Preview & Chat: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  April 3, 2009

Ron Artest of the Houston Rockets
Records: Lakers 59-16 (1st in the West) Rockets 48-27 (4th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.8 (3rd in league) Rockets 108.2 (14th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (6th in league) Rockets 104.0 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Rockets Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest, Moneyball Battier, Luis Scola, Yao Ming

The Lakers coming in: If you believe that Kobe is greater than LeBron, why not wear it on your chest with pride? (You have to love Free Darko. Just have to.)

We’ve talked a lot about it in the comments, but if you haven’t seen al the news that Bynum is likely going to be back a couple games before the playoffs, here is your link.

The Lakers have had the Rockets number this year, winning all three games, the last one in Houston to stop the Rockets 12-game winning streak, and the Lakers did it without Odom (who was suspended). The Rockets, as they should be, are a team that the Lakers see as a potential threat and they have been focused for their meetings with them this season. And the focused Lakers can beat anybody anywhere.

In the fourth quarter of the three games against the Rockets, Kobe is 12 of 19 with 37 points.

Finally if you want to think about something else for a while, what would it look like if the Lakers played baseball? Sure, Kobe is your closer. The only question is, what song does he enter the game to?

The Rockets Coming In: Just some fun trivia to start — when was the last time the Rockets won a first round series, and who did they beat?

If the Rockets want to win another first-round series, they need to get focused now — they currently would face a very tough out in Portland in the first round, and they are just half-a-game ahead of them in the standings. If Portland had home court it would be a brutal first round for the Rockets. The problem for the Rockets is, look at some of their closing games: Lakers, Blazers, Magic, Hornets and Mavericks. For the Rockets, the playoffs start now.

Tonight we’re going to get a heavy dose of “will Artest taunt Kobe again” talk, but we know Artest is smart enough not to piss in Kobe’s Wheaties again. This blog’s resident Rockets fan Stephen has thoughts on that and more:

For the Rockets Coach Adelman has been downplaying Artest/Kobe, going so far as to claim Artest is going to be defending Lamar.

The Rockets are making an increased effort to get Yao the ball. Yao is very good when he makes a quick move, when he starts crouching and dribbling, a turnover invariably follows.

The team just finished a stretch where they played 1 game in 7 days and they had several days of intense practice so expect some crisper cuts and more attempted passes. The Rockets are still at the see-think-act stage, instead of the react automatically stage that teams that have been together all year reach.

The Rockets biggest weaknesses are the lack of a rebounding monster, a closer and mental discipline. Against good teams these too often lead to losses.

Their PGs are very young and can get blistering hot and then do the dumbest things.

Ron will bull-rush into the lane w/no idea of what he’s doing, hoping for a bail-out foul. Then he can nail a 3 just when the team needs it-and he is deadly from the 3 when his feet are set.

Scola is vastly underutilized and will hustle and pound you all game long.

Wafer has started to regain his confidence.

Barry is getting more minutes and settles the second unit down. Landry being out has really hurt Rockets’ depth.

Keys To The Game: In the last meeting, the Lakers forced 23 Houston turnovers (and had just 12) and that was a big key to the win. The Rocket young guards can make poor decisions, as can Yao if you get him to hesitate and think.

Pau Gasol had a great game on Yao last meeting, particularly doing well on the defensive end in the second half. The Rockets offense flows through Yao, to disrupt it you need to both pressure the ball and make the entry pass hard, and not let Yao get deep position. The Lakers did those things in the second half of the last meeting.

A few more thoughts from Stephen:

This time around Battier will probably stay on Kobe the whole game, with Artest guarding him when Shane’s out. One side effect will be Artest will be guarding Ariza/Walton, limiting their open looks, but leaving them the opportunity for quick drives as Ron has lost a step.

For the Rockets, Yao needs to be fed often and he has to be decisive. The second unit needs to run, and run some more, and in half-court attack the basket. If the Rocket second unit outplays the Lakers’, the Laker starters will see alot of time and hopefully-for Rocket fans-this will result in dead legs in crunch time.

The Lakers need to harass Yao and stay in the passing lanes. Stay focused, run the offense. The starting 5 should run every chance they get as there is a speed advantage everywhere except PG. The bench has to be competitive.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start on ESPN and Fox Sports West. For those wanting to watch online, follow this link when the game starts to the ESPN 360 broadcast.