Houston Rockets at L.A. Lakers
Time: 9:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: HOU -6
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Houston Rockets are going to score plenty this season, and the over/under of 223.5 for their opener tonight against the L.A. Lakers is just the first of many high point totals for Houston this season.
They brought in first-year coach Mike D’Antoni who is not known to focus much on defensive principles, and the structure is intact for this to be a high scoring team whose regular season success is little more than a mirage. The Houston Rockets are 6-point favorites at Staples Center tonight against the Lakers for the game which will air at 9:30 PM (Central) on ESPN, the second of a double-header.
D’Antoni’s first big action was to announce he would move James Harden to point guard. This means very little. Harden has been playing a point guard-like role for the Rockets since he was obtained, and all that really changes now is that Patrick Beverley is officially known as their spot defender. The Rockets are a team carried by Harden, and whether it is his aggressive takes to the basket, fade-away threes, or brilliant bounce passes to set up teammates—Houston lives with the results of whichever he decides.
The storyline really will be whether D’Antoni can make Harden into the consummate facilitator, and from that, if Harden even wants to be. He already is fairly unselfish with the ball, but the Rockets now have put a couple nice talents around him to help.
Into the picture is Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, both of whom can drill the three and are pretty good NBA players. Gordon at one point was on a collision course with NBA-All-Star status, but injuries derailed that and his career fizzled in New Orleans. Anderson is a player who fits nearly perfectly in Houston, after having similar struggles in a Pelicans’ uniform.
Anderson dealt with the death of his fiancee, and he had his own injury issues, but if he and Gordon are both back close to the form they have exhibited at their best, Houston is a team that really could put together an impressive regular season. It is just hard to imagine them doing much beyond that with a coach anemic to defense in the defensively-heavy portion of the schedule, the playoffs.
Even so, if Houston really maximizes its offensive potential it could be a scary team to face, because it is hard to keep pace with Harden’s constant pushing and the Rockets have the shooters on the roster to tally up points in a hurry. Tonight might be the first look at how that is done D’Antoni style.
The Lakers meanwhile will be playing their first home game without Kobe Bryant in two-decades. That’s a change. L.A. is working on developing young talent as it rebuilds moving past the Bryant era. D’Angelo Russell will get a much bigger chance this year and the former No. 2 overall pick was stunning during the preseason.
It is hard to read too much into exhibition play, but he is undoubtedly one of the franchise cornerstones in place. As to whether he lives up to his billing, a lot of it will hinge on how mature he can be. Last season he had the issue with Nick Young and the recorded snitching, whatever, but he is too good of a player to just throw in the towel on. The towel will be thrown in on Young.
Outside Russell, the Lakers also have No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram of Duke, but the 19-year-old may take some patience. The same statement can be applied to Larry Nance Jr—and Julius Randle. But those are three forwards who within the next five seasons could elevate the Lakers back to playoff basketball. At this point it is almost too easy to pick at their respective flaws, but Nance is a high energy defender who will be an NBA rotation player for his career and Randle has a unique southpaw skill set that even intrigues Draymond Green.
Ingram has been billed to be Durant-like. That is pretty high praise, though hollow, since Durant came in far more NBA ready (at least judging by what we have seen so far).
There is no sense pretending this Lakers team does not have talent, it has an abundance of that. There is just precious little experience and it is going to take time to pull it altogether. Expect the Rockets to cover the spread and possibly treat fans to a Harden display of gaudy stats. It is what D’Antoni does.