rockets playoff watch: march 29th

I took the weekend and an extra day off to let the standings develop a little more and as a result it looks a lot clearer who is still in the race. At 36-39, I’m ready to eliminate Utah, for whom it would take the most miraculous of circumstances to pull through for a playoff spot. At 36-36, Phoenix looks all but eliminated as well, but I’ll leave them in the list until they cross the suggested threshold of 45-37 for the 8th seed.

Over the last few days we’ve seen a lot of the playoff teams in action. Houston lost its game at Miami but came very close to pulling off an upset. That occasion, of course, was completely ignored by the national media who instead decided to pour accolades all over the big-3’s impressive achievement of each of them recording 30-10 nights. The fact that the Rockets lost by just 6 points and were in the game going into the last couple of minutes was somehow lost in all the hoopla.

New Orleans lost David West but has so far coped well, with Carl Landry stepping in nicely into his place. The Hornets were not able to take care of the Lakers but they were able to squeeze past the Suns with a late push (that, in my opinion, eliminated the Suns from that last playoff spot). The Grizzlies have been on a freaking tear and seem like they’ll be impossible to catch down the stretch. They’ve won all the games they need to and also some that they don’t need to. They’re still a game behind the Hornets, but with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the NBA, they should be able to pull through to a 7th seed.

Finally, the Spurs have looked a little vulnerable. After losing Tim Duncan for a few weeks, the Spurs also listed Manu Ginobili day-to-day and gave Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess a night off yesterday against the Trailblazers. The Blazers, who were playing the Spurs twice in 3 games, ended up winning both and quite possibly the season series as well. The Spurs are in the middle of a 3-game skid (all three while missing Tim Duncan). While they have no reason to panic, I think they’re finding out how Duncan’s loss in the post closes off their three point game considerably.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
— already qualified —
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Portland Trailblazers
— probably qualified —
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2.5)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1.5)

Today’s Games

There are a only two games of interest tonight.

Houston Rockets (38-35) @ New Jersey Nets (23-49)

There is not much to say about this game except that it is a must-win (as will be the case with almost every game down the stretch). A loss here will almost absolutely eliminate us from the playoff race. A victory here won’t be anywhere near guaranteeing a playoff berth. So there’s everything to play for, for Houston, as we continue our final Eastern Conference road trip. This is the first game of a back-to-back and we need both games.

Phoenix Suns (36-36) @ Sacramento Kings (20-52)

Phoenix are in a similar situation to us in that a loss to a team like Sacramento will all but end their postseason hopes. The Suns do have one of the tougher remaining schedules of the teams competing for the last playoff spot, given that they are playing OKC, San Antonio twice, Chicago and Dallas in their last 10 games.

Other Notes

LeBron James returns to Cleveland for the second time this season. Watch out for angry fans and much hoopla about nothing. Last time the Heat visited Cleveland, LeBron dropped 38 on them and began a suicidal skid where I think the Cavs lost like 21 of 22 games and the Heat went on a similar positive run. Miami has already won the season series, leading 3-0, but we can always hope that LeBron trips over a Dwyane Wade who is feigning injury and twists his ankle as he barges into Chris Bosh’s nose, breaking it.

rockets playoff watch: march 25th

Another day, another result going against the Rockets playoff hopes. There was just one game of interest for Houston yesterday as the New Orleans Hornets traveled to Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz in an important match-up for both teams. In the end, the Hornets managed to scrape out a win, but in doing so they lost the services of their starting 4, David West, probably for the remainder of the season. West injured his knee, painfully, as I understand it. The Hornets moved to 41-31 and the Jazz are all but eliminated at 36-37, but perhaps a beacon of light opened up for Houston with the injury.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+0.5)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+1.5)

Today’s Games

There are a bunch of games of interest tonight.

