Projecting Three Season End Scenarios for Houston Rockets

Feb 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) high fives Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) high fives Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports /

A season of inconsistent play has the Houston Rockets clinging to 8th, struggling to stay above .500 and uncertainty regarding what lies ahead. Three varying scenarios are likely, so let’s examine them.

The time for the postseason has almost arrived and while last year Houston Rockets fans were keeping tabs of their adversaries wins and losses and wondering who would be the weakest opponent to face in the playoffs, this time everything is turned upside down. Now Rockets fans are worrying if even the Rockets have what it takes to qualify.

With that in mind we’ll take a look at three different scenarios contemplating every possible event whether H-town earns a spot or not in to 2016’s NBA Playoffs at the end of the 82 games.

We’ll reflect on possible draft pick settings, simulate western conference clashes and the next step regarding the squad’s rebuilding process.

First Scenario: The Houston Rockets Clinch a Spot in the Western Conference Playoffs

I’ll start by addressing the fact that I don’t necessarily like this scenario. Let’s go ahead and review why.

  • If the Houston Rockets reaches the playoffs they have to send their much needed 1st round Draft Pick to the Denver Nuggets as part of the now “Ty Lawson fiasco”.
  • It’s highly unlikely the Houston Rockets gets past the first round. (We’ll get to the reasons afterwards)
  • In the event the Houston Rockets actually manage to reach the Western Conference Semifinals, this might cover up glaring holes and needs that the Rockets desperately must acknowledge for next season.

Nevertheless it’s compelling to wonder about the always attractive “what if” possibility that James Harden and Dwight Howard turn up the heat and propel H-town all the way to the finals.

And that’s why it’s selfishly desirable to have the Houston Rockets in the playoffs. It’s not wise it’s not clever or prudent. It’s egotistical and yet we can’t help but hope that they can clinch that one final spot.

Entering Friday night’s game the Rockets sat in the 8th spot of the Western Conference Standings with 32 W and 32 L. and a .500 record. The biggest threat to the Rockets spot is the Utah Jazz, take a look.

8. Houston Rockets – 32 W 32 L

9. Utah Jazz – 29 W 35 L

Even if we were to ignore that the Jazz are 2-and-8 in the last 10, they also have  to play top teams to finish the season like the Warriors, Clippers, Thunder, Cavs and Spurs – and they also face the Rockets at the Toyota Center.

Meanwhile, Houston Rockets will play the Thunder twice, the Cavs and the Clippers – no Warriors or Spurs the two top teams in the NBA – and a last game against the Jazz at the Toyota Center to clinch the tie-breaker.

So, rejoice Rockets fans as it seems that the only likely way they lose this spot to the Jazz would be through witchcraft.

However there’s a difficult conversation ahead of us…

Second Scenario: The Houston Rockets Clinch a Spot in the Playoffs but Lose in the First Round

If I were to bet, I’d say this is the most likely scenario of all. And it’s perfectly plausible but extremely disappointing. We’ll see the reasons now.

While there’s a very good chance for the Texan team to clinch the final spot or even climb up a few positions, the array of NBA heavyweights awaiting for the Rockets in the playoffs is frightening.

Once again let’s call upon the NBA standings:

5. Memphis Grizzlies – 38 W 26 L

6. Portland Blazers – 34 W 31 L

7. Dallas Mavericks – 33 W 32 L

8. Houston Rockets 32 W 32 L

Highlighting the 6 through 8 seeds each seem achievable with the Mavericks currently on a 4-game losing streak and the Blazers solely living off Damian Lillard’s performances.

And while reaching a 6th spot could make up for a more respectable season it doesn’t solve any of Rockets’ problems. What Bickerstaff should’ve been aiming for is the 5th spot setting up a potential rematch with the Los Angeles Clippers, a team the Rockets have a considerable shot of defeating.

But the Memphis Grizzlies don’t seem likely – even without Marc Gasol and Mario Chalmers for the remainder of the season – to give up that spot which also benefits them.

So, the Rockets have 3 potential opponents – Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Scenario 2.1 : Houston Rockets (number 8 seed) x Golden State Warriors (number 1 seed)

I’ll make this quick. I absolutely don’t see any percentage chance that the Houston Rockets would have of upsetting the Warriors in a 7 game series with no home advantage right now.

It’s almost as if the Warriors had the Rockets number. The Warriors have won 10 of the last 11 games against Houston, besides the Rockets are failing exactly where Steve Kerr’s squad excels – the three-point line.

Clutch City’s percentage when defending the three-point shot ranks 23rd this year and even though they ranked 1st last year we all know they’ve regressed significantly.

That’s not all, as the first one in this same category (defending the three-pointer) is no other than the Warriors. That leaves the Rockets almost helpless. A clash with the Warriors so soon would be disastrous, so they must do everything in their power to avoid this scenario.

Scenario 2.2 : Houston Rockets (number 7 seed) x San Antonio Spurs (number 2 seed)

Old Texas rivalry I’m looking forward to if in fact a Rockets playoff berth materializes.

