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Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers Game 1 preview

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NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Relief.

After surviving a tougher-than-expected first round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets have to turn around and play the team with the best record in the West and title favorite Los Angeles Lakers.

For Houston fans, it’s their team’s first playoff shot at LeBron James, who dominated the East for years. The Rockets almost saw him in 2018, but an untimely Chris Paul hamstring injury prevented the “LeBron James Harden Finals” from occurring.

For this series, the contrast is clear to anyone watch. Houston is small and the Lakers are big. It’s a point that will be brought up over and over in these games. Chris Webber is especially fond of discussing it, almost as if he feels personally attacked that the Rockets think that a big man who doesn’t play defense is worthless. He’s got an ax to grind, and others will as well.

The Lakers of course sport LeBron, this generation’s best basketball player and 3-time champion. Along for the ride is another superstar in Anthony Davis, who’s looking to prove that he belongs in the upper echelon of superstars in the NBA. The Lakers also sport two 7-footers in JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. The rest of their rotation includes various long perimeter defenders with decent to good shooting strokes: Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris, Kyle Kuzma, and Alex Caruso.

This series may be one where the Rockets can play Ben McLemore. The Lakers don’t have the quick guards that the Thunder had, but of course switches could put McLemore onto LeBron or AD as well. Houston will also need the rest of its shooters and bench players (stares at Austin Rivers) to take the series refresh as an opportunity to restart their play.

A lot will be made of Houston’s win over LA back in February right after the Clint Capela trade. Robert Covington hit big shots late and was an overall menace on the court. It’s what gives Houston hope that they can take down the small business basketball team in purple and gold.

I’ll say what I’ve said before: the NBA needs a Los Angeles-Los Angeles Western Conference Finals, and everything still trending in that direction. There’s too much potential money in that matchup. Those teams are also heavy favorites because they have a ton of talent and are built for the playoffs. There’s a reason the Lakers are expected to cruise to the next round and Houston is expected to get sent packing.

The win over OKC in Game 7 meant that the Rockets as they exist now will probably continue next year. But their relief will only last a week or so. The Lakers are winning this series in 5 games.

Tip-off is at 8pm CT on ESPN