Memphis Grizzlies (40-32) @ Chicago Bulls (51-19)

The Grizzlies started off their stretch of games against .700+ teams with a close victory over the Celtics on Wednesday. They now start challenges against the best teams in either conference, beginning with a game in Chicago tonight. The Bulls are just a game ahead of Boston in the standings and would want to continue building on that to ensure home court through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Here’s hoping that Derrick Rose and company can take care of a Grizzlies team that has decided to play its best basketball after its best player was announced to be out for the season.

New Orleans Hornets (41-31) @ Phoenix Suns (36-34)

This is a tough game for both teams as the playoff implications are huge. The Suns are still a few games out of the last playoff spot and a win here would go a long way in helping them make the cut, although they’d have to rely on Houston fumbling towards the end, as well. The Hornets are on the second night of a back-to-back and will be playing their first game down the stretch with no David West. For the Rockets, the best scenario, apart from both teams losing somehow, would be for the Suns to take this game. Why? Because even if they win this game we will be a game ahead of them. And with the Hornets facing injuries, it is plausible that they will slide out of the playoffs. Hence, I’ll be cheering AB and the Suns in this game.

San Antonio Spurs (57-14) @ Portland Trailblazers (41-30)

The Spurs play their second game without Tim Duncan, having dropped the first one to the Nuggets by three a few nights ago. Portland are currently streaking and our breathing down the necks of the Nuggets. It doesn’t really matter to the Rockets who wins this one, but it will be interesting to see how the Spurs are playing without Duncan anchoring their frontcourt.

rockets playoff watch: march 24th

The 4 games the Rockets were interested in yesterday went 2-2 so it can be considered an okay night. Fortunately, one of the results going in our favor was a home victory over the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies’ game was one result that went against us, as Memphis managed to pull off an improbably upset in Boston. Let’s take a look at the games one by one.

Memphis played a tight game against Boston that, I believe, didn’t go more than 3 points in any team’s favor in the 4th quarter. The Celtics were playing from behind for most of the way. Going into the last minute, down by three points after a missed shot from the Grizzlies, Rondo ran the break and, instead of looking for a good shot, tried to finish a tough teardrop to cut the lead to 1. He failed and the Grizzlies had to foul. Marc Gasol managed to miss both free throws (just a day after his brother, Pau, made to clutch free throws to send the game into 3OT) but the Celtics were unable to convert on the other end with about 4 seconds left on the clock. Boston, as a result, fell a game behind Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. These losses could be crucial for Boston since they will be the difference between playing Orlando and Miami in the second-round.

Next up, we had Utah in Oklahoma City. Thankfully, the Jazz were working with a depleted roster with neither Favors or Harris active and fell to the Thunder by 12 points. That loss pushes the Jazz to a .500 record and they can probably write off their playoff hopes now unless the rest of the teams competing for a spot in the Western Conference severely implode. The Jazz shouldn’t mind missing out on the playoffs too much as they have gone through wholesale changes during this season.

The Rockets took on the Warriors at the Toyota Center next and it was the exciting, high-scoring affair that was expected. Well, exciting if you are a Rockets fan, which I am. The first quarter was pretty close, with the Warriors pulling up to 57-57 at one stage, before a 9-0 run gave the Rockets a bit of a cushion going into the halftime break. The Rockets came back in the second half and totally took care of business, with Chuck Hayes recording his first career triple-double. Most of the Warriors starters sat out most of the fourth quarter as Houston pulled out an easy win 131-112, including their highest scoring output this season. Interestingly, new signees Mike Harris and Demarr Carroll got minutes yesterday, but Terrence Williams continued his accommodation at the RADHisson (that’s the Rick Adelman Dog House).

