With two matchups against the Lakers in the next month, the Houston Rockets could see themselves at the top of the Western Conference by the All-Star break.
Going into Sunday evening’s NBA action, the Houston Rockets find themselves in a virtual tie for second place with the Denver Nuggets, four games behind the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers. With 19 games left before All-Star weekend arrives on February 14th, a look at the schedules for both teams shows there could be a new leader out West by that time.
The two title contenders have yet to meet this season and will only meet three times total, with two of those being at the Staples Center. Two of those meetings will take place over the next 30 days, as the Rockets will host Lebron James and company on January 18th before the season series shifts to L.A. on February 6th.
For the Rockets to make up ground, they will likely need to take both games against the Lakers or hope for them to have a rough stretch in January. Here’s a breakdown of the remaining schedules leading to the All-Star events in Chicago.
Los Angeles Lakers
Number of games: 19
Road games: 10
Games against teams .500 or better: 8
The Los Angeles Lakers should have an easy time Sunday and Tuesday against the Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks, but things get tougher after that. A back-to-back road trip to Dallas and Oklahoma City could easily see them drop two straight or go 1-1 before easier matchups against the Cavaliers and Magic.
The Lakers’ stretch from January 18th-25th will likely be what determines if they will maintain their lead in the West come mid-February. The Lake Show will hit the road that week for games in Houston, Boston, New York, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Obviously, the first game of that stretch will be crucial, as it will be a chance for the Rockets to gain a full game on Frank Vogel’s squad.
Showdowns against the LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets highlight a tough closing stretch for the Lakers, as well as a rematch with the Rockets on February 6th.
Number of games: 19
Road games: 9
Games against teams .500 or better: 10
Going by the numbers, the Rockets have a very similar next 19 games, with the only differences being one less road game, one more back-to-back and two more games against quality teams. Still, I can’t help but think the brutal five-game road stretch that the Lakers are facing could end up being the difference-maker between the two teams.
Houston will be facing a four-game road trip of their own from January 24th-29th, with games in Minnesota, Denver, Utah and Portland, but only two of those teams have a winning record. On top of that, the Rockets have a four-game homestand leading up to that trip to gain momentum, including the season series opener against the Lakers on the 18th.
While making up four games in less than six weeks isn’t easy, it’s certainly a possibility considering the way Mike D’Antoni has the guys playing lately.
After getting some much-needed rest, the Rockets return to action in Atlanta on Wednesday to continue their push up the standings. Considering they scored 158 points last time they faced the Hawks behind 60 points from James Harden, it should be a good start for Clutch City.