Which team is the best first-round matchup for the Rockets?

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images /

With the postseason just a month away, it’s time to examine which team would make the most favorable matchup for the Houston Rockets.

This season, the NBA playoffs will start on Apr. 14.

The Rockets and Warriors will finish as the top two seeds in the Western Conference. Although, with only two games separating Houston and Golden State, either team could finish at No. 1.

The much more interesting race is the one taking place between the next eight teams in the Western Conference. The third seeded Blazers and the 10th seeded Spurs are only separated by four games. The 10th seed is just a game in a half behind the fifth seed.

When the regular season ends on Apr. 11, the Western Conference playoff bracket will likely look a lot different from now. An injury, winning streak or losing streak could put the fourth seed out of the playoff race or the 10th seed could move into third place.

The Rockets will finish either first or second in the conference, so they’ll face either the seventh or eighth seed in the first round. There are about eight teams that could realistically finish in one of the last two playoff spots. Those teams are Portland, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Minnesota, LA Clippers, Utah, Denver and San Antonio.

Narrowing the list

The Blazers are the least likely to finish that low in the standings, as they hold a four-game lead over the seventh seed and are on a 10-game winning streak. The Thunder are currently the fourth seed, and with the talent that they have, OKC should finish at No. 6 or higher.

After that, the fight for those last two seeds in the playoffs is an absolute toss-up.

Jimmy Butler could miss the rest of the season with a right meniscus injury, so the Wolves could struggle to keep the sixth seed. The Clippers and Jazz are the seventh and eighth seed, and Denver and San Antonio are both 37-30 as they attempt to get a playoff spot.

The Rockets are 3-0 against the Wolves this season. With that being said, Butler will return for the playoffs, which would make Minnesota a handful for any team. They aren’t a great first-round matchup.  The Rockets are also 3-0 against the Spurs, but with Kawhi Leonard expected to return to the court soon, Houston would prefer to avoid San Antonio in the first-round as well.

And then there were 4

That leaves us with the Pelicans, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets.

Anthony Davis is definitely a matchup problem for the Rockets, as he is for every team. Although, the Pelicans can’t give Houston much trouble without DeMarcus Cousins.

The Rockets swept their season series with Utah this season, however, the Jazz are 15-2 since the start of February.

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The Rockets also swept their season series against the Nuggets, although Paul Millsap’s return makes Denver a better team and the Nuggets have one of the best home records in the NBA.

The Clippers on the other hand are actually 2-1 against the Rockets this year. With that being said, they’re the best first-round matchup for Houston. Their best players are Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan, however, neither are superstar or All-Star level players.

Also, Chris Paul forced a trade from the Clippers in the offseason and we also have the infamous tunnel incident between the two teams from back in January. A playoff series between these ball clubs would be personal for Chris Paul.

I like personal. It means that Paul is going to play at peak performance against the Clippers in a potential playoff series and his teammates will too because they want to have his back. Without Blake Griffin, the Clippers don’t have an advantage at any position against Houston. Of all of the potential first-round matchups, the Rockets have the best shot at sweeping the Clippers.

Next: NBA power rankings week 22: Rockets are still No. 1

The LA Clippers are Houston’s most favorable first-round matchup.