Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Houston Rockets are definitely in that position. With the teams seeded fifth through ninth having between 2 and 4 games remaining the Rockets find themselves on the bottom of the pile.
Though the loss in Dallas on Wednesday April 6th certainly put them in a virtual win out situation, Houston still could make it into the playoffs via a combination of occurrences.
To isolate the potential for the Rockets to end up playoff bound a quick review of the teams they are competing against provides some insight:
Fifth: Memphis Grizzlies
Sixth: Portland Trail Blazers
Seventh: Dallas Mavericks
Eighth: Utah Jazz
Ninth: Houston Rockets
Strength of Schedule:
The following chart notes the teams remaining games and whether they are at home or on the road. Dallas and Memphis have the most difficult strength of schedule remaining.
Dallas: The Mavericks have 4 games remaining all against playoff teams, including two in their own division. They may luck out in that the Clippers and Spurs may be resting players. That said, the Clippers will definitely want to get Blake Griffin rolling in terms of his timing and fluidity.
Normally I’d say San Antonio would rest the majority of their starters in the final game especially if the Mavericks have the seventh seed sewn up. However, there is a possibility that situation could change. Certainly Gregg Popovich tends to take the untraveled path, so figuring out his thought process may be a futile endeavor, however I do see one possible option. First it would have to mean a Spurs victory would change the seeding. Second it would mean Pops has a preference on who the Spurs want to align with in the first round. Given the Jazz are a young team and the Rockets haven’t shown consistency they may be preferential opponents. If a Spurs victory over the Mavericks would deliver a young inexperienced Jazz squad or inconsistent Rockets team then he may choose to play his starters to avoid the crafty Rick Carlisle. It’s a long shot, but a viable possibility none the less.
Memphis: The Grizzlies also have a difficult final schedule with games against teams all in the playoffs. What makes their situation dicey will ultimately depend on what happens at Oracle tonight. Should the Warriors beat the Spurs they keep their drive to beat the Bulls record alive which means they’ll be gunning for the 73-9 record and therefore want to win both games against the Grizzlies. Dallas meanwhile will want the victory to stay in their current playoff position, and again the Clippers want to get Griffin some run. Factor in Mike Conley has been shut down for the season, 3 of the 4 games are on the road, and the Grizzlies have won only once in their past 7 games.
Portland: With just 2 games left for the Blazers they’ll be looking to take both contests at home as they is a strong possibility they can move up into the fifth seed and the Clippers would be a more attractive opponent for them then the Thunder.
Utah: The Jazz have an extremely friendly schedule remaining with 2 games at home where they hold a true advantage with the thin air and their 2 road games are versus much less difficult opponents.
Houston: The Rockets also have a relatively easy remaining schedule with 3 of their 4 games at home and all teams being in the lottery. Adding further assistance is the Kings have announced they aren’t playing DeMarcus Cousins in road games which means he’ll sit at Houston.
Again referring to the chart above you’ll note I’ve listed each team by their record versus their division and conference. These are the factors which will be drawn from to determine who moves on should any of the teams end tied. Given that fact I’ve removed the Blazers from this equation since the Rockets can’t catch them even by winning out.
The first tie break looks at a teams record versus each other and with the other 3 teams all having split their series with the Rockets this is a wash. What may be a possibility is the teams record in the division. Currently the Rockets hold the best record of 8 wins, however all three teams have at least 1 game remaining against divisional foes and Dallas has two left.
Dallas: In the situation that the Rockets tied the Mavericks, if Dallas lost one of their games either against the Jazz or Grizzlies the tie break would favor Houston.
Memphis and Utah: Both teams play Dallas and if they win they’ll tie Houston’s 8 wins against the division. A loss by either or both would give Houston the advantage. Again, it would require Houston tying the opponents win total.
Again, I’ll leave the Blazers out of this comparison since the Rockets can’t catch them. All the other seeds have 4 games left in the Conference. Three of the teams (Houston, Dallas, Memphis) are currently tied with 25 victories in the Conference. This is the lone segment Utah trails as they have two fewer wins in the Conference. For them to surpass the other 3 teams they’ll need to make up those 2 victories and hope another team loses at least 2 games.
