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Lakers Still Favored to Win Series vs Rockets After Losing Game 1

Blair Johnson

by Blair Johnson in NBA Basketball

Updated Mar 8, 2021 · 12:30 PM PST

LeBron James LA Lakers
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 08: Los Angeles Lakers Forward LeBron James (23) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers Center Montrezl Harrell (5) during a NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 8, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire.
  • James Harden scored 36 points as the Rockets dominated the Lakers in Game 1 112-97 of their Western Conference Semifinal series
  • LA is still a -210 favorite — down from -400 — to win the series and get past Houston despite the defeat
  • See the series odds, our analysis and best bets moving forward below

The Houston Rockets — not the Los Angeles Lakers — looked like the Western Conference No. 1 seed Friday night in Game 1 of their conference semifinal series. Fourth-seeded Houston won 112-97 in convincing fashion, never trailing beyond the second quarter.

It’s the second straight series-opening loss for the Lakers in this postseason. Of course, the Purple and Gold rebounded from their early defeat to Portland by eventually ripping off four straight to eliminate the Trail Blazers. Perhaps that’s why oddsmakers still have L.A. as series favorites — though not as prohibitive prior to Game 1.

Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers Series Odds

Team Odds at FanDuel
Houston Rockets +168
Los Angeles Lakers -210

Odds taken Sept. 4

Did the Lakers simply come out flat? Or are the small-ball Rockets a bad matchup for the top-team in the West? Let’s analyze Game 1 and how it portends the rest of the series.

Game 1 An Odds-Shifter

Before this playoff showdown started, Houston was +320 to win the series and L.A. was -400 to win, as noted in our Western Conference Semifinal Picks and Odds piece. Now, each team’s odds have essentially been cut in half. While it’s hard to say the Lakers came out flat (they opened the game on a 7-0 run), LeBron James playoff teams historically have had a “feeling out” period early in series.

To use a boxing analogy, it’s akin to a boxer dodging punches in early rounds of a bout, going for strategically placed shots in the middle rounds and, ultimately, knocking out the opponent in later rounds. That said, Houston’s defense has been impressive thus far in the postseason.

And that makes what some NBA observers thought would be a fairly easy stroll for the Lakers to the Conference Finals — due to their length in the post — a compelling matchup with the Rockets.

Not Just Scorers

James Harden and Russell Westbrook are known for their ability to score the ball.

But Harden’s series-clinching block against Lu Dort and Oklahoma City was a statement that the MVP duo can D up too. Houston is actually ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency in the playoffs (101.4 points per 100 possessions allowed) and turned 17 Laker turnovers Friday into 27 points.

The Rockets held the Lakers to 97 points in Game 1, well under the Purple and Gold’s regular-season average of 113.4 and first-round average of 117.2 against Portland. James had 20 points in Game 1 — but zero in the fourth quarter. Those are championship defense-type numbers.

But Are They Sustainable?

Let’s not forget, the Lakers can play a little defense too. The King reminded us of that with a brilliant play in the third quarter.

The list of players that can chase down Westbrook, then block his shot then go the other way after forcing the turnover and converting an and-1 like that can be counted on one hand. Perhaps, only one finger.

After the loss, James compared the Rockets’ team speed to a certain football team featuring multiple Hall of Famers.

“You can watch it on film. You can see it on film. But until you get out there, you don’t have a feel for it,” James said. “It’s kind of like in the early 2000s when the St. Louis Rams, ‘The Greatest Show on Turf,’ when people would always say how they scout ’em and scout ’em. But until they got on the field and they seen Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt, and Marshall Faulk and all those guys and it was like, ‘OK, we need to play them again,’ because there’s no way you can simulate that speed.

Play again they will in Game 2, when LeBron and Co. will have a little better idea of what to expect.

The Future

So, where does it all leave us? The Rockets took advantage of the momentum gained following their thrilling Game 7 win over OKC Friday. Not only did they steal a victory against the Lakers as heavy underdogs in this series, they dominated.

Remember what happened to the Blazers after Sir Charles got the broom out?

I just don’t see the type of performance Houston delivered in Game 1 being the norm.

The Lakers’ starting five was atrocious Friday outside Anthony Davis (the ‘Brow finished with 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting and 12 rebounds), though it was hardly impactful. Reserve Kyle Kuzma was held to just 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting.

I believe the Lakers refocus, bounce back to win Game 2 and and take this series in six games.

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