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Merril: Rockets vs. Lakers Game 1 Handicapping

Rockets at Lakers (-8, 193½) – Game 1 – 10:35 pm ET (TNT)

Regular season dominance

The Lakers were a perfect 4-0 straight-up in the four head-to-head meetings during the regular season and this is a bad sign for the Rockets as teams that were swept in the regular season (3+ games) are 0-25 all-time in a NBA playoff series.  

Odds: Los Angeles is currently -900 to win this series, while the Rockets are +700.

NBA Odds are also available on the exact number of games with a 4-0 Lakers’ sweep at +400, while a 4-0 Rockets’ sweep is +5100. The most likely outcome according to the oddsmakers is a 4-1 Lakers victory which pays +180.

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The first meeting occurred on November 9th and Lakers won 111-82 as a 7-point home favorite. Houston actually held a 16-point lead early in the game and trailed by only seven points entering the fourth quarter. It was the only meeting versus the Lakers this season in which Tracy McGrady participated.

The second game was in Houston on January 13th and the Lakers won 105-100 as a 4-point road favorite. The Rockets were without Tracy McGrady and also without Ron Artest who is the team’s second leading scorer (17.1 ppg) and assist man (229) this season. Houston actually held a 9-point lead, including a 4-point edge entering the fourth quarter.

The third meeting took place on March 11th in Houston and the Lakers won outright 102-96 as a 3½-point road underdog. Los Angeles played without both Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom and overcame a 14-point deficit for the win. Los Angeles was weak down low and allowed the Rockets to shoot a ridiculous 71% from two-point range.

The final regular season meeting occurred on April 3rd and the Lakers won easily 93-81 as a 5½-point home favorite. Los Angeles held a 13-point lead and never trailed by more than three points in the entire game. Andrew Bynum was once again out of the lineup for Los Angeles.

The Lakers are now installed as an 8-point favorite in Game 1 of this playoff series with the early money coming in on Houston and dropping the line from the opening number of 8½. There was also an early money move on the Under as the total has dropped from 195 down to 193½ at most sportsbooks.

Sore Throat

Kobe Bryant is on the injury report because he missed the team’s practice on Sunday with a sore throat, but he is listed as probable and expected to play on Monday night.

“We know when it’s game time he’s going to come out and be ready to play no matter what’s going on,” teammate Shannon Brown. It’s definitely going to take more than a sore throat. “He’s got to be missing some limbs for him not to come out there and be ready to play the game.”

Big Man Battle

The Lakers continue to work Andrew Bynum back into the lineup after the 7’0” center missed February and March due to knee surgery. Bynum played only 26 total minutes in the last three playoff games combined versus Utah, but he will likely see increased minutes versus Houston as he matches up versus 7’6” center Yao Ming.

Lakers’ head coach Phil Jackson commented on Bynum by saying, “I think he’s really revved up for this… he’s excited about it and we hope that he stays under control and remembers his principles about defense and rebounding, and the offense will just come.”

Yao Ming is pumped up also and when he was asked if he likes being considered an underdog in this series, he commented “What is an underdog?” After it was explained to him that it meant people expected the Rockets to lose, Yao responded, “I’m used to that. Don’t worry about it. I’m used to it.”

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