The last game of the night was Phoenix hosting the lowly Toronto Raptors. The Suns, of course, were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after their close 3OT loss in LA on Tuesday night. Their tiredness showed as they were trailing most of the way, but Aaron Brooks came off the bench fresh (he was suspended for the previous game) and drained 25 points en route to a comeback win. The win keeps the Suns hovering around that last spot.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+0.5)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+1)

Today’s Games

New Orleans Hornets (40-31) @ Utah Jazz (36-36)

The Hornets should have all but locked up a playoff spot this season, but the fact of the matter is that they are still just half a game ahead of the Grizzlies and 2.5 games ahead of the Rockets with about 10-11 games remaining for all the teams competing for a spot. A win for Utah would be nice here, but the last time we wanted them to do that they went and got blown out by the Grizzlies. Nevertheless, the Jazz are back at the Energy Solutions Arena and their motivation is that a loss here will almost certainly eliminate them from the playoffs (with the 8th seed mark speculated to be 45-37). Let’s hope Harris and Favors are back today and put a pounding on the Hornets.

Other Notes

The Nuggets continued to show how awesome they have become in the post-Carmelo era by taking care of the league’s best team, minus one Tim Duncan. The Spurs were off to a hot start again, opening a double-digit lead against the Nuggets in Denver, before the home team fought back through Al Harrington, of all people. It seemed like the Spurs were reduced to mainly a jump-shooting team and were beaten at their own game (three-pointers) by a sharpshooting Nuggets offense. Even with Arron Afflalo, their self-elected closer of late, injured the Nuggets were able to pull out a 3-point victory. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Spurs the rest of the season. If they continue to struggle without Duncan, perhaps a first-round date with them wouldn’t be entirely catastrophic for whoever the the 8th seed is.

rockets playoff watch: march 23rd

There were two games that had playoff implications for the Rockets yesterday night and they went 50/50 in the Rockets favor.

First, the Blazers hosted the sinking Washington Wizards and took care of business. This was not surprising or unexpected. What is more concerning for the Rockets and the other teams grappling for playoff spot in the West is the performance of Gerald Wallace. Wallace led the Blazers to the victory scoring 28 points off 14 shot attempts and also recording 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Even while keeping in mind that this performance came against the lowly Wizards, it’s certainly demonstrating that Wallace has been fully integrated into the Portland offensive and defensive schemes. We are done with our season series against the Trailblazers and given that they’ve probably more or less confirmed their playoff spot, this event should only really be a danger sign for whomever between the Lakers and Mavericks gets that 3rd seed.

In the second game, Phoenix visited the Los Angeles Lakers and for most of the game they looked like they were up against it. However, a late rally from the Suns sent the game to overtime. In OT, Channing Frye went to the line shooting three with 1.1 seconds left and drained all of them to send the game to double-overtime. In 20T, it was this time Pau Gasol knocking down two important free throws with a little more than 2 seconds left on the clock to tie the game up. Grant Hill was unable to handle an inbound pass from Dudley to shoot for the win and the game went into an unprecedented triple-overtime. This time, Ron Artest took over (never thought I’d be typing those words in that order) with some solid defense and a ferocious left-handed dunk that probably was the last nail in the coffin for the Suns. Some very questionable play-making in the ensuing Suns possessions ensure that they fell short by 2 on the night.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+0)

Today’s Games

There are many games of interest today as every one except the Hornets and Blazers are in action.

Memphis Grizzlies (39-32) @ Boston Celtics (50-19)

This is a very important game for the Rockets, who themselves beat the Celtics just about a week ago. The Grizzlies open a tough stretch of games, playing on the road at Boston and then Chicago on Friday before coming back home to face the Spurs on Sunday. If they go 0-3 in that stretch, they will end up with 35 losses, which is one more than the Rockets have now. That would be the ideal scenario for Houston. This is the last difficult stretch of games remaining for the Grizzlies and, in fact, their only remaining opponents above .600. If they swing even one of these three games, I would wager that the Grizzlies will lock up the 8th seed.

