A couple of the NBA’s bigger-market squads will square off in a star-studded matchup tonight. It should be an entertaining contest between James Harden’s 33-24 Houston Rockets and LeBron James’ 28-29 Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 p.m. ET Thursday on TNT).
The Rockets are getting healthy and finally will have its Big Three of Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela back for this game after Paul and Capela have struggled with injuries this season. Overall, the team has managed the injuries well due to Harden’s spectacular individual play. He is a very strong MVP candidate right now.
Los Angeles has had its own injury problems this season, mainly with James and Lonzo Ball. The squad has gone 8-15 since Christmas, and those two injuries are a big reason why. James is back now, but the team’s defense has still been really bad recently.
Both teams will be motivated to show their toughness against a fellow playoff contender. Who will win, though? Let’s break down the game’s elements before giving our Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Lakers predictions and betting picks.
How Close to 100 Percent Will Clint Capela Be?
Capela is arguably the second most important player on the Rockets, after Harden. The 24-year-old big man holds down the interior for Houston with rim protection and strong finishing in the pick-and-roll.
He is expecting to return to the lineup for this game after a 15-game absence due to a thumb injury. Houston did go 9-6 in his absence, but it was on a 13-4 run immediately prior to that. There is no doubt that having Capela is a big deal for the Rockets’ rotation, since the team already is weak on depth.
Will Capela return as if nothing happened? Or will he be tentative and out of shape? He has a chance to dominate a weak group of Lakers big men if he is feeling physically up to doing so. Plus, we’ll see if the Rockets make a point of using him well on offense or if they stick to the status quo on offense when he was out.
Will Gerald Green Eclipse All the Lakers’ Bench Scorers?
Since the Rockets aren’t a deep team, they appreciate any offensive help they can get from role players on the bench. Gerald Green is on a hot streak right now, with an average of 16.3 points in just 23.2 minutes per game in his last six contests. His true-shooting percentage in that stretch is an excellent 66.9.
On the season, the Rockets are 17-7 when Green scores 10 or more points and 16-17 when he doesn’t reach that mark. That is not a coincidence.
The Lakers are not a team that specializes in scoring off the bench. Their starting lineup currently occupies most of the consistent scoring punch. Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart and Lance Stephenson are all inconsistent options. All of them can get hot on occasion, but if they are all cold, the Lakers are in big trouble.
Green needs to set himself apart from the Lakers’ role players with his outside shooting in this contest.
Have the Lakers Used the Break to Figure Out Their Turnover Issues?
Injuries to LeBron James and Lonzo Ball throughout this season have taken away a lot of playmaking ability and chemistry from the Lakers. The squad is also pretty young. As a result, the team is one of the worst in the league at turning the ball over.
Los Angeles doesn’t only struggle with its own turnovers. The squad struggles with forcing turnovers from the opposition. In the Lakers’ final 13 games before the All-Star break, they committed 16.5 miscues per game compared to just 11.8 for their opponents. When you also consider that the Lakers don’t have many quality big men and consequently don’t rebound well, the team has a clear problem with maximizing its possessions.
Over the All-Star break, Lakers fans should hope that their team gets on the same page as a unit so they aren’t so careless with the ball against Houston tonight.
Our Preview’s Houston Rockets vs. LA Lakers Predictions & Betting Picks
The Rockets are the better team here. However, the Lakers’ LeBron James is still the best player in this matchup by a slim margin over the Rockets’ James Harden. James went crazy last year after the All-Star break to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers to 60 wins.
I think he’ll come out and make a statement on the Lakers’ home court to ensure that the LA faithful still supports him and the squad. Both teams will be fresh, but given that this contest could turn into a mano-a-mano battle between James Harden and LeBron James, I think the score of the game could have a playoff atmosphere and be low-scoring. Here are the Rockets vs Lakers predictions for this NBA game preview:
- The Rockets are favorite by 2.5 to 3 points with the U.S. betting websites. Put your money on the Lakers +3pts @ -110 with Intertops.
- For the aforementioned reasons, this game shouldn’t be as high-scoring as some people might assume. You should decide to take the under 233pts total points @ -110 with Bovada or Bookmaker sportsbooks.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.