The Los Angeles Lakers can go up 3-1 in their second-round showdown against the Houston Rockets with a win in Thursday's Game 4.
It looks like the Western Conference side of the bracket is going to arrive at its widely expected finale of Clippers-Lakers, but Houston could play spoiler with one explosive shooting night. Can the Rockets hang tough following two straight losses?
In abe Insights' betting preview, you'll find a breakdown of the essential lines, key stats to consider, the best odds across all the major sportsbooks and more info for Thursday's prime-time affair.
Date: Thursday, September 10
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Lakers 68%; Rockets 34%
Spread: LAL -5
Moneyline: LAL -208; HOU +190
Robert Covington collided with Lakers superstar Anthony Davis in Game 3 and got the worst of the accidental bump. Despite passing concussion protocol, Covington is listed as questionable, per ESPN.com's injury report.
As for the Purple and Gold, it's safe to say Rajon Rondo is back and ready to roll after multiple ailments kept him out until the conference semis. Rondo scored 21 points in the last contest, and was key in giving the Lakers the series lead. His return compensates for Dion Waiters' expected absence, as Waiters is doubtful due to a groin injury.
104.04 vs. 95.17: The first set of digits is Houston's regular-season PACE rating, or possessions per game, followed by the total in this series for that same category. Los Angeles has taken the Rockets out of their relentless running style, which has stifled their offensive rhythm over the last two meetings.
39.3 vs. 34.7: It's no secret Houston loves jacking up 3-pointers, and that the Lakers aren't as good at knocking them down. Although the Rockets trail, their edge over L.A. in 3-point shooting percentage bodes well for Game 4 and beyond if the trend continues.
16.0 vs. 7.7: Houston must do better in transition defense and in converting stops into quick scores. These are the average fast-break points for both squads during the second round, with the Lakers sporting a huge advantage.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook both played excellent on offense in Game 3. It didn't matter. Their side lost 112-102. Both shot efficiently from the field, scoring a combined 63 points with 17 total rebounds and 15 assists to five turnovers. They were simply outdueled by LeBron and AD.
Not to be forgotten, though, is how big of a deal Rondo's emergence was. He helps L.A. out on the perimeter and is another uncannily instinctive passer who forms a lethal combination with James when they share the court — and can handle the ball with the second unit while The King takes a rest.
Kyle Kuzma is also showing positive signs for the West's No. 1 seed. He'd been uneven at best for much of the playoffs, but over the past two victories, Kuzma has come to life, settling for far fewer outside shots and hitting 13 of his last 17 field goals en route to 27 total points.
The more confidence Kuzma can gain through the rest of the conference semifinals, the better off L.A. will be when it likely faces the Clippers in the next round. Not to entirely write off Houston, but it's pretty clear almost all the Rockets need to be firing on all cylinders from beyond the arc to take three out of the next five.
Houston has forced the Lakers into playing small ball, leaving little utility for centers Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Credit LeBron in helping his teammates adjust, and coach Frank Vogel for seamlessly adjusting his rotation on the fly. Since the Rockets don't really adjust their style for anyone, they seem destined to shoot their way out of Orlando.
All the momentum is on the Lakers' side. LeBron is in attack-mode, Davis is engaged down the stretch, and Rondo and other role players are stepping up. Bettors are bound to place more action on Los Angeles' spread and moneyline as a result.
The points total feels a little generous given how fast Houston plays, yet no one hit the Under more often than the Rockets this season, per TeamRankings.com. Thus, look for wagers to skew to the Under.
Note: Odds current as of 2:15 p.m. ET on Thursday, September 10.
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