Utah Jazz (36-35) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (45-24)

Oklahoma City is in a strange position where they don’t really have too much room for improvement with regards to playoff positioning. A rough last couple of weeks, however, could mean that they surrender home-court advantage in Round 1 to the Nuggets. Hopefully that is motivation enough for them to take care of business against the Jazz. Devin Harris is listed as a game-time decision for the Jazz and Derrick Favors is currently questionable. Given that a loss here would push the Jazz to 36 losses, I would say it is extremely likely that they try to get both to play to give them the best shot at victory. A victory here for the Thunder would be perfect and probably push the Jazz one game away from playoff elimination.

Golden State Warriors (30-41) @ Houston Rockets (37-34)

This is the final game in the homestand for the Rockets before they head on an Eastern Conference road trip including a match-up against the Heat. A victory here for Houston coupled with a loss for Memphis would put the Rockets just 1 game out of the 8th seed. The Warriors are a team that depends heavily on their offense and I’m hoping that Houston’s improved defense of late will be able to counter them. The Rockets will be missing Budinger, however, which means that Courtney Lee will be starting, so the team chemistry may be affected slightly. This is a must-win game for Houston–a loss in a game like this most certainly eliminates us from playoff contention.

Toronto Raptors (20-50) @ Phoenix Suns (35-34)

After a chaotic game last night against the Lakers, the Phoenix suns head home for the second-night of a back-to-back. The Suns are likely going to be very tired–not only is their core made up of veterans (Nash, Hill, Carter) but they played a 3OT game last night. The Raptors have had a torrid season after Chris Bosh took his talents to Miami and our statistically eliminated from the playoffs, I believe. They have nothing to lose at the moment. A win here for Toronto against a tired and drained Suns team would push the Suns over the Rockets in terms of losses, as long as we win our game.

rockets playoff watch: march 22nd

Not too many updates since yesterday. There was one game of importance for the Rockets: Utah vs. Memphis. We needed Utah to win this one so that we’d pull closer to the Grizzlies in terms of losses but unfortunately the Jazz were still smarting from their loss against Houston on Sunday. Or perhaps it was just that they lost Devin Harris in the first quarter, apparently. I don’t know how serious his injury is but if he is out long term then we can probably comfortably eliminate Utah from the playoff race.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+0.5)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+0.5)
11. Utah Jazz (+0.5)

Today’s Games

There are two games of interest today as both the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers are in action.

Washington Wizards (17-51) @ Portland Trailblazers (40-30)

This should be a pretty simple walkthrough for the Blazers, who have managed to integrate Gerald Wallace into their line-up pretty quickly. The Wizards are having a season to forget. With Portland probably out of reach for the Rockets, a victory here for them wouldn’t hurt our playoff chances all that much. So while I’ll be cheering for John Wall and the Washington Wizards, I don’t really care what the outcome of this game is all that much.

Phoenix Suns (35-33) @ Los Angeles Lakers (50-20)

This is an important game for the Rockets because if Phoenix wins these types of games, they will jump ahead of Houston in that push for the 8th playoff spot. This is the first of 6 remaining games on the Suns’ schedule against teams above .700. LA has their playoff participation locked up, but the Mavs are close on their back for what would be homecourt in the second round of the playoffs, so I don’t expect the Lakers to take it easy. They also need to get Kobe into some rhythm heading into the April.

If the Suns lose here, like they’re supposed to, they’ll slip another half a game down from the Rockets and, more importantly, will have the same number of losses as Houston. This would mean that Houston would have to win more games down the stretch than Phoenix, which should be easier considering we have an easier remaining schedule. I’m sure Steve Nash is not going to go down easily, so this will probably be a good game to watch. Go LA!

Other Notes

Just saw the news on Tim Duncan’s injury this morning. Apparently the Spurs were still able to take care of business against the Warriors. Unfortunately, it seems like a pretty minor injury in the context of things, and Duncan is expected to be out only a couple of weeks. I don’t expect the Spurs record to deflect much as a result of it but it could present itself as a ray of hope for whoever ends up getting 8th seed in the West, although in reality Duncan’s usage has been so low this season that it probably won’t mean much in the opening rounds.

rockets playoff watch: march 21st

As the Rockets try to sneak back into the playoffs, I’ve decided to do a bit of a daily watch at the position of the teams competing with us for that last spot and how the match-ups of the day will affect it. Since this is the first post of this nature, let me put in a bit of an introduction. First, let’s look at the Western Conference playoff race.

