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.
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
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 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
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!