Wave goodbye to the tough opponents, Rockets fans. They're merely a sunset in your rearview mirror. Now, we enter Fun January, where the Rockets hit the road just twice and play host to a handful of the dregs of the league. It's a well-timed break for the good guys -- they seem to be hitting their stride just in time for the cupcakes.
Cupcakes, however, do not serve their tasty purpose unless devoured properly. If the Rockets let their guard down against lesser opponents as they have in the past, we're in for some frustrating basketball. So, let's hope Kevin McHale and crew prove that the sub-.500 record is merely a reflection of a tough schedule. They've certainly played better than a three-win team.
Here's what we're looking at in the coming weeks:
HOME GAMES (Road record in parentheses):
Sacramento: 4-7 (1-4)
Portland: 7-3 (1-2)
Detroit: 2-8 (0-4)
New Orleans: 3-7 (2-3)
San Antonio: 7-4 (0-4)
Milwaukee: 3-6 (0-6)
Washington: 1-9 (0-5)
New York: 6-4 (3-2)
Minnesota: 3-7 (1-2)
ROAD GAMES (Home record in parentheses):
Washington: 1-9 (1-4)
Minnesota: 3-7 (2-5)
Look at that. That's just glorious. That's a piece of winning a la mode with a cherry on top.
Even better, the two teams Houston plays that are legitimately scary (Portland and San Antonio) are far less scary when they're away from home. The Rockets also get Milwaukee, Washington and Detroit at home. Combined, those three teams are winless on the road.
If you're looking for a few key games, I'd peg January 19 against New Orleans and January 28 against the New York Knicks as two games to watch. The Hornets have always given Houston trouble (though I suspect without David West and Chris Paul they'll be far less intimidating) and New York has put together a solid early road record.
Overall, the Rockets should aim to emerge from January with a winning record, 11-10. I'd understand three losses against this bunch. Also, if you'd like to make a difference, go to as many of these home games as you can and cheer and do other stuff.
(Put it this way: If Terrence Williams doesn't see the floor this month, against these teams, it's over).