L.A. Lakers at Houston
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: HOU -14.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Los Angeles Lakers have dropped its past three contests and eight of its last 10 to fall to 10-18 on the season. The Lakers are 4-10 on the road where it will travel to face the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center at 7 PM (CT) on NBA TV. Houston has won its past 14 games and sits atop the Western Conference at 25-4. The Rockets are 14.5-point favorites in the game with an over/under set at 225.5 points by NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes.
The Houston Rockets have basically gone from very good to flat out deadly with the addition of a healthy Chris Paul, who has yet to lose a game as a Houston Rocket. Paul is averaging 17.7 points and 9.3 assists per game while posting the second-highest PER of any Rocket at 27.2. James Harden has been sensational, recording what could and should be an MVP campaign. Beard tallies 31.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game with a PER nearly double the league average at 30.2. Supplementing the antics of Paul and Harden has been 2-guard Eric Gordon, who is averaging 19.1 points per game while shooting 33.9 percent from three on 9.3 attempts per game.
Houston shoots 36.8 percent from three-point range as a team and averages 15.9 made threes per game. The Rockets average 115.3 points per game which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. Meanwhile, due to Clint Capela anchoring a strong defense, the Rockets surrender just 104 points per game and have the league’s best point differential at +11.3. Many are now wondering if Houston might not have enough firepower —and defense— to hand the Golden State Warriors a loss in a seven-game series.
The addition of Paul seems to only have made the Rockets a tougher team on both ends of the court, and if Mike D’Antoni can keep his team defending at the level at which it is, a title certainly has to be in consideration. Houston still leads Golden State by 1.5 games in the standings, and the Rockets are 12-1 on the road this season (while the Warriors have lost three already away from home).
There are just so many factors that lend us to calling the Rockets true contenders, and not “pretenders” as many have called just about any team coached by D’Antoni.
The L.A. Lakers continue to pile up the losses, but the team is looking more promising in many respects. Rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are both playing well, particularly Kuzma, the Utah product who ranks No. 1 on the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game. Ball has improved his shooting and hit 45 percent from the floor last week while averaging 15 points per game over the stretch. Ball is at 9.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.1 assists on the year, and the comparisons to Jason Kidd continue, for better or worse.
What Ball does do, is make the Lakers a better team when he is on the court. His vision and leadership has been apparent even as a rookie, and several other Lakers have shown vast improvement. Among them is former No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram, who is averaging 16.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 34 minutes a night.
Former Detroit Piston Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been something of a disappointment but is still a steady 2-guard and a bit of an upgrade over what Lou Williams did (score and score, basically). The Lakers still just play horrible team defense, and adding Brook Lopez was no surety to improve on that end of the court. Opposing bigs seem to batter the Lakers exceptionally well, and the perimeter defense has been average at best.
Kentucky product Julius Randle has faded out of the picture, but his undersized stature was never at the root of the problem anyway. The Lakers just do not rotate well defensively and Lopez is not a rim protector, notwithstanding that he blocks 1.6 shots per game. Larry Nance Jr.’s effort can be infectious, and perhaps if all the Lakers displayed Nance’s defensive acumen this would be a plus .500 team, but it is difficult to win with the layup drills teams regularly perform against the Lakers’ lackluster defense.