It’s that time of year again, folks. Well, not literally. The playoffs are being played in the fall, but more accurately, it’s that time on the NBA calendar. It’s James Harden collapse season. Behold, the most symmetrical choke jobs you’ll ever see: 

Game 5 vs. Warriors, 2015: 2-of-11 from the field, 14 points, loss

Game 6 vs. Spurs, 2017: 2-of-11 from the field, 10 points, loss

Game 4 vs. Lakers, 2020: 2-of-11 from the field, 21 points, loss

Profit so rarely presents itself on a silver platter like this, and hey, I feel obligated to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, this is the moment Harden turns it around and finally figures it out in the postseason. But the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, and that’s that Harden, for a variety of mostly explainable reasons, is a worse player in the playoffs, and by trapping him so aggressively, the Lakers have essentially made him a spectator in this series. So yes, a player of Harden’s caliber technically could finally figure it out, but in this space, we’re trusting history and sending the Lakers to the Western Conference finals. 

All lines via William Hill Sportsbook

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets: Lakers -6.5

Houston’s effort in Game 4 was pitiful, and it took a fourth-quarter nap by the Lakers to give them even the faintest glimmer of a comeback hope. The Lakers quickly squashed it, and they’ve taken the Rockets completely out of their preferred playing style over the past few games. They’ve taken only 63 total 3-pointers in the past two games. They averaged over 45 per game during the regular season. The Lakers, meanwhile, are killing them in all the ways they were expected to. They won the offensive rebounding battle 12-to-1 on Thursday. There just isn’t much fight left in the Rockets. If this is a team with a comeback left in them, they certainly haven’t shown it. 

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets: Under 215.5

Without Harden and the 3-ball, Houston just doesn’t have a reliable method of scoring. They’ve been held to only 202 total points over the past two games, and with Danuel House now out for the series, the cavalry isn’t coming to fix this broken offense. Unless Russell Westbrook or Eric Gordon truly pops in this game, the Rockets won’t be able to beat the Laker traps offensively. Their defense has just been too good. 

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets: Anthony Davis over 28.5 points

Give Vegas credit: the books know how to set a line. This is Anthony Davis’ exact average for the series, but the potential ugliness of a closeout game favors him. If the Rockets are as pathetic on the boards as they were in Game 4, Davis will get plenty of opportunities for free points on putbacks, and if anything, his volume has been somewhat low given how advantageous this matchup is. Davis will be the focus as the Lakers finish off the Rockets in Game 5. 

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