Since Dallas plays both Memphis and Utah there will one of the 3 teams who takes an additional victory(s) in the Conference. Should Utah be the team who beats Dallas this will work in Houston’s favor since they have 2 additional victories already and face 4 very beatable teams.
Summary and Prediction:
Despite the loss in Dallas last night ESPN lists the Rockets ahead of the Mavericks in their Daily Basketball Power Index ranking the NBA Playoff odds. Today’s updated BPI predicts the teams finishing as follows:
Fifth: Portland with a 44-38 record. So their assumption is they’ll split their final two games.
Sixth: Memphis with a 43-39 record. The assumption here is they’ll once in their final 4 games.
Seventh: Utah with a 42-40 record. This assumes the Jazz will win 3 of their 4 final games.
Eighth: Houston with a 41-41 record. Though ESPN lists Houston and Dallas as finishing with identical records the assumption is obviously the Rockets would win 3 of 4 and Dallas would win just once. This would lean to the Rockets winning the tie break based on their better Conference record.
Ninth: Dallas with a 41-41 record. See above for assumptions.
Note this is just my opinion so take it for what it’s worth.
Portland: Since both games the Blazers play are at home and they want that 5 seed I believe they’ll win both and finish with a 45-37 record and surpass Memphis for the 5 seed.
Utah: My gut tells me the Jazz are going to end up in the sixth seed as they win out. They almost beat the Spurs the other night at home which lends itself to them taking their final 2 home games against the Clippers and Mavericks. Even if they end up tied with Memphis they own the season series which vaults them in front of Memphis.
Dallas: If the Mavericks beat Memphis they’ll own the season series so a tie would go to the Mavericks. This is still a difficult battle for the Mavs though as they’ll need to win at least 2 more games to tie, and 3 to pass Memphis. As per above I believe Utah beats Dallas, but I believe they will get one win either versus the Clippers or San Antonio. That also assumes Memphis doesn’t win another game. Further my assumptions are based on what I believe will happen with Utah and Houston and how the tie break then effects the seeding. (See below).
Memphis: Perhaps I’m delusional, but based on where the Grizzlies are I’m predicting they will continue to free fall. Obviously much depends on the game in Oakland tonight because a loss by the Warriors to the Spurs would change my assumptions. That said I believe the Warriors will do what they’ve done all season which is follow a loss with a win. I expect Popovich will rest players tonight which bodes well for the Warriors to win. That means GSW will still be hunting down the record when they play Memphis for the first of two of their final games Saturday. Even if Golden State were to lose in San Antonio on Sunday they’ll still want to tie the Bulls record which would mean they’d need to win the final game at home versus Memphis. No matter how I slice it I can’t see Golden State losing either game against the Grizzlies.
As mentioned I’ve already predicted Dallas will take their match and that leaves the game at Staples Center which is their final home game, and to reiterate one in which the Clippers will want to get Griffin worked into the flow.
Bottom line the Grizzlies face an uphill battle and are decimated by injury having just confirmed Conley is done for the season. At this point I don’t envision them winning again this season.
Houston: Which brings me to the Rockets. As outlined above the Rockets hold a true advantage in the event they end in a tie with any of the teams they are battling. Of the 3 rivals (excluding Blazers who I believe take the fifth seed), Houston has a very easy and winnable closing schedule. If they simply take care of business they’ll win out. Since the other 3 teams all play each other at least 1 of teams will suffer a loss, so winning out allows them an extra win in their Conference record.
If I’m right that Utah beats the Mavericks and they in turn beat Memphis as long as the Rockets win versus the easy teams left they’ll hold the tie break. I said all along Dallas shouldn’t be counted out and I’m still not convinced they won’t pull off a win that isn’t expected. I do however believe the Grizzlies will lose out.
The question is are the Rockets and James Harden capable of finding consistency through their final 4 games. They’ve had some lucky whistles that helped them and that caught up with them last night in Dallas when the opposite occurred. Throughout the season you’ll often hear analysts say what separates the upper tier of teams is they win the games they are suppose to win. At the end of the day that’s literally what the Rockets need to do. Be professional and beat these 4 lottery seeded teams.
For the fan base to believe it requires them to put their faith in a team who has demonstrated one trait this season: being consistently inconsistent. For now the best Red Nation can hope for is that the squad will play with professional desperation.
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