent.
With so much on the line both emotionally and statistically for either team, this one should prove to be an extremely heated and fast-paced matchup.
Time: Sunday, November 18th, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBA LP
Records: Houston Rockets (4-5), Los Angeles Lakers (4-5)
Betting Line: Lakers -7.5
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Rockets: Carlos Defino (groin), questionable.
Lakers: Steve Blake (abdomen), questionable; Steve Nash (leg), out.
Key Storyline: Will D'Antoni be welcomed into Los Angeles with open arms?
The D'Antoni era officially begins Sunday in Los Angeles, as this will be the first game he coaches from the sidelines since taking over the reins.
Though the Lakers are coming off a win against the Suns, the question remains what type of impact D'Antoni can have on the Lakers' starstruck roster long term.
If they can come out and play inspired offense, while remaining competent on the defensive end, D'Antoni's transition into the seat that many wanted to be Phil Jackson's will be much easier.
Should the Lakers incur a loss at the hands of an explosive, albeit cosmetically inferior opponent, however, Los Angeles' newest coach is like to hear plenty of jeers from a passionate fanbase.
Key Matchup: James Harden, Rockets, SG vs. Kobe Bryant, Lakers, SG
This should be fun.
Harden and Bryant meet for the first of four times this regular season in what promises to be a truly captivating matchup.
While Harden has cooled off a bit from the field, he's still averaging 26.7 points per game. His perpetual rim attack is something Kobe doesn't have to defend much anymore, and his superior speed could make him a nightmare for the Black Mamba.
Expect to see a lot of Metta World Peace on Harden, whose defense has been subpar to start the season. If Harden is able to get a step on him, it will undoubtedly be a long night for Los Angeles.
That said, Bryant isn't about to not go up against one of the best in the league.
He is no stranger to facing Harden, but this time, it's different. Harden is now his team's go-to scorer, their offensive end-all; Kobe hasn't experienced this Harden.
Still, there's no denying Bryant is still a staunch defender and one of the most dominant scorers in the game. He's not about to get rattled by a matchup of this caliber—it usually brings out the best in him.
Which is bad news for Harden and the Rockets.
Omer Asik, C, Rockets
Rarely a game will go by when Asik isn't deemed an X-factor, yet he'll be especially important in this contest as he goes up against Dwight Howard.
For all of Asik's inconsistencies, he's a strong post defender. He'll block shots, grab rebounds and has superior anticipation. However, he's also not used to defending mobile bigs like Howard.
Most will have Asik pegged as a deer in headlights in this one, but if he can even contain Howard slightly, frustrate him offensively even a little bit, Houston's chances at pulling off the upset are that much greater.
Pau Gasol, PF, Lakers
While the Rockets have Asik to at least attempt to combat Howard, who do they have to stop Gasol? Patrick Patterson? Marcus Morris?
I don't think so.
Gasol should be able to walk all over Houston's defense if he finds his shooting touch as he adjusts to a new system.
Should the power forward have no trouble making the transition, he's poised to torch the Rockets from start to finish.
Jeremy Lin, PG, Rockets
I hate naming two starters as X-factors, I really do. But I have to make an exception here.
Nash isn't going to be in the lineup, that much is a given. Should Blake not be available either, Lin is going to go up against a healthy dose of Darius Morris, Jodie Meeks and even Bryant at the point.
With the exception of Bryant, Lin should have the edge, on both ends of the floor.
If he can shoot an efficient rate from the field and carve up a thin Lakers' backcourt on his way to the rim, the Rockets will be in this one—until the very end.
Antawn Jamison, PF, Lakers
Jamison cannot defend, but he can score, which means D'Antoni loves him.
This system should reach Jamison in ways the Princeton never did. He's going to have the type of green light he had with the Cleveland Cavaliers and he should have no trouble putting points on the board.
Which is important, because while the Lakers bench–like Houston's—is thin, they—unlike the Rockets—have a proven scorer.
Jamison needs to use that to his advantage and put some serious points on the board against an underwhelming second unit so that Los Angeles may make D'Antoni's debut a successful one.
Prediction: Lakers 109, Rockets 101
Los Angeles will have no trouble putting points on the board in the early goings of the seven-seconds-or-less system. Just ask the Suns. Or the New York Knicks.
The Lakers were built to score. I don't care that Howard is a superior defender or that the team's bench is underwhelming and their core aging—the Lakers were built to score.
Which team walks out of Tinseltown with a victory Sunday night?
D'Antoni's up-tempo offense will play to that. And while it might get ugly defensively at points, those are the times I do care that Howard is a superior defender.
Yet the Lakers' defense hasn't been terrible lately. They're in the top 10 in points allowed per game, going up against a bottom-half offense.
Yes, Harden will still get his, and Lin should capitalize off a few mismatches, but Asik's production is important to their cause, and Howard is liable to lock him down.
Unless Houston's bench receives as many open looks as it did against the Miami Heat—and makes a higher percentage of them—the Rockets just don't have the firepower necessary to counteract a potent, D'Antoni -offense.
Or so D'Antoni himself hopes.
All stats used in this article accurate as of 11/18/12.
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