The Houston Rockets overcame immense adversity to climb back to the top tier of the Western Conference. Here’s how they can clinch the third playoff seed.
The 2018-19 season has been an absolute whirlwind. The Houston Rockets were mere minutes away from a 2018 NBA Finals appearance but the Warriors ultimately won the battle and went on to win yet another championship.
As a result, the Rockets retooled in the offseason allowing key role players like Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to walk in free agency. In response, the team went out and added James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams, and Carmelo Anthony in addition to trading Ryan Anderson for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.
The team got off to an incredibly slow start to begin the season but with new additions, this was to be expected. However, it didn’t pick up too much after that. Then, the injuries hit and the season looked doomed like the team might not even be able to make the playoffs.
Fast forward to mid-March, the Houston Rockets have completely reversed their fate and are firmly in prime position to have one of the top three seeds in the playoffs. A huge portion of this is thanks to James Harden who went on a historic run to keep this squad in the hunt.
The team also looks completely different. Ennis, MCW, Anthony, Knight, and Chriss have been turned into minutes and key roles for Gary Clark, Danuel House, Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried, and Iman Shumpert.
The latter five have been immensely more productive and beneficial for the team in the long run. The transition from the former five to the latter five show Daryl Morey’s genius. He made moves in the offseason, they were mistakes so he moved on and retooled on the fly to put together an excellent team that has serious championship aspirations once again.
As it currently stands, the Houston Rockets are in possession of the third seed in the Western Conference. The Warriors have a one-game lead on the Nuggets for the first seed in the conference and the Rockets are currently three and a half games back from the Nuggets. After the top seeds, the playoff picture is very murky.
There are only three and a half games between the Houston Rockets in the three seed and the Los Angeles Clippers in the eight seed. There are anywhere from 12 to 14 games remaining on the schedule so, there’s a lot of shakeups that can happen over these next dozen or so games.
However, the Rockets seem primed to be able to lock down the third seed in the playoffs by the time the playoffs roll around. Over their final thirteen games of the season, the Rockets have the 12th easiest remaining strength of schedule at .477, via Tankathon.
Of the six teams in playoff spots three through eight, only two of them have an easier schedule over the final stretch of the season that the Houston Rockets. Those two teams would be the San Antonio Spurs (.472) and the Utah Jazz (.401) who currently reside in the six and seven seed, respectively. They are also two and a half and three games, respectively, behind the Rockets in the standings.
The thirteen games for the Rockets won’t be a cakewalk. They have games against the Bucks, who have the best record in the NBA, the Nuggets, Thunder, Clippers, and Spurs. Theoretically, those are five very losable games, though, all five could also be won. The Rockets also have easier games against the Knicks, Suns, Hawks, and Grizzlies, amongst others.
The Spurs still have games against Warriors, Nuggets, Rockets, and Warriors while the Jazz only have games against the Nuggets and Clippers. They have similar “easier” opponents as well. So, they could make a run to try to shoot up the playoff rankings in an attempt to get a better seed to have more home games.
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It’s really easy to see the Houston Rockets winning 8 out of their final 13 games. If they only won 8 games, that would be an extreme disappointment. However, it seems fairly likely that they will win more than 8 games while other teams will also likely drop some along the way.
The game against the Bucks will be a tough one to win so, let’s count that as a loss, especially since the Rockets have already dropped one to them. Let’s also assume they gaff a game against an easier opponent so, that’s two losses. That leaves four additional tougher games.
The Rockets have winning records this season against the Spurs and Nuggets and losing ones to the Clippers and Thunder. Ideally, the Rockets would be able to win at least three of these games. So, if they’re able to do this and they go 10-3 over their final 13 games or maybe at worst 9-4 that should be enough to clinch the 3rd seed in the playoffs with a good shot at more home games.
This entire journey begins in just a few short hours when the Houston Rockets take the court against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This should be a very winnable game against a struggles T-Wolves team that is firmly out of playoff contention. Here’s to hoping the first nail can be put in the coffin tonight.
The Houston Rockets season has been a rollercoaster for the team and fans alike. The end is in sight for the regular season and the team is getting hot and hitting their stride at the right time to make a championship run.