Lakers vs. Rockets Preview

Lakers vs. Rockets Preview

Lakers vs. Rockets Preview
By Brad Young

**No. 1 Los Angeles vs. No. 5 Houston**

Series Price: Los Angeles -1100 Houston +700

Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1

Los Angeles cruised past Utah in five games during its first-round series, and remains the favorite to win the NBA Finals this season.  The Lakers are led by Most Valuable Player candidate Kobe Bryant, who averages 26.8 points per game, 5.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists.  Kobe really lit up the Rockets this season in four games, averaging over 28 points per contest while shooting a stellar 53 percent from the field and behind the arc. 

Los Angeles won all four of those games straight up and against the spread, cruising in the November 9th encounter as a seven-point home favorite, 111-82.  The Lakers eclipsed the century mark three times in those victories, while the Rockets managed to score 100 points just once.  The closest contest during the regular-season series was on January 13 that saw the Lakers prevail as a four-point road favorite, 105-100.

Houston exercised some postseason demons with its first-round victory over fourth-seeded Portland.  The Rockets advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997 by upending the Blazers in six games.  What makes their postseason charge even more impressive is the fact that they are playing without star player Tracy McGrady, who is 'out' with an injury.

The Rockets are led by center Yao Ming, who is averaging 19.7 points per game, 9.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists.  Even though Yao Ming is a key cog in the Houston offense, he is more valuable to the team on the defensive side of the ball.  Any opponents slashing into the paint will have to deal with the 7-foot-6 shot blocker, meaning the guards and small forwards can play tighter defense on the perimeter. Houston's defense limited Portland to almost eight points fewer than the Blazers averaged during the regular season.

The center position is one of the most intriguing matchups in this series, pitting Houston's Yao Ming against the Lakers' Pau Gasol (18.9 points per game, 9.6 rebounds and one assist).  It will be interesting to see if either team will have to double down on the offensive player, opening up the outside shooters.  Both players are skilled enough offensively, that the winner of this battle will have a decided advantage in this series.

Gambling Notes:
Los Angeles earned the top seed in the Western Conference compliments of its stellar 69-18 SU ledger (45-42 ATS).  The Lakers were a dominant 39-5 SU at Staples Center, but a pedestrian 21-23 ATS.  Los Angeles has been winning its home endeavors by an average score of 108-98.

The Lakers also enjoyed their fair share of success on the road by going 30-13 SU and 24-19 ATS.  Los Angeles has been winning those games by an average score of 105-100.  The Lakers saw the 'under' go a nondescript 22-20-1 in those 43 affairs.

Houston captured the fifth seed in the Western Conference compliments of its 57-31 SU and 43-44 ATS record. The Rockets will have to win at least one road game if they are going to advance to the Western Conference Finals, but went just 21-23 SU and 22-22 ATS away from home. The average score in those games was 97-97, enabling the 'over' to go 23-19.

Houston enjoyed a solid 36-8 SU home record, while going just 21-22 ATS.  The Rockets won those affairs by an average score of 99-90, helping the 'under' go 25-18.

Los Angeles is the favorite to win its 15th NBA championship in team history, and first since winning three consecutive titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.  The Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals last season before falling to the Boston Celtics in six games. Los Angeles is led by one of the best players in Kobe Bryant, and has proven in the past that he can carry a team in the postseason.

Houston's Shane Battier and Ron Artest will have the unenviable task of slowing down Kobe, but they failed in four regular season games. Utah did limit Kobe to 18 points on a dismal 5-of-24 shooting in a Game 3 triumph, but he quickly returned to form in Game 4 by posting 38 points.

The Rockets are one of the best teams in the league defensively behind the play of Yao Ming, Luis Scola, Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes along with Artest and Battier.  Those players will be tested against the Lakers' triangle offense, but Houston does not have enough on the offensive end to pull off the improbable upset.  Expect Los Angeles to continue cruising through the Western Conference playoffs by beating the Rockets in five games.

Future Bets:
Los Angeles opened as a decided $1200 favorite to win this series and advance to the Western Conference Finals, while Houston is an $800 underdog.  There has been action on the underdog in this spot, moving the Lakers down to an $1100 'chalk' while the Rockets are now a $700 'dog.

Los Angeles remains the favorite to hoist another banner at Staples Center, opening at 5/2 to win the 2008-09 NBA Championship, but is now listed at 3/5.  Houston has remained constant at 15/1 to win its third championship in team history, and the first since 1995.

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Re: Lakers vs. Rockets Preview

Lakers-Rockets Predictions
by Josh Nagel

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers (-1000) vs. No. 5 Houston Rockets (+700)

Records: Lakers (69-18, 45-42 ATS), Rockets (57-31, 44-43-1 ATS)

Season series: Lakers won, 3-0

Overview: Both teams head into this matchup after rolling through their first-round series. The Lakers predictably met little resistance from the defense-challenged Utah Jazz, while the Rockets surprisingly faced a minimal challenge from the upstart Portland Trailblazers.

The Rockets used their signature defense to hold Portland to 88 or fewer points in five of the six games and advance past the first round for the first time in 12 years. Portland had little answer for Yao Ming and emerging forward Luis Scola, who played like an All-Star for most of the series.

Kobe Bryant quarterbacked the Lakers to a methodical five-game win over the Jazz. The Lakers should meet a tougher opponent in the Rockets, who might be able to neutralize Pau Gasol with Ming.

Noted defenders Shane Battier and Ron Artest will have to keep Bryant in check for Houston to have a chance, and the Rockets can't afford too many of their debilitating scoring droughts or they will quickly find themselves in a deep hole.

The Lakers won and covered in all three head-to-head games with Houston in the regular season, the last a 93-81 home win on April 3.

Value: None. The price is way too steep on the Lakers, although if you've got the cash and wherewithal to bet them as this big of a chalk, there's a likelihood you'll get a return on your investment. However, the Rockets are just a dangerous enough team that this is far from a sure thing.

They are currently playing elite-level defense and are a much more balanced and solid team without Tracy McGrady in the lineup. If Houston finds a way to steal a game in Los Angeles, this could be a fascinating series. Even so, it would take quite a bit of courage - and a lot of wishful thinking -- to out your cash behind the Rockets in this spot.

Prediction: Lakers in six games.

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