With the Rockets at the top of the conference heading into the last portion of the season, they’ll have to decide if resting their main players is a viable option.
At the All-Star break, the Houston Rockets hold the league’s best record for the first time in franchise history. And that’s a surprise to a lot of the NBA universe. Many analysts were skeptical about how well a James Harden and Chris Paul backcourt could work, so they probably didn’t have Houston as their No. 1 seed this deep into the season.
The Rockets are just half a game ahead of Golden State, and then there is a huge gap between those two and everyone else. The only team that can stop Houston from getting the No. 1 seed at this point is the Warriors. And to be honest, they have a solid chance.
The Rockets are entering into one of the most difficult stretches of the season. They’ll play Minnesota in Houston on Friday, before playing in Denver, who has one of the best home records in the NBA. Then they’ll travel to Utah, who has a league-high 11-game winning streak. Next, the Rockets will take on the Clippers, who they’ve lost both games to this season.
The Rockets will return home to play the Celtics on March 3. Then, they’ll go back on a four game road trip to play the Thunder, Bucks, Raptors and Mavericks. After playing in Dallas, they’ll return home to take on the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back on March 12.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have the easiest remaining schedule in the Western Conference. They have three more matchups with the Suns, who they recently defeated by 46 points. They’ll also have the luxury of facing the Kings and Hawks twice more before the postseason.
To rest, or not to rest?
With Golden State chipping at Houston’s heels and their remaining schedules so drastically different, Mike D’Antoni will have to decide if he should rest some of his main players.
First off, Clint Capela can definitely play for the rest of the season. Capela is just 23 years old, and he’s only playing 27.2 minutes per game, so he’s good to go.
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But vets like James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and others could use a few nights off. As long as either Harden or Paul are playing, the Rockets have shown that they’re deep enough to still win consistently.
At the end of March, Houston will play Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix in consecutive games. All three of those teams are tanking, and D’Antoni could play Harden or Paul in limited minutes or hold one of them out entirely in some of those matchups. Houston will end the season against the Lakers and Kings, so the same could be said for those games too.
Harden, Paul and Ariza have all missed weeks at a time due to injury this season. Further more, Houston’s original starting lineup has only played together in 17 games this season.
The Warriors are unlikely to lose many games with such an easy schedule. They’re so talented that they can coast through many of their remaining games and still win by double-digits.
The Rockets have a much more difficult schedule, but Mike D’Antoni should take advantage of the matchups against weaker opponents to give his main vets a breather so that Houston can be healthy going into the postseason.