The Houston Rockets are almost assuredly going to be the third seed in the playoffs at this point. The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, are fighting tooth and nail for their postseason spot.
This time last season, the Houston Rockets were in the same position as this year’s Trail Blazers. After a disappointing campaign, they had to win a majority of their last few games to make the playoffs. Interestingly enough, they didn’t even secure their spot until the very last day of the regular season.
That’s not the case this time around. James Harden and the gang have dominated their competition for the most part in 2016-2017, and they’ll be the third seed barring a complete, gravity-defying collapse. While that is reassuring for Rockets fans, it does give the team some doubt going into tonight’s matchup in Portland.
Houston has beaten the Blazers convinclingly in both of the teams’ meetings so far this season, but tonight could be a different story. If the Rockets play the game as if they don’t need to win, and their competition comes out guns a-blazin’ (pun intended), they could be in for a shock.
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Since the Blazers traded for Jusuf Nurkic in mid-February, they’ve gone 13-6. The Bosnian Bear has averaged 15 points and 10.4 boards since the transaction, providing much-needed help in the middle. Damian Lillard has had an under-the-radar season, but is still posting per-game averages of 26.7 points and 5.8 assists.
The short-term good news for the Rockets is that James Harden will suit up tonight despite his jammed wrist. That may or may not be a good thing for the team in the long run, but he certainly increases their chances of winning the game at hand.
Houston’s long-term good news is that it doesn’t matter much if they win tonight. Sitting six games back from the two seed and 5.5 games ahead of the four seed, Red Nation can let go of their worries of slipping in the standings. What really rides on tonight is Harden’s MVP bid, which he’ll surely want to beef up if he wants to beat out the NBA’s golden boy, Russell Westbrook.
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