As we did before the first round, we've got another Round Table here, giving you some insights and predictions for the upcoming second round series against the Jazz, from SS&R's various authors.
Please welcome DexterFishmore to our group of excellent authors. If you haven't read his series preview, you need to do that right away.
Click on through for the authors' thoughts and predictions...
Sideout11: Lakers in 5
In Round 2 we switch from a point guard oriented team to a center oriented one, but thanks to the Lakers' versatility the transition should be seamless. Yao is like Deron Williams in that he will get his, but the combination of Bynum, Gasol, Odom, and possible even Mbenga will more than keep him in check. The Lakers match up well everywhere else. I think the key to this series will be the Odom-Scola match-up. Both, especially Scola, have been the motors that make their team go, and winning this match-up will go a long way towards determining who wins this series. While Scola is an excellent player, I believe that Odom will more than neutralize him, he will outplay him. Also, the Rockets bench is not as deep as the Lakers, and not as dangerous Utah's, so this could be a huge advantage for the Lakers. I thought that this series would be the wake-up call for the Lakers, but it looks like they got that in Game 3 against the Jazz, so I expect them to come out hungry. I also think that Phil Jackson will be smarter about his substituting, so in addition to a five game series, I don't expect to see any blown leads and I am calling for blowout losses in Games 1, 4, and 5, with the loss once again coming in Game 3.
Ryebreadraz: Lakers in 6
Houston is a very good team that should give the Lakers some trouble. No team can match the wing defenders that Houston has with Battier and Artest. Because of those two, Kobe will have to work hard for everything he gets, although he didn't have too much trouble against the Rockets during the regular season. Aaron Brooks has been good for the Rockets and can definitely knock down the open jumper, but he's not overly explosive off the bounce, which plays into the Lakers' hands. Trading away Rafer Alston at the deadline will definitely hurt the Rockets in this match-up because of the success Alston has had against the Lakers. If Bynum plays well and Odom looks like he did versus Utah, the two of them, joined with Pau will get Yao in foul trouble and dominate the paint, but we could easily see both Bynum and Odom struggle. If that happens, the Rockets will have a chance, but in the end, Yao will get in foul trouble once or twice, the Rockets will lack a late game scorer and the Lakers will take this series in six.
FryingDutchman: Lakers in 5
The Houston Rockets are a much better team than the Utah Jazz. They play great defense, have a hard-nosed mentality, and outside of Ron Artest, they always play smart basketball. They have a player who can be an unstoppable offensive force, simply because nobody on the planet Earth is tall enough to consistently keep him from getting his shot off. They probably have two of the top 5 players in the league capable of slowing Kobe down. So how can I predict the same outcome for this series as the series with the Jazz?
1. Houston's home court advantage is not as strong as Utah's.
I'm not trying to diss Houston's fans, but there's a reason the Jazz had a great home record and a terrible road record. Their home crowd intimidates almost everybody. Houston's crowd just isn't like that, and the Lakers have not had difficulty winning in Houston in recent years.
2. The Rockets are more consistent than the Jazz.
Wait, the Rockets are more consistent? That's a positive thing, right? Well, yes, over the course of an entire season, or even an entire playoff series, it is a good thing. But in terms of winning one individual game, you are considerably less likely to see a Rockets player do something extraordinary and unexpected than, say, Carlos Boozer going for 25-20 after struggling for a solid month. And the consistency of the Rockets hurts them in this case, because they are consistently not quite good enough to beat L.A. The third reason has a lot to do with that.
