Lakers vs. Rockets – 2013 Playoff potential
The Season Series: The Rockets have taken two of three from the Lakers this season with both wins coming in Houston. The Lakers and the Rockets played during the first week of the season in LA and the Lakers won by eleven behind a triple double from Kobe Bryant and a 28 point 13 rebound line from Dwight Howard. They played a return matchup a couple weeks later in Houston and the Rockets won even though they didn't play particularly well. With James Harden struggling with his jump shot (3 for 19) the Rockets won with big performances off the bench from Greg Smith (22 points) and Toney Douglas (21 points).
The third game of the season between the Lakers and the Rockets was a thirteen point Houston victory at home. Like many games for the Lakers this season the result was a bit deceiving with both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol injured. The Rockets victory was marked by an effective shooting night from James Harden, 31 points, and a great all-around game from Jeremy Lin.
Key Matchup for the Lakers: In the two games he's played versus the Rockets this season Dwight Howard has played outstanding basketball. He has a favorable matchup versus Omar Asik, who is extremely athletic but young and sometimes prone to foul trouble. As Western Conference teams go the Rockets like to play small ball and are somewhat undersized with a lack of depth at the center position. If Howard can continue to exploit the favorable matchup with Asik he should be able to create space for Kobe, Nash and Gasol.
Key Matchup for the Rockets: Any success in the playoffs for the Rockets is probably icing on the cake. For the Rockets to win a playoff series they're going to have to live and die by the offensive firepower of James Harden. After trying to acquire Dwight Howard, depleting their roster in order to do so, things looked pretty dire in Houston until the trade that brought Harden to Houston. The presence of Harden has re-defined the Rockets as an up tempo team lead by Harden, who when in a groove can be one of the most dominant scorers in the league. If the Lakers can harness Harden, with a combination of Kobe and/or Metta World Peace they should have a pretty easy time with the Rockets.
Home Court Advantage: With both teams neck and neck for a late seed any games between the two would have to take place in later playoff rounds. Both clubs have held their home court advantage this year but if they continue their recent solid play the Lakers would likely hold home court should the two teams meet this postseason. In that scenario the Lakers have a decided home court advantage due to their overall experience and the relative youth of the Rockets. For all his success James Harden has been up and down this year. Many remember his poor efforts in last year's finals versus the Heat. Staples Center in the NBA playoffs could prove to be too big a spot for Harden.
Health: With the Lakers rounding into shape there's really not any health concerns for both clubs beyond the typical late season nagging injuries.
Prediction: The Lakers match up extremely well with the Rockets. It's hard to see Houston making this series competitive. They are still a youthful bunch and Lin and Harden need to prove they can perform in the playoffs. With Gasol and Howard the Lakers have a significant interior advantage that they should be able to exploit.
Lakers in 5
By: Chris Michaels