Even though the Rockets have lost 6 of the last 8 games against the Spurs, I’d say that Bickerstaff has a decent shot of beating the Spurs. They’ve beat them at their best already this season.

The main problem for the Rockets in this match-up is not Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge though; it’s Danny Green.

In the 4 games against the Rockets this season, Danny Green is 15-for-24 from beyond the arc. Unbelievably 62.5%.

If  J.B. Bickerstaff is looking to survive against the Spurs then he must stop Green.

Houston has a fighting chance though. I’d say around 20% shot of beating the Spurs.

Scenario 2.3 : Houston Rockets (number 6 seed) x Oklahoma City Thunder (number 3 seed)

This might be the best option available..

The series record really doesn’t count here as the Rockets have faced the Thunder without Kevin Durant but for what it’s worth the Houston Rockets have won 4 of the last 5 games against OKC.

This year the match-ups have been really close contested affairs and it would make for a highly entertaining playoff series.

Imagine Patrick Beverley vs. Russell Westbrook in a 7 game series once again! I can’t wait!

There are so many story lines here, James Harden returning to his former team, Kevin Durant’s possible last season with the Thunder.

The Rockets would have a 35 to 40% chance of beating the Thunder in my opinion.

It’s not 50-50 but it’s as close as the Rockets can get to a Western Conference Semifinals spot.

Third Scenario: Houston Rockets Fails to Qualify for the NBA Playoffs – Retain their Draft Pick

We have to think about the future and as much as I want to see some post season action and have James Harden and Co. challenging the top teams in the Western Conference…. it will be a shame not having a First Round Pick this year. For those who are unaware the trade to add Ty Lawson included the Rockets first round pick. At the time it seemed logical as Houston thought they had just added a player who would push them over the top. Fortunately the team did protect the pick 1-14. What that means is Denver would retain the pick should Houston make the post season and the Rockets would retain it if they don’t make the post season.

Detroit Pistons must surely think so seeing how fast they backed out from a deal with a completely fine Donatas Motiejunas to retain their own draft pick.

It’s also highly unlikely that Morey will be able to structure a deal to obtain a first round pick by draft night.

But assuming the unthinkable happens and the Houston Rockets fail to reach the playoffs, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll evaluate that next:

First of all, the lowest spot the Houston Rockets could fall in the Western Conference would be between 9 or 10. Take a look at the standings one last time:

8. Houston Rockets – 32 W 32 L

9. Utah Jazz – 29 W 35 L

10. Denver Nuggets – 26 W 38 L

Now, the Sacramento Kings are but a game behind the Nuggets but seeing how unpredictably toxic their environment is I’ll exclude them.

Supposing the Rockets miss the playoffs, from the looks of the Western Conference, it’s not likely they’ll retain a positive record (probably under .500.) As of  March 11th there is only one team in the Eastern Conference outside the Playoffs with a positive record: the Chicago Bulls. Of note the Bulls and Pistons have been yoyoing back and forth in the 8-9 spots.

Therefore if there are no surprises and things don’t change that much by draft night, the Rockets will be in position to select a player from the 11-to-14 range.

Scenario 3.1 : Who Should the Houston Rockets pick?

In general the Rockets have struck gold with their draft picks the sole exception being Sam Dekker. However, there’s still a lot to process until we can make this prediction, but in case we retain our draft pick there should be one priority: The Houston Rockets must draft a point guard.

There are currently three highly ranked point guard prospects in most 1st round mock drafts from specialized websites:

  • Kris Dunn a 21 years old, 6’4 point guard from Providence, Junior – Top Ranked point guard in most mock drafts
  • Jamal Murray from Kentucky, Freshman – Murray is a Canadian 6’4 guard that likes to shoot the basketball, he is also the youngest of the three – 19 years.
  • Demetrius Jackson from Notre Dame, Junior – a 21 years old 6’1 point guard.

The obvious choice between those three would be Kris Dunn, and Rockets experts have been flirting with him since last year when he didn’t declare for the draft, this year though he might be a Top Three Prospect, thus outside of the Rockets range.

If the Rockets could climb up a few spots then Jamal Murray (currently ranked by specialists between 7-9) would be the way to go. Despite the fact he is currently playing as shooting guard at Kentucky, he is the youngest, has a lot of upside and his scoring potential could seriously help James Harden. Furthermore he is a 6’4, a more than reasonable height to play as a point guard and wouldn’t require the ball to play so he can actually work out very well with Harden.

At the end of the day, what’s discouraging is the Houston Rockets the same team who boasted the third best record last year finds themselves in this situation with only 17 games remaining.

In truth whichever scenario transpires above, more and more it appears that the 2015-2016 year will go down as a huge disappointment for Leslie Alexander’s franchise. Regardless there are still things to fight for right now, and of course there is still hope that next year things will improve once again going in the Houston Rockets’ favor.At least that is the hope of every fan in Clutch City.

In approximately a month, we’ll know which scenario has occurred from the ones I outlined above. Which is your preference? Let us know in the comments section below.

Next: Rockets future is still bright with youthful roster

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