3. The Lakers have a great game closer, and the Rockets do not.
The game's tied 90-90, 2 minutes left in the game. The Lakers need a basket, turn to Kobe, and he nails one of his dagger jumpshots. The Rockets need a basket and turn to ... Ron Artest? Aaron Brooks? They do have Yao, but like most big men, it can be difficult to get him the ball in a good position late in the game. This situation should sound familiar, as it is exactly how the Lakers won both games in Houston this year. In the end, in a close game, you just have to like L.A.'s chances to pull it out
If it plays out like I think it will, this will be as difficult a 5 game series as can be. I expect all the games to be close (ironically, I think the one game Houston will win will be the most lopsided in the series). I expect Houston to give the Lakers all they can take every game. And in the end, I think Houston falls just short almost every single time. Down the stretch in close games, they just don't have that singular presence capable of taking them to the finish line. In the Jazz series, I said 5 games because I thought Utah would be able to steal a game at home, but would otherwise be killed every night (a pretty good prediction except for the Lakers penchant for blown leads). Against the Rockets, I think every game could go either way, but at Staples I think it will go our way every time, and the team will find a way to steal a game in Houston. I think a 7 game series is more likely than a 6 game series, but 5 is my prediction.
DexterFishmore: Lakers in 5
I have a lot of admiration for the season the Rockets have put together, but I do feel they’ve overachieved a bit to get to this point and that they’re now punching significantly above their weight. The Lakers were the substantially better team over the 82-game regular season, they’re better rested, they won all four previous contests against Houston, and they have the home-court advantage. On the other side of the ledger, the Rockets have a defense that’s very good, but not historically elite on the level of last year’s Celtics, and an offense with not nearly enough dependable weaponry. They’ve had a nice run, but I’m predicting it ends here in five games. A sweep would surprise me less than would a game six.
Among the more particular developments I suspect we’ll see in this series are the partial rehabilitation of Andrew Bynum’s play, who’ll understandably have his problems with Yao but will start to climb out of the abyss he sank into against Utah; a whole lot of open looks for Shane Battier, who’ll be given the Ronnie Brewer treatment by the Laker D; still more minutes for Shannon Brown, subbing in to make life difficult for Aaron Brooks; and even a role for DJ Mbenga, called in out of the bullpen to bang away on Yao. And Kobe will treat us to at least one masterpiece performance.
Josh: Lakers in 6
Our authors have given you lots of great insight in to the series, the Rockets, and how we match up with them, so I'm going to focus on one thing — the only thing that I think really matters. That's the Lakers, and more specifically, their mindset entering this series, and throughout.
Houston is a fantastic team, and if they can build on this year's progress, they'll be a tough opponent in years to come. But make no mistake: When the Lakers are playing up to their potential, there is no team in the West that can hang with them. If they are motivated, and play with energy, effort, and intensity throughout the series, this won't go beyond five games — perhaps less (yeah, I said it). But that's a big IF.
Heading into Game 1 against Utah, I thought the long awaited (read: overdue) arrival of the postseason would provide the motivation the Lakers needed to play up to their potential. For a brief moment, that was true, but it didn't last.
After Game 1, every member of the Lakers team and staff seemed to feel very strongly that they needed to play better, so I expected a more motivated team in Game 2. That didn't happen.
Heading into Utah, I was hopeful that such a hostile atmosphere as Utah would finally get the Lakers playing in high gear. Boy was I wrong.
Finally, I caught a break, as L.A.'s Game 3 loss provided the motivation necessary to play a fairly complete game, competing well from start to finish. They'd finally figured it out, right? Wrong. In Game 5, they were back to their old ways, playing well for a stretch, and then checking out far too early. In all, four out of five games — all four the Lakers' wins — saw them stop playing hard far too early and give up big leads in the fourth quarter.
So you won't read me predicting a motivated Lakers team in this series. More motivated than they were against Utah? Yes. But motivated enough to keep their foot on the pedal even when they build a large lead, preventing Houston from coming back and making it a close game in the fourth quarter? I'll believe it when I see it.
This is the Lakers' series to lose. If they play hard, and up to their potential, for the entire series, it won't even be close. But if they continue in their pattern of building big leads and then giving them right back, this will be more of the same — a Lakers victory in the end, but one filled with frustration and disappointment along the way.
Your ball, Lakers.