Houston Rockets Viewer’s Guide: The Playoff Push

INVISIBLE FAT BABY!

The Rockets are approaching the end of the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season. Last night the Phoenix Suns came into the deserted shell we call the Toyota Center and took our lunch from us. The Suns closed the gap between themselves and the Rockets with their efforts. The Rockets have 7 games left to go in the season and need to finish strong to assert a claim to their playoff spot that can’t be challenged. They could also receive some help from teams resting their starters or just plain having bad nights. The teams we’ll be looking at after the jump are the Utah Jazz, the Denver Nuggets, the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and the New York Knicks. The Mavericks and Knicks are included for draft-pick watch.

As an update, the Rockets sit at 32-27, which is a 54% win percentage (Not bad for Kevin McHale who many thought would come in and see an instant drop off caused by a statistical anomaly called "not being Rick Adelman."), 7th place in the Western Conference playoff race, and, intriguingly enough though it doesn’t matter, would be good for 7th out East (Mostly brought up because it’s interesting with the talk about parity that the Rockets would be in the same place with this record out East, all other factors equal of course). Join me as I look at the upcoming schedules of each team in the hunt and which teams are the must watch and must win.

The Rockets (32-27)

Of course, we are a Houston Rockets blog they will get the first slot in this post. The Rockets have the following upcoming schedule:

Opponent

Home/Away

Denver

Away

Denver

Home

Dallas

Away

New Orleans

Away

Golden State

Home

Miami

Away

New Orleans

Home

The Rockets have to split with Denver at the very least to hold their claim. The Rockets have to be mindful of the fact that they could cluster up and the 7th or 8th place playoff seeding very well could come down to who owns tiebreakers. Tiebreakers in the NBA work in an interesting way. First, the division winner will get preference. If there isn’t one in the tied teams, they move on to head to head record (Relevant to us). Next, division record is factored if the season series is split. Then the league looks at Conference record. If, improbably, the tie is still not yet broken, the record against playoff eligible teams is considered. Tiebreakers in this case look at the head to hand of certain teams and determine playoff seeding if their records are equal. Houston needs to hold an advantage over Denver to take care of its own business and the Rockets have to sweep the Nuggets to hold the tiebreaker. Houston is 5-6 in its own division with upcoming games against the Mavericks and the Hornets, which could potentially finish with a 7-7 record against our own division.

I’m seeing the Rockets closing out the last 7 games of the season with a record of 4-3 (Split Denver, take both New Orleans games and knock off the Warriors) placing them at 36-30 overall.

The Denver Nuggets (32-27)

This team is set up to be the pain in the Rockets side. A soft-ish schedule stands to solidify the Nuggets in their playoff spot and their most critical games are coming up. The Nuggets have just as much at stake as Houston does only with the benefit of Ty Lawson, Javale McGee, Danillo Gallinari, et al.. to build around. The upcoming schedule looks as such:

Opponent

Home/Away

Houston

Home

Houston

Away

Los Angeles Clippers

Home

Phoenix

Away

Orlando

Home

Oklahoma City

Away

Minnesota

Away

The Nuggets are looking at a schedule against two teams scrapping for their playoff spot, on team knocked out, another dominating the West, a team coached by Ron Jeremy, and a Los Angeles team looking to prove itself against its big brother.

I have some faith in the Nuggets and for their projected record I’m gonna go with 3-4 (Split with Houston, beat the Clips, and beat the Wolves) ending their year at 35-31.

The Phoenix Suns (31-28)

The Suns, our familiar friends from last night’s loss, closed the gap between us and them (Great Song if you’ve never head it by the way http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ztFbhM5caw) and trying to play spoiler to some playoff hopes as well. Phoenix split the season series with the Rockets at two a piece and has a division record of 8-5 (Something to keep in mind in case of a tie. Their upcoming slate features:

Opponent

Home/Away

San Antonio

Away

Portland

Home

Oklahoma City

Home

Los Angeles Clippers

Home

Denver

Home

Utah

Away

San Antonio

Home

I can see the Suns closing out the season with 3-4 (Beating Portland, the Clips, and Denver) to finish up 34-32.

