With back-to-back victories over the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets have officially moved out of the league basement. Well, not precisely. The Rockets are now tied with the Detroit Pistons for the league’s worst record, but after finishing in sole possession of the league’s worst record the past two seasons, having a roommate in Adam Silver’s basement has to feel good.
Where do the Rockets' Lottery Odds stand now?
The Rockets and Pistons have identical 15-49 records, but only one can have the best lottery odds, and according to league rules, a tiebreaker will be used to determine who ultimately lands the best lottery odds. The Rockets’ home and away sweep over the Spurs may also loom large over the NBA lottery as it pushed the Spurs back into the fold for the league’s worst record.
Before the two Texas teams faced off, the Rockets were 13-49, and the Spurs were 16-47. If the Rockets had lost both games, they would have moved to 13-51, retaining the league’s worst record, and the Spurs would have surged to 18-47 and would be hard pressed to overcome a five-game gap to secure the league’s worst record. With the Rockets’ two victories, the Spurs are only one game off from joining the Pistons and Rockets for the league’s worst record.
FiveThirtyEight’s projections still believe the Rockets will finish with the league’s worst record, finishing 19-63. However, it projects Detroit and San Antonio to finish one game back at 20-62. Crucially, the Spurs, not the Rockets, have a significant edge for the worst net rating in the league. The Spurs’ -10.1 net rating is significantly worse than the Rockets’ -8.0 and the Pistons’ -7.7 net ratings.
How the Rockets two victories over the Spurs could come back to bite them
With the race for the top lottery odds so close and the team chasing the bottom significantly worse by net rating, there’s a real chance the Rockets, Pistons, and Spurs will end the season with identical records and force a three-team tiebreaker. While the trio will maintain equal odds to secure picks one through four, finishing with the worst record guarantees no worse than the fifth pick.
The Rockets’ two victories over the Spurs set up the nightmare scenario where they finish with the third-worst record in the league and end up with the seventh pick in the draft. While that only has a 7% chance of occurring, securing the sixth pick, at 26%, would be their most likely outcome. However, the worst-case scenario would be if the Rockets finish in a three-way tie for the worst record, lose the tiebreaker, and then tumble out of the top five. In that scenario, the Rockets would have lost enough to guarantee a top-five pick, but bad luck would see them lose it.
The Rockets retain excellent lottery odds, and 16 of their remaining 18 games are against playoff teams or teams still intent on pushing for the playoffs, although that may change by tip-off. The two exceptions are a March 31st showdown with the Pistons and an April 7th trip to Charlotte. Depending on the depths the Spurs and Pistons go to rack up losses, those two contests may prove to be the deciding games in the race for the top lottery odds.