Are the Lakers better than the Houston Rockets?

The Rockets acquired free-agent center Dwight Howard in one of the biggest off-season moves, as voted in an anonymous survey of all 30 NBA general managers.
(Thomas B. Shea / Getty Images)

To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.

After 10 of 14 entries, the Lakers were ruled better than the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz but not as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and Clippers.

Are the Lakers better than the Houston Rockets?

Point Guard


For a stretch two seasons ago, Jeremy Lin was one of the most exciting point guards in basketball as he burst onto the NBA scene with the New York Knicks.

Now going into the second season of his contract with the Rockets, Lin has settled into a steady, albeit less spectacular, role. Last year he averaged 13.4 points and 6.1 assists a game while shooting 44.1% from the field.

The heroics he was called upon for in New York haven’t been as prevalent with the Rockets, but Lin helped Houston advance to the playoffs.

Steve Nash, at full strength, is the better shooter and playmaker, although Lin is the better defender.

The Rockets also have the underrated Patrick Beverley behind Lin along with Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Canaan.

The Lakers have two solid reserves backing Nash in Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar. The team is expecting a lot out of both, even if that means minutes at shooting guard.


If Nash is healthy, the Lakers might have a slight edge or, at worst, are even with the Rockets at point guard.

Shooting Guard

James Harden is among the best shooting guards in the league. If there’s any team that can come close to rivaling a healthy Kobe Bryant, it’s the Rockets.

Harden is a high-volume scorer who can pass and defend. He’s not quite at Bryant’s level -- certainly not from a career point of view -- but given the Achilles’ tendon injury from which Bryant is recovering, Harden might have the edge.

If Bryant can return to full strength as early as November or December, he might eclipse Harden, but that’s a lot to ask after such a devastating injury.

The Rockets also have Francisco Garcia, a good defender and spot-up shooter, at the two. Both Ronnie Brewer and Reggie Williams are trying to make the team.


Behind Bryant, the Lakers boast a long list of players who will fight for minutes, including Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Darius Johnson-Odom (the latter two are camp invitees who still have to make the team) as well as point guards Blake and Farmar.

The Lakers’ season could depend on Bryant’s health. The Rockets are extremely talented at two guard.

Small Forward

Chandler Parsons is a reliable floor spacer for the Rockets. Last season he shot 38.5% from three-point range and 48.6% from the field.

Houston also picked up Omri Casspi, who is looking to revive his career. Garcia and, if they make the team, Brewer and Williams, can also play the three.

Coach Mike D’Antoni might start offensive-minded Young with Johnson backing him up as the stronger defender. Young might be the two guard initially while Bryant recovers with Johnson starting at small forward.


Shawne Williams, Marcus Landry and Elias Harris, each fighting to make the final roster, bring shooting and toughness to the position. Harris is more of a D’Antoni four who needs to develop his outside shot but brings versatility to the floor. Bryant may also play some small forward.

The Rockets are proven at small forward with Parsons while the Lakers are still a bit of a question mark.

Power Forward

The Rockets’ rotation isn’t quite clear. If Dwight Howard or Omer Asik share the floor together, is Howard the four?

Neither player shoots well away from the basket and free throws are a problem for both, but both Howard and Asik are elite defensive players.

Greg Smith is a more natural option at the four along with Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, giving the Rockets an interesting collection of young, talented players in the front court.


Power forward is somewhat up for grabs with the Lakers, who could start Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Shawne Williams or even Wesley Johnson there. It’s an area D’Antoni appears willing to experiment with initially.

Gasol has great length and more offensive skill than anyone the Rockets can play at four. If he’s starting instead at center, the Lakers’ options at four aren’t as strong as what Houston has available.


The Lakers know Howard well, flaws and all. He’s one of the most dominant defensive centers in the league with a limited offensive repertoire.

Asik is another fantastic defender. Neither has the versatility of the Lakers’ options in Chris Kaman and Gasol, but both Rocket bigs are much stronger and quicker defensively.

Houston also picked up Marcus Camby and can play Smith, Jones and Motiejunas at the five.

The Lakers will also play Robert Sacre and Hill at center.

If Gasol is the starter, the Lakers are better offensively but when it comes to having a defensive anchor at the five, the Rockets are almost beyond compare.


Who is Better?

If Bryant isn’t healthy this season, the Lakers don’t come close to matching the Rockets.

Should the Lakers’ All-Star guard make his way back relatively quick, the Lakers could surprise teams in the West.

The range is 40-50 wins for the Lakers, if relatively healthy, and even then 50 is a stretch. If Bryant is a shell of himself, the Lakers could easily dip under 40.

The Rockets won 45 games last season but should certainly top the 50-win mark this season.

It might take some time for Houston to truly put it all together but 50-58 wins would be reasonable this season.


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