Rockets in control of top-three finish in the West if they handle business

Chris Paul #3 and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chris Paul #3 and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets are only three games away from finishing a very eventful 2018-19 regular season.

For the Houston Rockets, the real test is about to begin once the NBA playoffs tipoff, but after a season that saw the departure of most of last summer’s off-season acquisitions before the All-Star Break, it seems almost surreal that Houston “controls their own destiny” for at the very least a top-three seed.

By now, everyone knows the story of the Rockets; the decision to part ways from Carmelo Anthony just 10 games into the season and the disappointment play of Marquess Chriss, Brandon Knight and James Ennis.

Daryl Morey deserves a lot of credit for recognizing Houston’s struggles and making immediate changes to the roster. Changes which led to the acquisitions of Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried, Iman Shumpert and reaching an agreement with Danuel House Jr. for the remainder of the season.

From an 11-14 start to the season to an incredible 40-14 turnaround, Houston now has three games against the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and the Oklahoma City Thunder to clinch a top-three finish in the competitive Western Conference.

The logistics of a top-3 seed

With the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trailblazers set to faceoff in two-straight games, Houston is in the driver seat amongst the three teams.

Entering Friday, Denver is currently seated at No. 2 with a 52-26 record and a 1.5 game lead over the 51-28 No. 3 Rockets who are only a half game ahead of the 50-28 No. 4 Trailblazers.

The simplest path for a top-three finish for Houston would be to win out which would mean the Rockets finish the season at 54-28, and because if Portland loses at least once then the best they can do is 53-29; the Rockets would have the better record, and if Denver were to lose both matchups with the Blazers then at best they would also finish 54-28 and the Rockets own the tie-breaker with the Nuggets.

A three-way tie between the teams would end with the Rockets at No. 2 as the Southwest Division title would be the tie-breaker in that scenario.

Anything less than a 3-0 finish by the Rockets likely ends any bid for second, but a 2-1 finish could still leave Houston with a top-three finish if Portland were to lose two games or if Denver ended the season 1-3.

With Houston facing the league-worst 15-win Knicks and the Booker-less Suns in their final two home games, anything less than 2-1 would be extremely disappointing.

The Rockets have a great chance to end the season with a win because, despite Oklahoma City leading the season series 2-1, the Thunder have been only 8-13 since the All-Star Break and they have struggled immensely on offense as they are 27th in offensive rating post-All-Star Break.

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Game No. 82 of the regular season for Houston may also be a first-round preview, so of course, Houston would love to send a strong message that they are locked in and ready for the postseason.