Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers
Time: 9:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: HOU -6.5
M/L: HOU -250; LAL +210
Betting odds c/o Bovada
The Western Conference is down.
The Houston Rockets are 12-14 and at two games below .500 still are seeded No. 7. The Los Angeles Lakers meanwhile have the league’s second-worst record at 4-21. The Rockets will face the Lakers at Staples Center tonight as 6.5-point favorites in the second half of a TNT double header.
Houston has lost three of its past four games and Dwight Howard has begun to openly voice frustration, wanting out. Howard’s offensive involvement has receded to that of a role player, while his running mate James Harden has blown his role up bigger still. Howard is averaging just 8.3 field goal attempts per game and is averaging the lowest scoring average he has since his rookie season in 2004-05. Howard is scoring just 12.6 points per game, but is still hitting the glass for 11.6 rebounds per game while coming up with 2.9 steals/blocks.
It is just that he is capable of serving so much bigger a role than he has, and at this point it has to be wondered if a Harden-centric offense can do much more than win regular season games. It has already resulted in the firing of coach Kevin McHale but GM Daryl Morey’s odd brand of moneyball management is showing itself to be mostly a failure. Houston does not play good team basketball, and when Harden’s game is so reliant on the whistle it seems to set Houston up for certain playoff doom.
Howard has averaged 18 points per game over his 10-year NBA career and he is still just 30 years old. The fall off shelf for Howard’s play should still be yet to come, and there has been talk of him being shipped to Sacramento for DeMarcus Cousins. Since the Kings are struggling in typical fashion, it may be time to switch disgruntled superstars. Moreover, Howard would likely find himself much happier in Sacto playing with a ball distributor like Rajon Rondo.
Harden can continue to captain the ship in Houston. He is averaging 29 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game, but his defense has often drawn criticism and his over-dribbling does not get teammates involved. It is much the same criticisms thrown at Carmelo Anthony.
The Rockets do not have a lot going outside of Howard and Harden. Ty Lawson has more or less been a bust so far, averaging just 6.2 points per game while shooting 33.5 percent from the field. Marcus Thornton is having a decent year off the bench and averaging 11 points per game. But Houston more than anything seems to be a lot of mismatched parts, and at 14-12 it scarcely resembles the contender it has been in seasons’ past.
Kobe Bryant appears to be coming around in L.A., but the Lakers have still lost four of its past five games. The Lakers knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday 113-95 as Kobe hit 7 of 15 from the field for 22 points. He has hit 47.2 percent of his shots for 18.2 points per game over his past five games, while not having seen more than 32 minutes in any contest. This may be Bryant’s farewell tour, but he is getting things together. On the season, he is still hovering at 33 percent from the floor but the season is at just its quarter-mark and Bryant can still get things cooking to get the Lakers to a respectable win total.
Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell are the Lakers’ future backcourt, and the pair looks good. Russell is averaging 12.3 points per game as a rookie and Clarkson is building on the steam that made him a First Team All-Rookie selection last year. Clarkson is averaging 15 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Former Sixth Man of the Year Louis Williams is averaging 13.7 points off the bench for the Lakers.
Rookie Julius Randle is dangerously close to the double-double he said he would average this season with 11.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. After Kobe fades into the sunset following this season, the Lakers have some parts to shape its new destiny. The team may still be a few years away from competing on a high level again, but it is not too far in the distance, and Russell could be special.