The Rockets have 12 games left in the regular season. They are currently tied for seventh place with Denver and hold 1 and 1.5 game leads over Phoenix and Utah, respectively. And don't count out those pesky Blazers just yet.
So I was talking to a friend and he asked how many wins out of the 12 the Rockets would need to assure themselves the playoffs.
I said "12." Duh.
But he wanted me to be serious, so I said 9-3.
Now don't get me wrong. 9-3 is a tall order. Really tall. Let's take a look.
Looking at the schedule, I see three games that should be absolute wins (@NO, vs GSW, vs NO). The thing is, those are three of our last four games. It's entirely possible to not even be in contention by that point.
I see three winnable road games (@SAC, @POR, @DEN) but if we went 1-2 in those I wouldn't be surprised.
I see three monumentally important home games (vs UTAH, vs PHO, vs DEN). I see us going 2-1 in those, with 3-0 and 1-2 also being likely results.
The other three games (tonight @LAL, @DAL, @MIA) appear like losses on paper. After all, the Rockets won't get any calls tonight, so that's a loss. The Rockets can't beat the Mavericks to save their lives, so that's another loss. The Heat game is interesting. That's their last home game of the season, but they have two more after that. Before that game, they play the Bulls twice. So potentially by that point the number one seed in the Eastern Conference could be decided. If it is, the Heat might rest their starters. If it isn't look out below because we're in for a good old-fashioned butt-whooping in South Beach.
So if you're keeping track at home, I've got us at 6-5 with the Heat game as a swinger. Yeah. 6-6 could happen.
But will it be enough? I don't think so. So the Rockets have to start tonight. Steal a win in LA, and who knows? 9-3 could be in the cards.
Though I do expect the Rockets to start slowly after a long layoff. I'm starting to feel badly for the NBA schedule makers. They can never make me happy. They give us back-to-backs all the time and I complain. They give us three days off and I complain too. Oh well.
Late tip-off at 9:30pm CST.
Matchups after the jump.
PG: Goran Dragic vs. Ramon Sessions:
Who would have thought the Lakers would be better with a good point guard? Raise your hands.
Okay, everyone on the planet who watches basketball can put their hands down now. Sessions is a more traditional point guard than Fisher or Blake, and it shows. They can run actual sets with him and he is still quick enough to beat his man off the dribble and find the bigs or shooters.
He could absolutely demolish the Rockets tonight. I'm going with Dragic, but I'm leaving the disclaimer there.
SG: Courtney Lee vs. Kobe Bryant:
"He's a ball hog."
"He can't win without help."
I've heard all of the excuses. And guess what? The dude can still ball. He took fewer shots than Bynum Wednesday, and he shot 13-19 so he would have totally had the right to take some more jumpers. And winning without help? Please.
And look at the shot he hits at the 1:20 mark. Incredible. Good D, but better O. Wow.
SF: Chandler Parsons vs. Ron Artest:
Chandler Parsons will be guarding Kobe for stretches tonight. After all, Kobe respects his game and whatnot, so he has to show up, right?
I expect Lee to guard him, too, and for most of the game. I just know Parsons will be on him if it's close to end of the ballgame and the outcome is in doubt.
PF: Luis Scola vs. Pau Gasol:
Insert comment here about vetoed trade.
I know we talked ourselves back into Scola, then he kind of disappeared, and now he's back again kinda. Well, I still like Gasol more. Always have.
I hate that he didn't want to come to Houston. It comes across as arrogant and childish. But his game on the court is usually very mature.
Case-in-point: against the Clippers Wednesday, Blake Griffin dunked over him twice. And we're talking embarrassing dunks both times. Most players might lose their aggressiveness on defense or check out completely and just stay out of the way.
But Gasol took it as a challenge and absolutely smothered Griffin in the fourth quarter when it mattered most. He blocked him twice, forced him to play defense, and was generally a hassle for the Sooner. I have to give him a ton of credit for sticking with it through the end. Also, he was mic'd up for the game and you could hear how badly he wanted it. He was constantly encouraging his teammates and pumping them up throughout the game.
C: Marcus Camby vs. Andrew Bynum:
If the Lakers are going to make any real noise in the playoffs, they need Bynum to be spectacular. And he can be. Against the Clippers on Wednesday he tallied 36/8 with four blocks. And the rebounding was more on a committee basis that night for the Lakers, and three others had 7 boards apiece. He can be absolutely dominant down low and his post game is getting to that point where if he catches it deep enough in the post, he's unstoppable.
Now, he can also be a head case, and we've seen that too. After all, he did get tossed last time these teams met, and it was the difference in the game. Camby and Dalembert will have their hands full for sure.
Lakers: Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts, others maybe
Rockets: Chase Budinger, Patrick Patterson, Samuel Dalembert, Earl Boykins
Rockets: Lowry out, Martin out
Prediction: Lakers 100-93
Make sure you get in on TCWHRO's prediction fantasy basketball game. Details here. Just make your predictions in the comments, and maybe explain how you came to that conclusion so we have something to talk about.
Rockets vs Lakers coverage