The Los Angeles Lakers have looked rather shaky in the NBA bubble since beginning with a win, but they're not fighting for playoff position like the Houston Rockets, their Thursday opponent.
While it's true L.A. has lost two of three, LeBron James and Co. have already locked up the top seed in the West. Houston is coming off a loss to Portland in which its lack of size became apparent and problematic.
In any event, these are two of the best teams in the NBA, and there's a reason they're in prime time tonight. Check out abe Insights' betting preview the best odds available upon publication, key stats to consider and more information on prospective wagers.
Date: Thursday, August 6
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Lakers 44%; Rockets 49%
Spread: HOU -2.5
Moneyline: LAL +132; HOU -135
The injury situations for these teams hadn't really changed thus far in the bubble — until it was announced LeBron would miss the game with a sore right groin. Eric Gordon remains out for the Rockets as their clear No. 3 scoring option and a key defensive piece. Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo is still recovering from a fractured thumb.
Houston has fared better without Gordon than L.A. has sans Rondo and opted-out veteran guard Avery Bradley. But one ingredient the Purple and Gold's roster has is a big, deep frontcourt, which could put the Rockets at a disadvantage.
50.8 vs. 52.8: To begin, here's a small but noticeable difference in a stat category across an entire season. The Lakers rank fourth in the Association in opponents' effective field goal percentage; Houston is middling in this area overall (16th).
14.2 vs. 11.8: One drawback of the Rockets' small-ball paradigm is yielding second-chance points, which is the per-game average indicated in the first number here. LA's average total ranks in the NBA's top five, which makes sense given its frontcourt depth.
78.6 vs. 73.1: Where the Rockets really have a leg up is at the charity stripe. They get there more often than any team other than the Clippers, and shoot the 12th-highest percentage. These Lakers are 28th out of 30 teams with the 73.1% make rate.
One could convincingly argue the Lake Show doesn't have much to play for. Just get LeBron, Anthony Davis and other key players to the postseason without any injuries or setbacks. Take some rest. You've already earned the one seed, no need to push it. Right?
While that philosophy is fine for The King at least for tonight, homecourt advantage doesn't do much in the bubble. Backing into the playoffs also doesn't inspire confidence, build team morale or bolster chemistry. The Lakers are working in brand-new players like Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith — and it isn't working. That must be fixed promptly. Otherwise, things like Wednesday's 105-86 loss to Oklahoma City happen.
Houston did slip up against the Blazers, getting outrebounded at a ridiculous rate (64-39) and outscored at the foul line 20-15. Any modicum of improvement on the glass would be huge for the Rockets, so that's something they need to work through against an opponent with similar size in the Purple and Gold.
Look for L.A. coach Frank Vogel to trot out bigger lineups as a means of wearing down Houston's superstar guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Both love to drive to the rim, and waiting for them should be Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. Although D12 was out against the Thunder, Vogel said he hopes Howard will play versus Houston.
Pretty straightforward here. It's often a "make-or-miss" league, and if Houston is hitting from distance, there's little reason for bettors not to put their faith in the Rockets spread and moneyline. They simply have more to play for, and the Lakers look a little out of sorts.
When it comes to the point total, the temptation lingers to put any game involving Houston in the "Over" column by default.
However, because of the inflated expectations of high scoring in their games, the Rockets actually lead the NBA with a 38-29 record in hitting the Under, per TeamRankings.com. The Lakers are fourth in that category, so wagers are bound to trend that way as a result.
Note: Odds current as of 2:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, August 6.
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