The beginning of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets is just hours away now. How do the teams compare though when you compare them at each position, then factor in the bench and coaching? Throw in some intangibles and lets find out how the teams stack up.
Be sure to weigh in with your thoughts on the positional matchups.
Derek Fisher, LA vs. Aaron Brooks, Houston:
We've got a guy in his second year versus a guy who has three rings. Advantage experience. Brooks has been shooting better than Fisher of late though and is a better defender than Fisher is at this point in his career. Fisher's defensive issues shouldn't really come into play in this series though because he really only struggles when his man tries to take him off the bounce and that's not Brooks' strong suit. Had the Rockets not traded Rafer Alston, they would have a major advantage here because of Alston's success versus the Lakers, but in the Brooks/Fisher match-up, there isn't much that separates the two. Each is an effective role player, but odds are neither wins a game for his team. Edge: Draw.
Kobe Bryant, LA vs. Shane Battier, Houston:
Battier is a fine player who can knock down the outside shot and lock down on the defensive end, but he's not Kobe. Kobe's numbers in the first round were eerily similar to his regular season numbers, except for his increased assists and turnovers. It shows how much more Kobe had the ball in his hands and you can bet that will continue this series. Battier is going to challenge Kobe when he's on him and will make Kobe work for everything he gets. The best thing Battier can do is knock Kobe around and stay active offensively so Kobe can't roam and has to use some energy on the defensive end. When you're talking about making a guy work as a success though, it's pretty clear who has the edge. Edge: Bryant, LA
Trevor Ariza, LA vs. Ron Artest, Houston:
Ariza was exceptional for the Lakers versus the Jazz, playing great D, averaging four assists and 12 points, while shooting an astounding .611 from the field and from beyond the arc. His proficiency from long range was something we hadn't seen before and while he did sprain his ankle, he played fine with it in Game 5 and has had a week to recover. Artest is one of the league's top defenders and although his reputation as an accentric with a temper is well earned, he had flourished in Houston. Artest doen't shoot a great percentage (42% for his career, 41% in the first round), but he moves the ball well and will give you 15 points a night. Combine that with his defense and he's dynamite. Edge: Artest, Houston.
Pau Gasol, LA vs. Luis Scola, Houston:
Gasol was amazingly efficient versus Utah, shooting 59% from the field, but he's going to need to shoot better than 65% from the free throw line. If Bynum can occupy Yao, Pau should be free to clean up on the glass and get his double digit boards. With Scola on him, he will get a lot of touches down on the block and he should be able to turn it in to 20 points a night IF he stays out of foul trouble. Scola had a big first round, averaging 16.2 points on 57% shooting and he did it against a bigger, stronger player than him, just like Gasol is. Gasol is a better passer than Scola saw in Lamarcus Aldridge though and while Scola is a nice place, Gasol is an all-star. Edge: Gasol, LA
Andrew Bynum, LA vs. Yao Ming, Houston:
So which Andrew Bynum will we see? Will it be the pre-knee injury Bynum and the flashes of him we saw at the tail end of the regular season or the abysmal Bynum who was relegated to minimal minutes versus Utah? Odds are we'll see someone in the middle because Bynum can't average just three rebounds in 15 minutes like he did in round one while scoring just five points a game. Opposite Bynum will be Yao, who continues to play at an all-star level. While he didn't match his regular season numbers, Yao averaged 15.8 points in the first round and blocked 1.17 shots per game. Yao should provide a deterrent to a Laker offense that lived in the paint versus Utah and even if we see a better Bynum, he'll just be out there to limit Yao's effectiveness, not shut Yao down. Edge: Yao, Houston.
Lamar Odom. Plain and simple, Lamar Odom is the difference between the two teams' benches. Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry all provide solid minutes off the bench and are a nice change of pace from the starters. Shannon Brown, Sahsa Vujacic and Josh Powell do the same for the Lakers. When comparing those two squads, it's a draw, but the Lakers have Odom, who averagd 17.8 points and 11 boards in the first round. To counter Odom, Houston may have to go to Chuck Hayes more often than they'd like, which will hurtthem on the offensive end. The Rockets have a nice bench, but just don't have the impact player that Odom is. Edge: LA
Rick Adelman has done a fantastic job with the Rockets this year. Houston lost arguably their top player in Tracy McGrady, yet Adelman didn't just hold the team together, he got them to excel. Adelman has the Rockets playing exceptional defense, but he hasn't been able to jumpstart an offense tha gets stagnant at times. Phil Jackson is in the running for his tenth championship ring and has a system that perfectly fits his players. Most of all, Jackson has had Adelman's number for years. Dating back to Adelman's days in Sacramento, he hasn't been able to get past Jackson's Lakers and more than once he's been outcoached. Edge: Phil Jackson, LA.
The Lakers took all four from the Rockets during the year and that could be in Houston's head. The Lakers also have a little extra rest and the deep postseason experience that the Rockets lack. Throw in LA's home court advantage versus a Rockets team that was under .500 on the road during the regular season and we've got a clear edge. Edge: LA
That's 5-2 to the Lakers thanks to a stronger bench coaching and intangibles. In the end, the Lakers' depth, experience and the home court get it done, not to mention a late game closer in Bryant that the Rockets lack, get it done for LA.