The Los Angeles Lakers are back atop the Western Conference after an interminable period. The Lakers are set to end a six-year playoff drought this season, and Los Angeles is currently the odds-on favorite to win both the Western Conference and the NBA title. They have a 4.5-game lead on both Denver and Utah in the race for the No. 1 seed, and the Lakers are out to extend that lead this weekend when they travel to the Lone Star State to face the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are currently mired in the middle of the pack of contenders out West with a 26-14 record, and that would earn them the No. 5 seed if the postseason were to start today. That’s not where this team wanted to be after adding Russell Westbrook over the summer, and we could see a big move or two ahead of the deadline.
This game will take place at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on January 19, 2020, and the game will be broadcast on ABC.
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Houston is not in good shape coming into this game. The Rockets have lost three of their last four, and Mike D’Antoni has expressed frustration with his team’s performance. Meanwhile, the Lakers had won nine in a row prior to Wednesday night’s home loss against the Magic, so they will be out to start another streak.
Head-To-Head Results to Date
There have been no head-to-head meetings between these teams yet this season, but Houston and Los Angeles are slated to play twice more down the stretch.
Gerald Green might return for the postseason after suffering a major foot injury in late October, but his regular season is done. His loss deprives the bench of needed depth with two supermax players on the roster in Harden and Westbrook, forcing others into rotation roles. Eric Gordon’s return has lightened the burden though, and he is the fourth-leading scorer on the Rockets with 13.7 PPG.
DeMarcus Cousins will be out until the postseason for the Lakers as he continues to recover from a knee injury, and reserve center Devontae Cacok is out for another few days with a foot injury. Guards Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso are questionable to be available against the Rockets, but the biggest concern is the status of Anthony Davis. ‘The Brow’ sat out of the Lakers’ loss to the Magic with a lower back injury, and he is questionable for this one.
Player to Watch
James Harden is having the most James Harden season of his career. Any questions of whether he would distribute the ball more with Westbrook on the team have been answered in the negative, as he is averaging a dizzying 37.2 PPG, and his usage rate is still through the roof in comparison to other players. Harden leads the NBA in field goal attempts by 2.7 FGA, leads in three-point attempts by 3.6 3PA, and leads in free-throw attempts by 2.1 FTA. Everything still runs through him, but that could change after diminishing returns in recent weeks.
Davis’ health is a big issue ahead of this game. If Davis plays, he should control the paint and completely outclass Clint Capela, leaving LeBron James free to create from the perimeter without needing to control the offense. If he doesn’t play, we could see a continual iso battle between James and Harden.
Let’s go with the Lakers here. They aren’t going through the locker room turmoil we are seeing with the Rockets, and James has optimized his game to help this team take off.
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