Both the Lakers and the Rockets are a lock for the playoffs, the key for both of these teams is seeding. Right now the Rockets are 45-36 and the Lakers are 44-37. The Rockets are in 7th but if they were to lose tonight, they would fall to 8th and would be forced to play the Thunder in the 1st round of the playoffs. Neither one of these teams have what it takes to beat the Thunder. The Lakers simply don’t have the foot-speed on the perimeter to guard Durant and Westbrook, nor do they space the floor or play as a unit enough for a team that wants to go far in the playoffs. The Rockets would certainly give the Thunder a run for their money, and make it an exciting series for everybody involved but defensively they may not be able to handle OKC defensively as they are one of the worst defensive teams in the league in terms of opponents points allowed, and may not be able to handle both Perkins and Ibaka down low as well as Durant and Russell on the perimeter. The Thunder are the best in the West so it shouldn’t be easy for any team to beat them.
Both teams have a better chance at the Spurs considering Manu isn’t fully healthy during the series. So as everybody should see, this game isn’t just a game to end the season, it’s a game that will pretty much decide the future for these two teams. It changes the paths for them completely. Tonight the Lakers have to step up defensively, especially in transition. The Rockets score 19 fast-break points a game, and hit 11 threes a game as well. The Rockets do everything the Lakers aren’t good at defensively and that is get out to shooters, stay with their men, and get back on defense. The Rockets could very easily beat the Lakers tonight, based on their style of play, James Harden and the post defense of Omer Asik – a guy who can most definitely handle Dwight in the post.
However, I think the Lakers will take this one. I think there is too much riding on this game for the Lakers in terms of what they owe to themselves. It’s the last game of the season, and the Lakers are going to do it for their fans and for Kobe who had committed so much to this season. I think Asik will counter Dwight but that’s where Pau comes in. The Thunder really don’t have many guys to guard Pau in the post. He needs to get touches and I think the Lakers can excel. They have to play defense, and they desperately need their shooters to come ready to play to take the pressure off of Dwight and Pau in the post and make Houston think twice about doubling in the post.
Now if the Lakers win, imagine the playoff story-lines we’ll be in the presence of in the forthcoming weeks. Harden back in Oklahoma City versus the team who traded him this season. He’ll take on his former teammates in what will be a big brothers vs. little brother type of series. Then we’ll have the Lakers and Spurs going up against each other – two teams with tons of history in the past decade.
We’ll just have to wait and see…