The Los Angeles Lakers get to stare their grimmest possible future in the face on Sunday. Before they play their second game against the Houston Rockets, the Milwaukee Bucks, their fellow No. 1 seed, will play for their postseason lives against the Miami Heat. The Bucks could easily be eliminated before the Lakers even take the floor tonight. There’s a symmetry to that. The Bucks refused to adjust in the biggest moments.
Now, the Lakers will have to if they hope to avoid Milwaukee’s fate. Their conservative, regular-season-style game plan in Game 1 got them whacked by the Rockets. If they don’t learn from Milwaukee’s mistakes, they’ll soon repeat them. Here are Sunday’s best bets.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks: Heat -2
If the Bucks couldn’t beat the Heat with a healthy Giannis Antetokounmpo, the odds of them doing so with a hobbled MVP are extremely slim. The Heat simply exposed the design flaws in Milwaukee’s roster and scheme. The Bucks aren’t built to switch on defense, as is needed against great shooting opponents. They don’t have any consistent means of clutch offense. And their head coach refuses to play his best players enough minutes to swing this series. The Heat will finish the sweep today.
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Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets: Lakers -5.5
The Lakers lost Game 1 of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, and then won four straight. The Rockets are a far more dangerous opponent, but the principle of the Lakers being slow to adjust has stood all season long. Their Game 1 loss was predictable through that lens. But with such high stakes in Game 2, expect the Lakers to come out with a streamlined rotation and more aggressive game plan. Plus, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, Scott Foster is officiating this game. His history with the Rockets is … not great for Houston, but to play devil’s advocate, much of that had to do with Chris Paul. Foster just officiated Game 7 between Houston and Oklahoma City, which the Rockets won.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets: Under 223.5
To an extent, betting any Houston under is precarious. If they make 22 3-pointers, this becomes a write-off. But Game 1 came in well under the projected point total, and while the Lakers are due for some positive regression, their defense was far worse than it should be throughout this series. They’ll likely have a firmer game plan for James Harden than the haphazard mid-possession trapping they tried on Friday. This one is far from a certainty, but the Lakers have relied on their defense all season, and it should come up bigger in the biggest game of the season to date.