The Los Angeles Lakers don't have home-court advantage in the NBA bubble, but they're the better-rested team entering Friday's Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
Following a loss in their playoff opener, LeBron James and Co. finished the upstart Blazers in five games. Meanwhile, it took an atypical defensive play from James Harden to help Houston advance past Oklahoma City in Wednesday's Game 7 win.
Can the Rockets' fast-paced offense thrive versus LA's stout D? Keep reading for more in abe Insights' betting preview, which has analysis of the lines and how they should trend, advanced stats, the best odds and more vital information ahead of tonight's tip-off.
Date: Friday, September 4
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Rockets 30%; Lakers 71%
Spread: LAL -6
Moneyline: HOU +230; LAL -250
Once Russell Westbrook returned to the court during the Rockets' first-round series, they were free from any major injuries. Westbrook is still shaking off some rust, averaging 14.7 points in his three games back after scoring 27.2 ppg during the 2019-20 campaign.
According to ESPN.com's injury report, LeBron (groin) and Anthony Davis (sprained finger) are nicked up, but probable to play in Game 1, so no worries there. The big development for L.A. is Rajon Rondo being listed as probable. The veteran point guard has been out of action since the NBA restart due to a fractured thumb and back spasms.
29.6 vs. 18.4: The Lakers' size could pose a serious problem for Houston. They rank second in offensive rebound percentage of all playoff squads, while the Rockets are dead-last among those remaining and 15th out of 16 overall.
50.0 vs. 39.1: Despite the presence of Portland big men Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside, L.A. is tied for the highest postseason average of points in the paint per game. Houston ranks eighth in this category, hindered in part by initial Westbrook's absence.
80.9 vs. 70.0: A nagging Lakers Achilles' heel is their horrid free throw percentage, which ranks last in the playoffs. The Rockets hit at the sixth-best clip from the charity stripe, and were eighth in this category to LA's 28th during the regular season.
If Houston can stay within an arm's length and force the Lakers to sink freebies late, the chances of an upset amplify. The trick will be to not get smothered by LA's defense, which is easier said than done against Davis and Co.
The Lakers have a lot of length on the perimeter, and they completely stifled Damian Lillard in Round 1. Lillard was having the best offensive performance in Orlando of anyone before he encountered the Lake Show. If Westbrook is still not quite back to 100% and Harden isn't on the mark with his perimeter shooting, this could get ugly in a hurry.
But once again, this comes down to whether or not the Rockets are on from beyond the arc. If they are, hardly anyone can beat them. They limited the Thunder to 32.8% 3-point shooting in the Round of 16, and the Lakers have shot just 34.3% from deep while yielding a 3-point field goal percentage of 37.9%.
Rondo's return is big in terms of helping to contain Westbrook. Few guards have the basketball IQ Rondo does, which not only should aid LA's ball movement when he's on the floor with another brilliant passer in LeBron, but also keep more of the Lakers' perimeter defenders fresh.
There will be an adjustment period. Rondo isn't going to jump right in, play big minutes and be in apex basketball shape. Nevertheless, the fact is Rondo is another dynamic, savvy defender the Lakers can deploy against Harden, Westbrook and the Rockets' plethora of shooters, which is immensely helpful for the West's top seed.
Due to Houston's reckless abandon brand of basketball, point totals for their games almost always overestimate. Per TeamRankings.com, the Rockets hit the Under more than any NBA squad this season. Between that data and the strength of Los Angeles' defense, bets are most likely to trend toward the Under.
Basketball is a game of runs, and few teams can get as hot as Houston when its offense is clicking. Because Westbrook isn't firing on all cylinders and L.A. is a huge favorite, bettors are bound to gravitate toward the Lakers' spread and moneyline — despite the short odds on the latter.
Having factored all that information in, hedging with the Rockets as a long shot to win is an excellent strategy if you're wary of doubling down on Los Angeles.
Note: Odds current as of 1:15 p.m. ET on Friday, September 4.
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