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NBA Predictions: Predicting Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets

Jason Mills
ANALYST
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Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers
Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers

This contest could have been a must-see NBA regular season game. The Western Conference finalists Houston Rockets and the LeBron James led Los Angeles Lakers. It's still a must-see game thanks to James Harden’s incredible record-breaking streak of 18 consecutive games of 30 points or more. However, both of these teams are fighting for playoff spots while trying to survive the injury bug. 

The Lakers will continue to not have LeBron James for at least this weekend and he might miss their contest with the Golden State Warriors on Monday. The Lakers are going to have a tough road to the playoffs if LeBron cannot return soon. 

As for the Houston Rockets, they continue to be without star point guard Chris Paul at least until the end of the month. They also suffered another blow to their attempt to rise in the Western Conference standings as their center Clint Capela is also hurt with a thumb injury for 4-6 weeks. Small forward James Ennis is day to day and missed Wednesday’s loss to the Nets. The Rockets are also without Brandon Knight who is day to day with a knee problem.  

Expectations For The Houston Rockets:

Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets
Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets

Expect the Houston Rockets to lean heavily on James Harden. He has been MVP-like for most of the season but in particular the last 18 games. This includes his 57 point tally against the New Jersey Nets in a 145-142 loss Wednesday night. A good sign for Houston was the play of Eric Gordon who had 20 points in that loss and was 4/8 from three. 

The Rockets average 43 three-point shot attempts per game and Gordon is only shooting 30.8% per game. His 50% from behind the arc. However, against the Nets his shooting was a good sign for Houston. Gordon just got back to playing.  However, Gordon left the game with knee trouble and is day to day.   

The Rockets will rely on Gary Clark and Nene to hold down the center spot. Expect the Rockets' opponents to attack the rim more frequently without Capela’s shot blocking. The Rockets will miss his 1.8 blocks per game average as well as his 12.6rpg. Clark and Nene combine for less than a blocked shot per game and 6.3rpg. 

Expect the Rockets to struggle to rebound and with their interior defensive intimidation. Unless the Rockets make a deal for emergency help at center they will have to make do until Capela is ready to return. Trade rumors suggest the Bulls and center Robin Lopez are interested in parting ways but the Bulls do not want to buy him out. The Rockets should consider making an offer to the Bulls for Lopez.

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Expectations For The Lakers:

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks
Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks

The Lakers will once again be without superstar LeBron James as well as Rajon Rondo. Expect the Lakers to use their speed to attack the Rockets defense without Capela. With no shot blocker to alter shots, Lonzo Ball should be able to penetrate and find scoring opportunities for himself and open teammates if the Rockets collapse around his drives. 

It would be reasonable to expect the Lakers to have a strong game in the paint offensively. Also, expect the Lakers to have an advantage in rebounding and interior defense. Without Capela, the Rockets already perimeter oriented will be more so inclined. The Lakers will have to defend three-point shots but also be cognizant not to allow too much penetration. The Rockets average 25 free throw attempts per game.

It would also be expected that the Lakers will want to push the tempo. With the Rockets decimated by injury, it would be wise to test the Rockets' endurance. The more time head coach Mike D’Antoni has to give to the Rockets bench the easier the game may get for the Lakers.

Key Players:

Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers
Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers

For the Los Angeles Lakers, Lonzo Ball will be a key factor. He has to push the tempo, attack the Rockets, and use penetration to score or distribute to teammates for open looks. In his sophomore year, all of Ball's numbers are down. 

However, over the last three games, in which the Lakers have won 2 and lost 1, Ball has averaged 16.6 ppg. over his last three contests and dished out an average of 8 apg. The Lakers need him to continue playing at this level. Kyle Kuzma has been good lately as well averaging 25.6ppg. over his last three games.  

The Houston Rockets obviously need big performances from James Harden and he is providing it. With his teammates dropping to the injury bug at an alarming rate, Harden just keeps putting the Rockets on his back and filling out the stat sheet. He has recorded 30 or more points in 18 straight games. This is a record.

However, Wednesday night he dropped 57 points on the Nets and it was not enough. Eric Gordon, who just returned from injury Wednesday night left the game with knee trouble again. If he can at all play, Harden needs the help. Gordon was 4/8 from three-point range against the Nets and had 20 points. Gordon is currently listed as day to day.

Prediction:

The Houston Rockets are 16-7 at home. The Lakers are 10-12 on the road. Both of these teams are struggling to stay in the playoff picture. The Rockets are 5th in the Western Conference and the Lakers might be 9th when this game starts.

The Jazz play the Cavaliers Friday night and are currently tied with the Lakers in overall record 25-21 for the 8th spot in the Western Conference.  The Lakers are the healthier team but the Rockets are at home and have James Harden. The Rockets will win this game. Expect the score to be around 130-125 for the Houston Rockets.  

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Jason Mills
ANALYST
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