Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers Preview and Predictions -03-12-2020
Rockets looking for success on the road
The Rockets are coming off a busy offseason that saw them bring in another All-Star talent in the backcourt to pair with James Harden with his former Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook. For the most part, the team has experienced a great deal of success on the court holding one of the top records in the Western Conference. The Rockets have hit a bit of a lull over the last couple of weeks that has seen them fall to the sixth-best record in the playoff picture. Before getting past the Timberwolves, the Rockets had dropped their previous four games. Their lack of consistency over that span has raised some questions around the franchise about their legitimacy as a title-contending team.
Since the trade deadline, the Rockets have gone to a small-ball lineup commitment that has seen them flow in both directions over the last few weeks. They have a highly-talented backcourt that they can depend on a nightly basis, but their lack of size at times has hurt them against opponents. That could be the case against the Lakers this time around in their second matchup since the All-Star break. Houston will need Westbrook to continue to step up his production as he’s averaging 29.1 points on 53.4 percent shooting from the floor and 40.0 percent from beyond the arc. His play will be crucial in providing that scoring balance alongside James Harden, who has brought it all year. That will be their key to success on Thursday night.
Lakers hoping to bounce back at home
In the months leading into the 2019-20 season, there was plenty of hope that the Lakers could finally push their way forward into the playoff picture. They have more than done that with their retooled roster that has helped them earn the top mark in the Western Conference with a comfortable grip on that spot so far this season. It has seen them already snap a seven-year playoff hiatus by becoming the first team in the Western Conference to secure a postseason berth. The Lakers have proven to be a strong team on both ends of the floor, currently ranked fourth in scoring and third in least points allowed per contest.
Although they are coming off a disappointing loss at home against the Nets, the Lakers are coming off a strong showing at home against the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers that saw them grab their first wins of the season over each franchise. It has also further ramped up the chatter around them being a legitimate title-contending team in the league. Meanwhile, LeBron James is starting to gather some steam in the MVP conversation as he’s averaging 30.0 points, 9.4 assists, and 8.2 rebounds on 55.1 percent shooting from the floor in his previous nine games played. James has been one of the driving forces of the team that will be looking to rebound from their porous showing against Brooklyn to top a struggling Rockets team on their home floor.
The Houston Rockets are an American professional basketball team based in Houston, Texas. The Rockets compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the league’s Western Conference Southwest Division. The team plays its home games at the Toyota Center, located in Downtown Houston. The Rockets have won two NBA championships and four Western Conference titles. The team was established in 1967 as the San Diego Rockets, an expansion team originally based in San Diego. In 1971, the Rockets moved to Houston.
The Rockets won only 15 games in their debut season as a franchise in 1967. In the 1968 NBA draft, the Rockets were awarded the first overall pick and selected power forward Elvin Hayes, who would lead the team to its first playoff appearance in his rookie season. The Rockets did not finish a season with a winning record for almost a decade until the 1976–77 season, when they traded for All-Star center Moses Malone. Malone went on to win the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) award twice while playing with the Rockets and led Houston to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year with the team. During the 1980–81 season, the Rockets finished the regular season with a 40–42 record. Despite their losing record, they qualified for the playoffs. Led by Malone, the Rockets stunned the entire league by making their first NBA Finals appearance in 1981, becoming only the second team in NBA history to make the NBA Finals with a losing record. They would lose in six games to the 62–20 Boston Celtics, led by Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and future Rockets’ head coach Kevin McHale. As of 2019, the 1980–81 Rockets are the last team since the 1954–55 Minneapolis Lakers to make it all the way to the NBA Finals with a losing record.
In the 1984 NBA draft, once again with the first overall pick, the Rockets drafted center Hakeem Olajuwon, who would become the cornerstone of the most successful period in franchise history. Paired with 7 feet 4 inches (2.24 m) Ralph Sampson, they formed one of the tallest front courts in the NBA. Nicknamed the “Twin Towers”, they led the team to the 1986 NBA Finals—the second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history—where Houston was again defeated by Larry Bird and the 67-win Boston Celtics. The Rockets continued to reach the playoffs throughout the 1980s, but failed to advance past the first round for several years following a second round defeat to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1987. Rudy Tomjanovich took over as head coach midway through the 1991–92 season, ushering in the most successful period in franchise history. Led by Olajuwon, the Rockets dominated the 1993–94 season, setting a franchise record 58 wins and went to the 1994 NBA Finals—the third NBA Finals appearance in franchise history—and won the franchise’s first championship against Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks. During the following season, reinforced by another All-Star, Clyde Drexler, the Rockets—in their fourth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history—repeated as champions with a four-game sweep of the Orlando Magic, who were led by a young Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Houston, which finished the season with a 47–35 record and was seeded sixth in the Western Conference during the 1995 playoffs, became the lowest-seeded team in NBA history to win the title.
The Rockets acquired all-star forward Charles Barkley in 1996, but the presence of three of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all-time (Olajuwon, Drexler, and Barkley) was not enough to propel Houston past the Western Conference Finals. Each one of the aging trio had left the team by 2001. The Rockets of the early 2000s, led by superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, followed the trend of consistent regular season respectability followed by playoff underachievement as both players struggled with injuries. After Yao’s early retirement in 2011, the Rockets entered a period of rebuilding, completely dismantling and retooling their roster. The acquisition of franchise player James Harden in 2012 has launched the Rockets back into championship contention in the mid-2010s.
Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and James Harden have been named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player while playing for the Rockets, for a total of four MVP awards. The Rockets, under general manager Daryl Morey, are notable for popularizing the use of advanced statistical analytics (similar to sabermetrics in baseball) in player acquisitions and style of play.