In round one, the Los Angeles Lakers, the number one seed in the West, easily dispatched the Utah Jazz in five games to move onto the Western Conference Semifinals. Meantime, in the initial round of the NBA playoffs, the fifth seed Houston Rockets beat the fourth seed Portland Trailblazers four games to two. Thus the stage is now set for what should be a tough, hard-fought series between the two clubs. Simply put, the Lakers are favored in this one. Can the Rockets stop them?
The Los Angeles Lakers will face a tough Houston defense. In the first round, the Lakers offensive efficiency produced 111.1 points per 100 possessions. It will be difficult for them to do the same versus Houston. Still, despite the fact that the Rockets have pure “D” in the presence of Yao Ming, Los Angeles will still score points. They have a slew of fine offensive players, including Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher. Point guard Fisher, who did not have the best series versus Utah, should rebound in this one. He’s an able ball handler and a fine three-point shooter. The best part of his offense is the manner in which he can control the ball and, thus, the game. Shooting guard Bryant, who killed the Jazz with his jumper, has been tough on the Rockets, averaging 28 PPG and hitting 53 percent from the floor. He is the ultimate go-to player. In the frontcourt, center Gasol is a fine offensive and defensive presence. Versus the Rockets in the regular-season he averaged 18.5 PPG. Off the bench, front man Andrew Bynum is a major contributor, blocking almost two shots, taking in eight rebounds and scoring over 14 points per game.
The Houston Rockets have power and shooting potential in just about every position except at shooting guard. Point man Aaron Brooks has talent and skills but is inconsistent. If he can find his shot, this series will take on a whole new look. Shane Battier at shooting guard needs to also discover some consistency. Yao is coming off of an impressive performance against Portland. He was tough to stop on offense and continued his potent defensive play. For Houston to win, he’ll need to handle Gasol and Bynum upfront. Ron Artest, at shooting guard, can be explosive but like so many players on the Rockets, the guy has to find his groove early in the series. Artest has had a difficult time versus the Lakers in the regular-season. He must get that monkey off his back.
This one is pretty simple. It is true that Houston is talented. They have scoring, toughness and defensive potential on their side. But how consistent can they be versus a club such as the Los Angeles Lakers? The Lakers offer some truly amazing weapons on both ends of the court. Bryant alone is a team-and-a-half. This series will go six with Los Angeles taking it four games to two.