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
— already qualified —
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets
— probably will qualify —
8. Memphis Grizzlies
9. Houston Rockets (+1.5)
10. Phoenix Suns (+0.5)
11. Utah Jazz (+0.0)

As I see it, the Blazers and Hornets will creep into the 6th and 7th slots, leaving 4 teams competing for that lost slot. Memphis is currently in the lead, but only2 games separate the teams going for the 8th spot. So this daily watch will basically be looking at those four teams, what their match-ups look like and what the Rockets need from them to be able to sneak into the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in pole position at the moment, holding a game-and-a-half lead over the Rockets with a relatively easy remaining schedule. With 12 games remaining, the Grizzlies have 7 at home and 5 on the road. They play 3 elite teams in the space of 5 days as they take on Boston, Chicago and San Antonio (the first two being an East Coast road trip). If they are able to get a win in even one of those games, I’d say they are fairly certain of locking up the 8th seed.

Must-Win Games: GSW, MIN, LAC, SAC, LAC
Elite Teams: BOS, CHI, SAS
Other Important Game: NOH x 2, POR
Next Game:
Today vs. the Utah Jazz

Houston Rockets

With a vital win over Utah at home yesterday as well as an important win against the Celtics last week, the Rockets have a bit of momentum. If we look at purely win-loss records of our remaining opponents, we have the “easiest” schedule at an average record of .497. That would not be the most accurate estimate, however,since we do play a bunch of contending teams in our remaining games.

Must-Win Games: GSW, NJN, PHI, SAC, LAC, MIN
Elite Teams: MIA, SAS, ATL, DAL
Other Important Games: NOH
Next Game: Wednesday vs. Golden State

Phoenix Suns

Phoenix was hit with the injury of Steve Nash at the worst possible time. They’ve gone from being solidly in the playoff race to chasing after everyone. Mind you, they are only half a game behind the Rockets. Phoenix have one of the toughest remaining schedules and as long as they don’t start beating teams that they shouldn’t be, we should be able to write them out of the race.

Must-Win Games: TOR, SAC, LAC, MIN x 2
Elite Teams: LAL, DAL, OKC, SAS, CHI, DAL, SAS
Other Important Games: NOH x 2
Next Game: Tuesday @ Los Angeles Lakers

Utah Jazz

Following the resignation of Jerry Sloan and the trading away of Deron Williams, Utah is in full-scale rebuilding mode and as such a playoff berth would be a bonus for them. They’ve had a torrid time following the trade and have dropped a couple of games that they should have won. The Jazz also have quite a difficult schedule remaining, facing only 2 teams below .500 in their remaining 12 games.

Must-Win Games: WAS, SAC
Elite Teams: OKC, DAL, LAL x 2, SAS
Other Important Games: MEM, NOH, POR, NOH
Next Game: Tonight @ Memphis

So that’s how the teams look going into the final few weeks of regular season action. Let’s take a look at the games today that will have some effect on the Rockets playoff hopes:

Utah (36-34) @ Memphis (38-32)

Ideally, both these teams would lose so that the Rockets could move half a game closer to the Grizzlies and half a game farther from the Jazz. Unfortunately, this is not possible. If the Jazz win today, they will once again be tied up with the Rockets at 37-34, but we would, I believe, own the tie-breaker by winning the season series 2-1. Given the Jazz’s remaining schedule and the Grizzlies’ remaining schedule, we should be hoping for a Jazz win tonight. If Utah beats Memphis, the Grizzlies will have only one fewer loss than us and with our remaining opponents more or less the same difficulty, it will come down to who plays better basketball down the stretch.

That’s it for this first update!