The Utah Jazz (31-29)

The Jazz is a team that the Rockets should be familiar with, mostly through historic vitriol. Utah holds the season series against the Rockets at 2-1, so in the case of a tie, the Rockets will be pushed down the ladder against the Jazz. Their upcoming schedule is as follows:

Opponent

Home/Away

Memphis

Away

Dallas

Home

Portland

Away

Orlando

Home

Phoenix

Home

Portland

Home

The Jazz need to finish strong in order to move into the playoff hunt. They’re on the outside looking in and have to string together an impressive sweeping of the slate if they hope to knock Denver out of the picture or tie with the Rockets. If the Rockets can finish like I project the Jazz will have to go 5-1 to match. The Mavericks are still trying to lock up seeding with the 6th spot and I don’t see them fading out or taking a break to go into the post-season. Orlando confuses me with their roller coaster play, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for this.

I’ll go out and say I see Utah finishing the season 2-4 (Split Portland, beat Phoenix) to close out the year 33-33.

The Dallas Mavericks (34-26)

The Mavericks are here only because I am interested in their draft pick. Currently Dallas, if the draft were to start today, would select 19th, we need them to bump down a peg or two for us if we’re looking to cash in. The Mavericks need to leapfrog the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics in record to get to 21. Unfortunately for us, the Celtics are red hot right now and being better than the Hawks only gets Dallas to 20th, at which point, they retain their pick. The Mavericks upcoming schedule would have to run the table to pan out for us.

Opponent

Home/Away

Lakers

Away

Utah

Away

Houston

Home

Golden State

Home

Chicago

Away

Hawks

Away

Dallas’s late slate is away heavy with major the only major challenges laying in Los Angeles and Chicago. I’m honestly willing to give Dallas a shot since they are fighting to move up.

My prediction to close out the season is a 5-1 finish (Only loss coming to Chicago) to get to 39-27.

New York Knicks (31-28)

The Knicks hold the 7th seed in the East and are only on here because their 7 game schedule to close out the year looks to be two likely losses and five probable wins. They will most likely drop the games to Miami and Boston and finish 5-2 giving them a 36 and 30 record. This puts the Knicks pick in the 15-20 range with the Mavericks most likely retaining their pick and our pick goes to New Jersey, so Rockets fans, prepare yourselves for one draft pick this season rather than a package of them to move up.

What’s that mean?

If my numbers are off it means a whole lot of nothing! If they turn out the way I’m calling it your bracketing for teams that matter to the Rockets playoff hopes (All teams but Dallas and New York) the late playoff picture looks like this (Assuming all current standings remain static):

Rockets (7) v. San Antonio (2)

Nuggets (8) v. Oklahoma City (1)

As far as I’m concerned, I feel like the Rockets can see that series go to 6 or 7 games tops. San Antonio is 12-4 in its division and has heated up of late. 3 of their 4 losses came at the hands of the Houston Rockets but they also played some of those games undermanned. Pop is alternating his players to get some rest and keep some fire in them but I think San Antonio learned their lesson from last season. I will readily admit, if the Rockets can snag the 7 seed this is a match up I see as major upset potential. I think San Antonio is weary of the lesson Memphis taught them but Goran Dragic is know poison to San Antonio and between Camby and Dalembert (Health pending) I feel like Duncan can be minimized. Your friendly front page writers will have playoff predictions when that starts so you can judge us there but at this point, I will say if the Rockets make it to the second round in the playoffs, I wouldn’t be shocked but I also wouldn’t read too much into it.

What, BD34, must I watch for?

Definitely stay glued to the Denver games coming up. If the Rockets can take both, they’ll comfortably make the 7th seed in my opinion. It’s a back to back and my concern is exhausting all of our effort and resources to make the push. I hate bye weeks in football but I feel like some time to gather yourself is major in the NBA playoff system and because of the expedited schedule this season, that rest is hard to come by. Pay passing attention to the Mavericks game because if the Rockets can upset the Mavs in the regular season I will call the 7th seed a lock. When it comes to Golden State and New Orleans, just look at the box score. If the Rockets suffer a let down game in New Orleans I will be angry but if they take care of business beforehand, I don’t see Denver’s schedule offering them any relaxation and I think Denver is the only team the Rockets should concern themselves with right now (And yes, that is even with two heartbreaking losses to teams chasing the Rockets with tougher schedules ahead).

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