LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Preview capsule for the Houston-Los Angeles Lakers Western Conference semifinal series that starts Friday:
No. 1 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (52-19, 4-1) vs. No. 4 HOUSTON ROCKETS (44-28, 4-3)
Season series: Rockets, 2-1.
Schedule: Game 1 is Friday; series will continue every other day until someone wins four games.
Story line: There are seven active players with an MVP award and three of them — LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook — will play in this series. The Lakers will be rested, after playing just one game in an 11-day span. But they haven’t been all that sharp in the bubble, so it’s possible that all that time off could have led to more rust. The Rockets, meanwhile, needed a seven-game grind to get past Oklahoma City and will have less than 48 hours to get ready for Game 1 against the West top seed.
Key matchup: Lakers F LeBron James vs. Rockets F P.J. Tucker. There are going to be times, probably a lot of them, where Tucker has the assignment on James. He won’t stop James, because nobody does, and James has faced the matchup many times before. But if If Tucker can do just enough to not let James turn stretches of every game into personal highlight reels, Houston’s hopes will improve.
Injury watch: Rajon Rondo (thumb) was nearing a return for the Lakers in Round 1, and with all this time off since he would seem likely to appear in this series.
Numbers of note: This is the first postseason meeting between the franchises since the West semifinals in 2009, when the Lakers won in seven. … The Rockets have been among the best defensive teams in the bubble; of the teams left at Walt Disney World, only Milwaukee, Boston and Toronto have held opponents to worse field-goal percentages in the bubble. … Houston has outscored opponents by a total of 18 points so far at Disney through 15 games; the Lakers have actually been outscored by a total of three points in their 13 games.
Prediction: Lakers in 7.
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