There has never been a time, since LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003, and finally made the playoffs in his third season, that a series in which he’s participated hasn’t been one in which his presence has dominated. That’s been for better, as in the three championships he’s won, or worse, as in the 2011 NBA Finals when he quivered and then froze at the mere sight of JJ Barea.
But this second round series, against the small-ball Houston Rockets, feels different. It’s not about LeBron as much as his star sidekick Anthony Davis, who should smush the Rockets’ Smurfs if he is what many believe him to be – a top 5 NBA player still on the ascent. So that’s the first key;
Can Davis dominate?
The Rockets will start PJ Tucker, and his low center of gravity, against the former Pelican standout, trying to gain leverage instead of height. And they’ll switch plenty, giving Robert Covington, Jeff Green and even James Harden some turns. That won’t be enough to deter Davis entirely, if he’s engaged, as he was for most of the series against the Trail Blazers – averaging 29.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. And that was with two centers his size, or bigger, in Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside against him. He will need to do more of his work inside this time, since the Rockets will chase him to the perimeter in a way that Nurkic can’t and Whiteside won’t.
Will we see Playoff Harden?
The league’s scoring champ, but erratic playoff performer, nearly flopped in the first round. (Well, he always flops, but figuratively as well as literally). Remarkably, it was a stout defensive play, avoiding a peg from the unheralded Lu Dort, that allowed the Rockets to survive. But against the Lakers, there’s no excuse. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a quick and contentious defender, but he doesn’t have Dort’s strength, and no one else in the Lakers’ backcourt can contain Harden, or a disciplined Russell Westbrook for that matter. If Harden and Westbrook can’t figure out how to exploit the Lakers’ calvary of unimpressive guards, there’s no hope for their collaboration.
As noted, the King not really the featured act in this one. But there were some questions about his explosion before he found his legs, and his form, against the Blazers, slicing up their porous defense with his passing. Houston, however, is not the Rockets we knew. They have plenty of wing depth to make James work, starting with Covington, who has frustrated James at times, even when he was a more athletic version of his current self. James matters. But mostly, his job is to make sure Davis gets fed.
Lakers in 6. Place your wagers on the series today at play.spreads.ca