Round 2 in the Western Conference is officially set and the road to the NBA Finals continues. The Houston Rockets have finally managed to defeat the stubborn Oklahoma City Thunder in 7 long games. The stage is set for the showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers, in a battle of two title contenders that each have superstars on the squad.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the heavy favorites because they have two of the top five players in the league and a roster filled with size and defense. The Rockets, on the other hand, play small-ball and force the opposition to adapt to their style. This will be a cracking series, but there can only be one winner.
Here is the comparison between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers have two of the top five players in the NBA in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. These two guys have great size and skill which allows them to dominate on both ends of the floor when they are locked in. As seen in their first-round matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, they are simply too dominant when both are on top of their game.
The Houston Rockets have their own two superstars in James Harden and Russell Westbrook, who are both guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. In a sense, the superstar battle will be David vs Goliath in terms of size. Guards vs forwards often end up in the favor of forwards because of pure size, and LeBron and AD have the tremendous skill to go along with it. Unless James and Russ have MVP type performances for each game in the series, LeBron and AD have the advantage here.
Advantage: Los Angeles Lakers
The Houston Rockets start with Harden and Russell in the front-court, with Robert Covington and Eric Gordon providing shooting as stretch forwards. Undersized P.J. Tucker is the team's starting center due to his toughness and ability to space the floor.
The Los Angeles Lakers start with LeBron at point forward, along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green in the backcourt. JaVale McGee and Anthony Davis complete a frontcourt filled with size and rebounding.
This will be a tight series, but the Houston Rockets might have the better role players in the starting lineup. LeBron and AD's running crew is suspect at best, and it will literally be up to them to carry the heavy lifting. The Lakers don't have a guy like Eric Gordon who can get you 20 points consistently, nor a guy like Covington who can play defense at an elite level and hit threes. But LeBron and AD outmatch Russ and Harden, essentially evening up the starting lineup. They are that good.
LeBron and AD are good enough to average 30-point double-double stats in the second round series, and if they use their size effectively on offense and on the boards, they can counter the Rockets talented role players. Overall, the star power of the Lakers and the deep Rockets lineup makes it even.
Lakers Bench vs. Rockets Bench
The Lakers bench has been a big problem as they have been inconsistent at times. While it has not stopped the Lakers from grabbing the number one seed in the West during the regular season, it may come back to haunt them in the playoffs. Kyle Kuzma is talented enough to start, but he has been given plenty of opportunities to play his way as a bench player. He is not good enough to start just yet, but he can be a pivotal factor for the Lakers off the bench. Outside of Kuzma, no one on the Lakers can be trusted.
The Houston Rockets go 9-deep every game, with the likes of Danuel House and Jeff Green coming into the game. Green has been magnificent as a stretch five and also as a point-center at times, while House has improved as an overall player. Even Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore can come in to defend and hit threes, with either of them capable of going off from the perimeter. The Rockets trust their bench a lot, and this gives them an advantage.
Advantage: Houston Rockets
Frank Vogel vs. Mike D'Antoni
This comes down to defense vs offense, as Vogel is a defensive specialist while D'Antoni is an innovator on offense. Vogel does not get enough credit for the way he has helped all the Los Angeles Lakers players click on both ends of the floor. They have been the best team in the Western Conference all-season long and head coach Frank Vogel is a big part of that. He has always been a great defensive coach and this will help them greatly against the high powered scoring offense of the Houston Rockets.
Mike D'Antoni is truly an offensive genius and the Rockets can be unstoppable at times. They can literally lessen a 20-point deficit into a 5-point lead in the same quarter due to their shooting and ability to attack the rim. The key for Houston is to mix up their offense and not only shoot threes. If they attack the rim and also space the floor with shooters, this makes it harder for the Los Angeles Lakers to defend them.
Overall, this one is even because Vogel has had a tremendous coaching season while D'Antoni has the Rockets playing a unique style that we have never seen before.
This will be a very tight series because both teams have two superstars and are well-coached. The Houston Rockets can get hot from three and literally beat every team in the league, but they can also go cold from three which hurts their chances of winning games. Los Angeles Lakers have a more consistent way of playing on both ends because LeBron James is the best playmaker in the NBA while Anthony Davis might be the most skilled big man we have.
The safest bet would be that the Los Angeles Lakers defeat the Houston Rockets in seven games. LeBron James is on a mission and he wants to win the 4th NBA ring before he retires, and Anthony Davis is too skilled and talented with his size advantage. The Lakers have suffered greatly this year with the loss of the great Kobe Bryant, so this might be a motivating factor for them to get past the Houston Rockets.
Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets: 4-3