The Lakers couldn’t be more solidified in 11th place in the Western Conference standings. They are separated by eight games on either side, with their 34-46 record showing them to be a cut above the bottom four and a rung below teams fighting for a playoff berth.
Unsurprisingly, the Lakers seem to have clocked out for the season. They have lost their past two games by 17 and 15 points and are giving significant minutes to players who would normally be lucky to get on the floor.
The Rockets don’t have a lot to play for either, having long ago sewn up the number one seed in the west. That hasn’t stopped them in the past, though, as they have continued to rack up victories as quickly as they rack up games.
They did, however, go down to the Thunder on Saturday in an entertaining 102-108 loss. James Harden and Chris Paul combined for 43 points and 18 assists, but they couldn’t stop a Thunder team which has shown a penchant for beating highly ranked opponents.
Three keys to the game
3-point shooting – The Rockets have started a 3-point revolution, taking a ridiculous 42.2 attempts per game and still connecting on a respectable 36.3% of them. Invariably, this means they score faster than their opponents, and the Lakers, in particular, will have a hard time keeping up. Los Angeles are the second worst 3-point shooting team in the league, connecting on just 34.4% of them throughout the season.
Can the Lakers use their advantage in the paint? – One area in which the Lakers may have an advantage is paint scoring. They top the league in this category, scoring 52.1 points per game in this way. The Rockets are an excellent defensive side, but concede 48.1 points in the paint, less than only Orlando and the Lakers themselves.
Julius Randle – Randle has often been the subject of criticism, but he has been excellent since the All-Star break. In 23 games he is averaging 20.2 points on 55.2% scoring, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, and is behind only Anthony Davis and LeBron James in paint scoring in this time.
Matchup to watch
Brook Lopez vs Clint Capela – Lopez has had a tough first season as a Laker. After ten seasons at the Nets in which he developed himself into their primary offensive weapon, the big man has been forced to take a back seat to the younger, more athletic Lakers, who Luke Walton prefers. He has lost six minutes of playing time compared to last season and is scoring 7.5 points less per game.
He has played some decent games of late, but things reached a new low on Sunday when he scored 0 points on 0-for-10 shooting. His lack of agility on defense is a major reason Walton doesn’t like him on the floor, and he will be severely tested against Capela in this game.
Capela is fleet-footed and enjoys a huge number of Paul/Harden lobs, which are almost impossible to defend for even the quickest centers. Houston will probably look to exploit this matchup whenever Lopez is on the floor, and the former Net will need to work hard on defense and hit his shots at the other end of the court if he wants to clock over 20 minutes.
Los Angeles Lakers predicted starting lineup
PG – Alex Caruso | SG – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope | SF – Josh Hart | PF – Julius Randle | C – Brook Lopez
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C – Clint Capela
It’s hard to believe Harden’s numbers in his three games against the Lakers this season. In the first, he went 13-for-22 from the floor to score 36 points and dished out nine assists. Next time they met he dropped 51 and again had nine assists. In their most recent matchup, he put up a casual 40 points to go with 11 assists. Overall, his season averages against the Lakers read: 42.3 points (55.1% shooting, 47.9% 3-point shooting), 9.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks.
The Rockets have been given a 9.5 point handicap by oddsmakers, and they should cover this. They do not need to win at all, let alone by a double-figure margin, but their offense is so good that they will, regardless. Back them at the line.
This one shouldn’t be a problem for the Rockets. They need not win, but that hasn’t stopped them in the past, and their talent is such that they could win this with their eyes closed. Further to that, the Lakers aren’t playing anywhere near their best side at the moment, and with rotation players clocking significant minutes, Harden and co will run rampant. Expect them to get the job done within three quarters and spend the final 12 minutes resting their legs for the playoffs. Houston will win this in a canter, giving the Lakers a 101-118 loss in their final home game of the season.
The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 10:30pm ET.
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