Game Preview: Rockets @ Lakers, GAME 1 - 9:30pm CST

Let the games begin!

Round 2 is here.  And, no, your eyes are not deceiving you.  The Houston Rockets are still alive and kicking.  For real.  And now they are ready to kick some butt (at least I hope so...)! 

On to the Game 1 matchups:

Houston Rockets

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@

Los Angeles Lakers

 

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Aaron Brooks

PG

Derek Fisher

Ron Artest

SG

Kobe Bryant

Shane Battier

SF

Trevor Ariza

Luis Scola

PF

Pau Gasol

Yao Ming

C

Andrew Bynum

Carl Landry

Bench 1

Lamar Odom

Von Wafer

Bench 2

Josh Powell

Kyle Lowry

Bench 3

Shannon Brown

Dikembe Mutombo

Some guy named "Tracy" (who?)

Injuries?

Luke Walton

Kobe Bryant (!??!)

It's Game 1.  A new beginning, which means no one really knows who is starting for the Lakers because Phil has yet to have the peyote-induced vision that tells him whether to play Lamar or Bynum.  (The rumors are that Bynum will start as a big body against Yao and Odom will return to the bench.)

Nothing stops me from guessing though.  And I'm certainly filled with opinions on how the teams match up.

Point Guard:
Aaron Brooks (Lowry) v. Derek Fisher (Brown/Farmar).  ABZ was outstanding in Game 1 versus Portland.  He was slightly less outstanding in the remaining games.  And in Game 4 Brooks was practically non-existent.  The Rockets cannot afford to have such inconsistent point guard play.  And why?  Because this is where the series is going to be won or lost.  The Lakers' only real weakness is at the lead guard spot.  Fisher is a shell of his former self and certainly can't guard ABZ (though Fisher's flopping is going to make Joel P look good.)  After Fish, the Lakers feature Brown - a player the Bobcats had no use for - and Jordan Farmar.  Now, if this were last year, Farmar would be a "strength" for L.A.  But he's regressed mightily this year.  It's like he and Vujacic had a competition to see who could mail in the '09 season more.
slight edge:  ROCKETS (but only if Brooks shoots better than 45% and is not passive on offense)

Shooting Guard:
Ron Artest (Battier/Wafer) v. Kobe Bryant (Vujacic?).  This is where stories will be sold.  But not where the series will be determined.  Look, Kobe is going to get his.  And Artest and Battier are going to make Kobe work for everything.  There will be 2 games where Kobe looks human.  And there will be at least 2 where Kobe does his Michael Jordan thing.  It's going to happen.  And I accept that.  On the flip side, Crazy Pills absolutely MUST not let this become a personal battle.  If Ron Ron is seen dribbling around and not passing, the Rockets are doomed.  No point in analyzing that any further. I just hope Artest stays within the gameplan.
major edge:  LAKERS (Kobe is still the best player in the NBA, MVP voters are just too eager to shake things up.)

UPDATEThis from wikipedia

Typically, when a black mamba senses danger, it will quickly slither away to the nearest hiding spot.

Small Forward:
Shane Battier (Artest/Landry/Barry) v. Trevor Ariza (Odom/Powell).  Both of the "glue guy" "x-factor" players are featured here.  Battier is a better player than Ariza.  But the real matchup is when Lamar Odom comes into the game.  Do the Rockets counter with Carl Landry (which worked very well in January) or do they let Battier stick to Odom... or do they have Scola try to stay with Odom.  There will also be moments when Odom, Ariza AND Gasol are on the court together.  Coach Sleep better be prepared - and awake - to see the mismatches and make sure that the Lakers' length doesn't ruin the Rockets' chances.  The one major non-Kobe advantage for L.A. is that they are long and tall and athletic while the Rockets are more grounded and a bit shorter.
edge:  LAKERS

Power Forward:
Luis Scola (Landry/Hayes) v. Pau Gasol (Powell/Odom).  Look, Pau Gasol is really, really good.  He's also a bit of a pansy.  Okay, he's a lot of a pansy.  Scola and Gasol know each other quite well from years of international play, too.  This matchup can/will be determined by how much the referees let Scola scrap with Pau.  If games are called tightly, Scola is going to be in foul trouble very, very early and we'll see a lot of Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry.  If the referees let them play, you'll see a lot of the pouty Gasol.  That dude whines more than most anyone.  Hopefully the Rockets' depth at power forward is enough to overcome Gasol's individual ability.  That's why they play the games, right?
edge:  LAKERS (but it's not as big of an edge as you think)

Center:
The Great Wall (Scola) v. Bynum (Gasol/Mbegna).  The only people who think this might even be a close matchup are Laker fans.  Anyone who watches basketball, however, knows that Yao absolutely destroys what we classify as "traditional" centers.  Bynum is just this kind of player.  Bynum has height and size and quickness.  He also plays behind Yao most of the time.  Yao is going to have a field day if the Lakers decide to let Bynum cover Yao on his own.  Enough to make Yao's Game 1 versus Portland seem pedestrian.  Hopefully Yao gets angry, plays aggressively and sees the free throw line 8-10 times a game on average.  An Angry Yao is a very, very good Yao.
major edge:  ROCKETS

Bench:
Here is the biggest fallacy being promoted by the mainstream media today.  "The Lakers have an incredibly deep bench."  FALSE.  There is exactly one player on the Laker bench who the Rockets are afraid of (Odom).  And Lamar has a tendency to get distracted by things wholly unrelated to basketball and subsequently disappear.  Meanwhile, the Rockets have no qualms about putting the following players into the game:  Von Wafer, Carl Landry, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes, Joey Dorsey and Brent Barry.  The Rockets will probably limit themselves to an 8 man rotation, but our bench is much, MUCH better than L.A.'s.  In contrast, L.A. will hesitate to send out Vujacic, Brown, Farmar and Powell.  Each of these guys has promise, but Vujacic and Farmar in particular are playing with about as much confidence as the guys from Big Bang Theory chatting up Summer Glau on a train.  (Translation?  No one is betting on them to score anytime soon.)
major edge:  ROCKETS

Coaching
Okay, there's no real competition here.  Phil Jackson owns Rick Adelman in every conceivable way.  Even worse?  Phil is in Coach Sleepy's head -- and has taken up residence there since the new millennium began.  Just wait until you see Phil work the officials in post-game news conferences while Adelman will give his regular look of confusion.  Honestly, this is what scares me the most -- can Adelman keep his head in the game, make the appropriate substitutions and avoid mis-matches?  I'm just not sure.
major edge:  LAKERS

Speaking of... here's tonight's referee assignments.  Woo-hoo!  No Javie, Salvatore, Crawford or Violet Palmer!  A promising start (until Stern pulls the rug out from the Rockets in Game 3 or 4).

Game 1 prediction?  There's a rumor that Kobe might sit out tonight.  If so, the Rockets MUST steal Game 1.  Even if Kobe does play tonight, the Rockets cannot come back home down 0-2.  If that happens, the Rockets lose in 5.  If the Rockets can successfully swipe a road game, this thing is going 7.  No way the Rockets lose the series in Game 6... because the good guys would be at home that day.

GO ROCKETS!!!

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