The 2019-20 NBA schedule has been released, and there are a plethora of games for Houston fans to mark on their calendar. Among all the madness of rivalries, hosting former Rockets, and current Rockets going back to play their old teams, one takeaway has flown under the radar: Houston has a home stretch which will assist their playoff preparation perfectly.
Wins never come easy in the NBA, but beneficial scheduling always eases the burden of grinding out an 82-game schedule and that is exactly what Houston has been blessed with. The Rockets will play their final eight games of the season in Texas, with six in Houston, one in San Antonio, and one in Dallas.
The eight-game stretch begins on April 2nd when Houston hosts Golden State – who may be back to full strength and incredibly dangerous by then – and runs until the final game of the season against Memphis on April 15th. In between those games Houston will host Toronto, San Antonio, Washington and Phoenix, and make short intrastate journeys to Dallas and San Antonio.
With the playoffs set to start on April 18th, and Houston likely to have home court advantage, it’s possible they will have the luxury of staying in Texas for slightly more than three full weeks before travelling for games three and four of a first-round playoff series. Minimal travel is a perfect way for any team to stay fresh as the playoffs approach, and obviously The Rockets are no exception.
The lack of travel isn’t the only benefit of the home stretch, the quality of opponents will also be a factor in Houston’s playoff preparation. It’s hard to predict exactly how good each of those teams will be, but now it appears to be a solid mix of quality opponents to keep them from getting complacent, and non-playoff teams which will give them a chance to either rest their stars or keep piling up wins to improve playoff seeding (especially if said teams are overtly tanking, or taking an extra cautious approach with their best players with nothing left to play for).
Golden State – even without Kevin Durant, and regardless of Klay Thompson‘s recovery status – will be tough, as will Toronto with Pascal Siakam stepping up to Kawhi Leonard‘s role, and no Spurs team coached by Gregg Popovich has ever been an easy-beat. Those four games (two against the Spurs) will provide Houston the challenges they need to stay on their toes heading into the playoff race, but they should still yield at least two wins for the Rockets. The other four opponents all project to be average at best as they are still developing, and should present good opportunities for Houston’s stars to rest.
These eight games are a great way for Houston to steamroll into the playoffs and present a nightmare first round match up, but they need to perform well in their first 74 to take full advantage of this home stretch.