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Howard faces former Lakers teammates Thursday
By: Freddy Wander - StatFox
Published: 11/7/2013  at  5:45:00 AM
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LOS ANGELES LAKERS (2-3)

at HOUSTON ROCKETS (4-1)

Tip-off: Thursday, 9:35 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -13.5, Total: 219

The Lakers and coach Mike D’Antoni continue to experiment with their lineup as they visit the red-hot Rockets and former teammate Dwight Howard on Thursday night.

Los Angeles has had an up-and-down season as they work on an 11-man rotation where the bench is actually averaging more minutes than the starters. The 11 players in the rotation are all averaging more than 13 MPG apiece. L.A. is coming off of a 123-104 loss against the Mavericks on Tuesday night where SF Nick Young (21 points) was the beneficiary coming off the bench. The Rockets have been on a tear as of late, winning four of their first five games (3-1-1 ATS), with their only loss coming on the road against the Clippers. In their most recent game, the Rockets took down the up-and-coming Trail Blazers in Portland, 116-101. The two franchises have had a long history, with the Lakers going 132-68 SU over that time. They have split their past 10 matchups 5-5 SU, with Houston holding a 7-3 ATS advantage. The Over has gone 8-2 in those games, with the average score being the Lakers 107.9 and the Rockets 107.8. SG Kobe Bryant will once again be out for this game while recovering from his torn Achilles.

Can the Rockets cover the enormous spread on Thursday night? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. The experts have combined for a 60.4% ATS mark (29-19) on all NBA picks on since Sunday. StatFox Dave has opened the season at 57% ATS on his NBA Best Bets (4-3), while StatFox Gary is 2-0 ATS in the past two nights and StatFox Brian is 3-1 ATS in NBA Best Bets since Saturday.

The Lakers have done better than expected this season with what they are bringing to the table, and have averaged 100.8 PPG despite shooting only 41.7% from the floor. They have also been a poor rebounding team with a minus-3.0 RPG margin. With so many players vying for a spot in the starting rotation, each player is getting a chance to make a name for himself. But Los Angeles is giving up an enormous 109.0 PPG on 47.9% FG this season and has surrendered more than 120 points twice in the first five games. The leader on the team has turned from injured SG Kobe Bryant to PF Pau Gasol (14.6 PPG, 10.4 RPG). He has three double-doubles this season, and is coming off a game where he played his most minutes (31), but put up only 10 points and four rebounds. Gasol has averaged 19.0 PPG (50% FG) and 8.8 RPG in 38 career games against Houston. SG Xavier Henry (12.4 PPG, 39% FG) has emerged as the main beneficiary from the 11-man rotation, but has been inconsistent with his scoring with outputs of 22, 13, 3, 18 and 5 points this season. PG Steve Nash (6.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) has been a shell of his former self, but has averaged 14.9 PPG (50% FG) and 8.4 APG in his 55 career games (50 starts) against the Rockets, including 16 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in his one game against them last season.

Houston has posted an impressive 109.4 PPG (4th in NBA) on 49.9% FG (3rd in league), but is making just 34.1% of its three-pointers. The Rockets have scored at least 104 points in four straight games, and have tallied 113+ points three times. On defense, the addition of C Dwight Howard has led the Rockets to a league-leading +10.2 rebounding margin on the season, but they are still allowing 103.8 PPG (23rd in NBA) to their opposition. SG James Harden (25.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 4.0 RPG) has benefitted from his trade to Houston by becoming one of the top players in the NBA. Harden is coming off a 33-point, seven-rebound performance in a winning effort against Portland on Tuesday night. In four games against the Lakers last season, Harden shot poorly (35.8% FG, 28.6% threes), but still averaged 24.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 6.3 APG. C Dwight Howard (17.4 PPG, 14.6 RPG, 1.4 BPG) has seemed rejuvenated in Houston with 13+ points and 9+ rebounds in each of his games. Howard has scored 17.5 PPG (59% FG) with 12.0 RPG in 15 career games against his former team. PG Jeremy Lin (15.2 PPG, 4.4 APG) slid into the starting role while PG Patrick Beverley (ribs) was out, and scored 10.0 PPG (34.1% FG) while dishing out 6.5 APG in four games last season against the Lakers. Beverley returned to the court on Tuesday with 12 points (5-of-9 FG) and four rebounds in 29 minutes, and he is expected to share point-guard duties with Lin moving forward.

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