Round 2 Riot: (5) Rockets vs. (1) Lakers
FanHouse previews each round of the NBA Playoffs.
The Houston Rockets finally got that monkey off their backs, and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997 -- that's the good news. The bad news is who's there waiting for them: the top-seeded L.A. Lakers, who won all four of the regular season meetings between the two teams.
Reason to Watch
The Lakers have their flaws, and the Rockets figure to be one of the teams that might be able to take advantage of them. Yao Ming is a lot to handle inside, and defending him will be an especially tough task for Andrew Bynum, who went MIA for all but one quarter of his team's first round series against Utah. Houston defends with the best of 'em, and is likely to be a lot more physical than the Jazz were. Bottom line? This might be the toughest team the Lakers will face until they get to play one from the Eastern Conference.
How Houston Can Win
The Rockets play at one of the slowest paces of any team remaining in the playoffs, while the Lakers play at one of the fastest. Make L.A. play at a slower tempo, and Houston will have a fighting chance. Yao must be able to dominate Bynum and Gasol while they are in man-to-man coverage. If he can, then the Lakers will be forced to double, opening up things for Luis Scola, who just killed the Blazers when they were forced to do the same.
How L.A. Can Win
The Lakers went 4-0 against the Rockets during the regular season, but did so facing three different Houston starting lineups. One of those games featured a Von Wafer explosion, one had Ron Artest inexplicably trying to trash talk Kobe Bryant, and one featured a remarkable 47-point turnaround by the Lakers (seriously).
None of those things are likely to occur again in this series (well, you never know about Artest), but what should remain consistent is the Lakers' ability to get what they want offensively. They shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of the three meetings, and in the one where they couldn't get above 39.5 percent, they held Houston to 81 points.
Video Clip to Get You Pumped
The Rockets actually led this game in the second half by double digits, before Artest decided to wake the sleeping giant, and it's probably not a coincidence that Kobe Bryant just happened to score 18 in the fourth quarter to lead L.A. to the come-from-behind road victory. Will Artest try his luck again? As the saying goes, this is why we watch.
Stud of the Series
Two heads are better than one, so Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum share the nod here. Gasol's quickness and energy should be able to best that of Yao, and match that of Luis Scola. Bynum's size and strength should help in defending Yao, and he's likely looking for some personal redemption after the last series. It will be his for the taking against the Rockets.
Once again, we have to look at the Lakers' bench here. The second unit gave back most of the team's 20-plus-point leads in three of their games against the Jazz. L.A. isn't likely to be ahead like that against a more defensive minded (and slower-paced) Rockets team, so it's even more important that the bench doesn't undo everything that the starters have done when they get their minutes in relief.
Just like in the first round, it's a unanimous pick for the Lakers. The only question is, how many games will it take? No one is thinking sweep, but opinions range from L.A. taking from five to seven games to get it done. It wouldn't surprise me to see the lower seed win one or two of their games at home. But even though the Rockets are playing their best basketball of the season, I won't officially predict them taking more than one: Lakers in 5.