As playoff time approaches, the seeding of the playoff teams in the Western Conference becomes even more important, especially for the Houston Rockets.
As the Houston Rockets get ready for a showdown against the LA Clippers Thursday night, the potential playoff seeding must be on their conscience. Houston currently sits at the fourth seed with a record of 39-21, which is a half-game better than the fifth seed Utah Jazz. The Rockets are also only one and a half games behind the third seed Denver Nuggets.
The Rockets shouldn’t really be concerned with the Nuggets’ seeding as the playoffs approach. The main priority for James Harden and the team should be to somehow, someway finish as a top-three seed and knock the Clippers down to fourth. This would be a dream come true for the Rockets, and this is why.
If the Rockets can finish at least as the third seed, they have a stronger possibility of having an easier first-round opponent. Although the Rockets have eliminated the current fifth seed Jazz two years in a row from the playoffs, it’s never an easy thing to do.
The Rockets will most likely be matched up against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that has given Houston trouble this year, winning the season series over Houston two games to one. That would indeed be an entertaining and competitive series with plenty of intriguing storylines, but the Rockets would be heavily favored, as they should be since they are the better team overall.
The Thunder might be the most surprising team in the NBA this year. Losing two superstars and still managing to make the playoffs as a respectful team is quite the feat. But, if matched up against Russell Westbrook and crew, expect the Cinderella season to end in the first round for the fourth consecutive year for OKC, as Westbrook looks to finally make it out of the first round.
This is where the Clippers falling to the fourth seed becomes extremely important. If that happens, the Houston Rockets could avoid both Los Angeles teams in the second round.
The Lakers will most likely finish as the first seed in the Western Conference, which means they would have to face off against the winner of the series between the fourth and fifth seed in round two. In this scenario that would mean their opponent would be the Clippers or Jazz.
In a hard-fought series, the Clippers should win over Utah, which means the battle of L.A. will take place not in the Western Conference Finals, but the Western Conference Semifinals. That is unless an upset occurs in the first round, which is highly unlikely.
The Rockets would be matched up with the winner of the series between the second seed Denver Nuggets and seventh seed Dallas Mavericks.
Both teams aren’t really considered threats to Houston. Yes, the Nuggets have a top-three center in Nikola Jokic, but the Rockets have proven they can win games against a great big man. Also, Denver is still a very young team with room left to grow. More playoff experience would benefit this team in the long run, but as for this year, it’s more of another step in the right direction.
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Having stars with playoff inexperience will almost always favor the opposing team.
Both the Nuggets and Mavericks have played well against the Rockets this year, but the edge in either series has to be in Houston’s favor due to the change to small ball.
Also, the Mavs don’t really have a starting-caliber center at the moment. After the season-ending injury to Dwight Powell, Maxi Kleber has been taking on the starting job, which shouldn’t threaten the Rockets.
Denver does have Jokic and Jamal Murray, but the Rockets have more complete backcourt depth, which would make the difference.
The Rockets’ main goal should be to avoid both L.A. teams if possible in the second round, and knocking the Clippers down to fourth is the way to do that. I’m not necessarily saying the playoffs will be a breeze for Houston until the Western Conference Finals, but, it certainly puts them in a better position to reach the NBA Finals.
The battle of L.A. has been a hot topic of discussion all season long, with expectations being that it will take place in the Western Conference Finals. If Denver can maintain their spot in the top three and the Rockets handle business, they can spoil the media’s dream conference finals together.
Knocking Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers down to fourth should be the Rockets’ #OneMission for the remainder of the year and that starts Thursday night at 8 pm ET in Houston on TNT.