January 30, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin (7) drives to the basket past Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) during the first half at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
If the playoffs started today, the Houston Rockets would face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. However, it is most likely that the Rockets will overtake the Golden State Warriors for the 6th seed and face the beastly Denver Nuggets in the first round. This is not homer talk, as facing the first or second seed would not be any easier. The question is: what must the team accomplish in the remaining 13 games of the regular season to give them any hope of succeeding in said first round?
After reviewing the box scores from the three match-up’s vs. the Nuggets and the three vs. the San Antonio Spurs (the #1 seed who the Rockets face tomorrow night), which were all losses, all except one game told roughly the same story: the Rockets were bested in point-in-the-paint, fast break points, and field-goal shooting percentage every time, except for the most recent loss vs. the Spurs. In that last loss vs. the Spurs, the Rockets proved that they can keep pace with an elite team and bested the Spurs in all of those categories except field-goal percentage, which was still a very respectable 52%. The Rockets would have easily won the game if they hadn’t shot an awful 58% from the free-throw line.
My take from this is that the Rockets have the capability to beat an elite team like the Nuggets, Thunder, or Spurs. However, they must play their best and play a complete game, including little things like making free throws and shooting better in general. The boys will face 4 of the top 5 seeds one more time in these last 13 games and what remains of this season (including the playoffs) can be reduced to those 4 match-up’s.
If we cannot win two or more of those games, and show that we can do it decisively, we might as well just work on continuing to build a team for next season and not risk any injuries to our key players. Thomas Robinson needs to continue to contribute like he did against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Omer Asik needs to make free throws and Greg Smith needs to continue to perform consistently. The whole team must simply play Kevin McHale‘s game, play defense, move the ball, and shoot it well.
If it were easy, everyone would do it. However, millions of dollars is a pretty good motivation for these guys to get it done. Tomorrow night’s reprise vs. the Spurs will say volumes. Tomorrow night might as well be a playoff game. In fact, the last four regular season games vs. the aforementioned top 5 seeds could be considered our first playoff round. If we cannot win at least 2 of those games, the 2013 Houston Rockets are a wrap, albeit a very entertaining, exciting, and encouraging one.