The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles are set to begin their second round playoff series on Monday, and there will be an abundance of star power on the court for this matchup. Houston’s guard duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook will attempt to lead their small ball lineup to victory against a lanky Lakers team headed by LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Rockets were taken to the wire in a taxing seven-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder but managed to come out on top. The Lakers were heralded as preseason favorites to win it all, but now trail the Los Angeles Clippers on DraftKings Sportsbook with +275 title odds. Can the underdog make this one interesting? We’ll go over the series lines below.
Series line: Rockets (+460) vs. Lakers (-670)
It makes sense that Los Angeles is the favorite here. After all, it was dominant and beat the Trail Blazers in three straight games while Houston struggled to get out of the first round. However, the Rockets have dynamic guards who have thrived against the top team in the Western Conference this year.
Harden had a below average series against the Thunder because of Luguentz Dort’s exceptional defense, but I don’t think Los Angeles has a player who can live up to that performance. Westbrook was on the mend from a quad injury and has had a chance to regain some rhythm. He’ll relentlessly attack the likes off Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and any reserve guard the Lakers bring off the bench.
The addition of Eric Gordon could make Houston’s mix of three combo guards even more difficult to stop. All three can create for themselves. Unconventional bigs like P.J. Tucker and Jeff Green will pull Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard away from the basket. Only AD is a convincing perimeter defender against the long ball, so pulling shot blockers away from the rim and knocking down threes could be key to getting the underdog a chance here.
Houston also has the number one defense in the playoffs and boasts a league-best 101.7 defensive rating, and Robert Covington is a big part of that. The swingman will likely take the responsibility of guarding James. James is nearly averaging a triple-double in the playoffs, but Covington has the length, strength, and speed to compete with him and make things tough.
The Rockets have no answer for Davis, who tore the Trail Blazers apart in the first round by averaging 29.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Covington and Tucker are too small to guard him or stop him from getting rebounds, but Houston has been able to win so far while giving up a sizable disadvantage on the boards. Houston will trade layups for threes all day, but they’ll have to get hot from deep for that plan to work.
Houston is a polarizing team that can beat the best teams in the NBA more than once, but ice-cold shooting from deep can be the cause of them losing to lower quality teams as well. I’ll be looking for the Rockets to get a boost from their stars to compete. The Lakers have gotten a ton of production from James and Davis, but need their role players to step up in a major way.
I think this I don’t think there will be a sweep in this series but don’t see it going longer than 6 games. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockets struck first as underdogs at +250 in Game 1. If Harden and Westbrook play the same way they did against Oklahoma City, this series should easily go to the Lakers.
Rockets odds with series score
Guessing the series score in this one will be tough, but two choices on stand out to me. The first option is the Lakers winning 4-1 (+250). I could see the Rockets playing inspired ball after having their backs against the wall to snatch the series opener before the Lakers open up like they did last round. Even if you favor the Lakers heavily, I wouldn’t bet on a team with Houston’s offensive firepower getting swept.
The more enticing bet to me is the Rockets winning 4-2 (+1200). Houston went 2-0 against the Lakers after trading Clint Capela to bring in Covington. Los Angeles doesn’t have their unorthodox team makeup figured out, and that could lead to the favorite’s downfall. The Rockets have top-tier variance on offense and made a league-leading 15.6 threes per game during the regular season and are making 18.3 per game. The Lakers ranked eighth from last at 11 makes per game during the regular season and have made fewer threes (60) than any team in the postseason. The Rockets will likely be favorites among bettors and stand out as the second round’s most appealing underdog to me.
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