The Houston Rockets: A Viewer’s Guide

Luis Scola's Hair has been named to the All-NBA First Mane Team.

The Rockets approach the last 20 games of the season with the task of either sinking out of the playoff picture to get their 1st round pick back from New Jersey or pulling off a push for the 8th seed or better (Realistically Denver's 7th place spot could be taken, Dallas's 6th place spot is less likely but still in the realm of possibility, I don't see Memphis dropping their 5th place spot). Houston has a slate coming up of 13 games against opponents over .500 (50% winning percentage) and four back-to-backs.

After the jump we will take a peek at the Rocket's schedule and see what that means for the team as they move forward into this season. As the season progresses to crunch time, and if the Rockets are still in the playoff picture, I'll do a rooting interests column to help coordinate the board into who to root for if the Rockets are to get into the playoffs/improve their seeding or what to root for if the Rockets are to plunge into the lottery and have two 1st round picks guaranteed (Yes, I am still not counting that Dallas pick).

Houston Rockets – 52% Win Percentage, 24-22 Record

Currently questionable/out: Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin.

Currently the 8th Seed in the Western Conference, 6.5 games out of first place in the Southwest Division with Phoenix (.5 games behind HOU), Utah (.5 games behind HOU), and Minnesota (2 games behind HOU) as the most likely threats to the team. Realistically the Timberwolves have a tough road without Ricky Rubio helping the push. Phoenix and Utah are two teams that could surprise but youth and rotational issues may undo Utah and Phoenix just needs to keep pushing the envelope and they are the most realistic competition in my eyes. The Rockets face the upcoming slate of games to close out the season:

Lakers, 62% (28-17)

Warriors, 43% (18-24)

Mavericks, 57% (26-20)

Kings, 36% (16-29)

Mavericks, 57% (26-20)

Grizzlies, 58% (25-18)

Pacers, 58% (25-18)

BTB

Bulls, 79% (37-10)

Lakers, 62% (28-17

Kings, 36% (16-29)

BTB

Blazers, 47% (21-24)

Jazz, 51% (23-22)

Suns, 51% (23-22)

Nuggets, 56% (25-20)

BTB

Nuggets, 56% (25-20)

Mavericks, 57% (26-20)

Hornets, 24% (11-34)

Warriors, 43% (18-24)

BTB

Heat, 75% (33-11)

Hornets. 24% (11-34)

20 games left

13 against teams with better than .500 records

4 Back-To-Backs against teams with an average win percentage of 56%

17 games against Western Conference Opponents

6 games against Southwestern Division opponents (35% of the remaining schedule, slightly more than 1/3rd of the games left)

Houston’s biggest task will be conquering the Southwestern Division games left on the slate. If Houston wants to improve their playoff seeding in a commanding way, they have to do their damage here. In a compacted schedule like this year divisional opponents carry more weight, then conference opponents, then the non-conference fluff. Fortunately for the Rockets their divisional foes are the Mavericks (thrice), the Hornets (twice) and the Grizzlies (once). The Mavericks are beatable, tough but beatable, the Hornets are a gimme for most teams, and the Grizzlies are the only team I would honestly be intimidated by so long as health isn’t a concern. Their Western Conference slate yields 7 teams with sub-.500 records. The four sub-.500 games the Rockets have are the Warriors, Kings, Blazers, and Hornets. Of those opponents the Rockets play the Blazers on a back to back. Portland has been depleted in general but we all know not to take anything for granted with these Rockets and back-to-backs.

Houston has to nail down consistency if it wants to cement anything going forward and the addition of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin back from injury should stabilize things. Kevin Martin needs to recover from his strained body parts and rebound or stand somewhere in front of his man upon his return if his scoring continues to taper off. Kyle Lowry needs to steady the point guard position but Goran Dragic is doing a fair enough job of assuaging some fears. The Rockets also need to continue their integration of Marcus Camby who had a strong night for the team in his debut. The Rockets managed to de-clutter their roster at the trade deadline but unfortunately it has asked for greater contributions from certain players who are not ready or do not warrant the increased exposure. Chase Budinger has had his role increased and, in keeping with a theme, the Rockets cleared some room at the trade deadline to open up some time in the second half for their rookie. Marcus Morris will need to adjust quickly and apply what he picked up in Rio Grande Valley if the front office wants their pick to pay off and if Morris himself wants to warrant more playing time.

Ultimately the Rockets are amply qualified to make the playoffs and stretch a series to 5 or 6 games, but asking for much beyond that, unless Kevin and Kyle come back with a vengeance, may be asking too much for this team. The consistency is lacking across the board and the team placed a pretty heavy wager on the continued development of young players on this team that is either lacking or spotty at best. A team that relies on streaky play will be frustrating but can provide the emotional highs and lows if they catch fire at the right time. The Rockets, if the playoffs were to start today, would end up playing Oklahoma City, which in general is a death sentence. The best case scenario match up for Houston would be the Lakers, which would require Dallas’s 6th seed, which may be available just through upward mobility of the franchise but I am doubtful Houston can rise that high. 7th place would land Houston versus San Antonio, a cheaper alternative for anyone who would like to see all the playoff games than most other teams but still, a big ask for this franchise to defeat.

Houston is an intriguing storyline and the 1st round pick from the Knicks is looking to be the 15th selection in the draft, barring a collapse from that franchise, which would not be that shocking.

BD34’s Must Watch Locks

3/30/12 Memphis @ Houston; The Rockets are given their biggest assignment to take care of business within their division. Will Memphis suffer any injuries or will they ride a dominant frontcourt to an easy victory against the Dalembert/Camby duo the Rockets trot out at Center?

4/02/12 Houston @ Chicago; You don’t want to see Derrick Rose play? I do. See how Houston stacks up against one of the teams penciled in for the Eastern Conference finals.

4/06/12 Houston @ Los Angeles; The true test for the Rockets in a best-case scenario edition of Houston’s playoff dreams. See what Ramon Sessions does for the Lakers with Steve Blake and how quickly they can incorporate new offensive parts into a Mike Brown offensive scheme (By that I mean Kobe Bryant does everything).

4/11/12 Utah @ Houston; Houston’s rival rolls into town with a record that looks to be chasing the Rockets down in the playoff race. The big question facing the Rockets here is will the frontcourt youth and skill of the Jazz pose a problem for the Rockets? Will the Rockets lose ground in the playoff hunt? Will Speed Racer ever find defense?

4/18/12 Houston @ Dallas; Critical division game in Dallas for the Rockets at this point. If playoff aspirations are in the air the good guys will need a win here to help solidify any potential tie-breakers based on record between Dallas, Memphis, and themselves.

4/22/12 Houston @ Miami; The Miami Threetards on display against the Rockets! Is this a layup line drill or is there some substance to this? The Rockets get to hang out with Shane Battier again and see how they stack up against one of only two real threats to win the NBA Title!

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