The Houston Rockets have 8 games remaining. Only this game and their last game against the Utah Jazz are against teams that aren't in the playoffs or against teams fighting for the playoffs. The Rockets also have two back-to-backs remaining, with the second game being on the road in both instances.
All of that to say that every game is precious. Two years ago, the Rockets clinched a playoff spot and then stumbled ass-backwards into the postseason by finishing 1-3 over their last four games. Their play in games 1 and 2 against the Thunder showed a team that wasn't clicking when it mattered (OKC being really good and Houston being young and new to the postseason also factored).
The Rockets closed out last season 2-3 in their last 5 games. They needed a semi-miracle comeback against the Pelicans at home and the Spurs resting their starters to clinch homecourt advantage in those last 5 games. Oh, and they still almost lost that game to the Spurs anyway. And that poor play played a part in the Rockets dropping their first two games against Portland.
So Houston's mandate in April is simple: keep winning. If the Rockets win a good chunk of their games and still finish in third place, that would be still be better than playing poorly heading into the first round. The Rockets are further hampered by eventually needing to include Terrence Jones as well as Donatas Motiejunas, plus getting Dwight Howard back to full strength moving forward.
It's going to be a tough road for Kevin McHale. The odds are against them, as is public sentiment. Still these Rockets have shown more fight than anyone expected and their record is a direct result of that "never give up" mentality.
Tip off is at 7pm CST.
Point Guard: Propeller Plane vs. Ray McCallum
Darren Collison went down in early March with a hip injury. He's unlikely to play again this season unless it's in the last week or so. Therefore, the Kings will rely on McCallum and Andre Miller to man the point guard position.
McCallum is averaging 10 points per game over his last 5 contests and will play roughly 28 minutes.
The other 20 minutes open us up to Andre Miller vs. Propeller Plane or Prigioni. Either way, it's like a matchup of the AARP in those battles. Those are three players on the wrong side of 35.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Ben McLemore
The last time these teams met in Sacramento, Ben McLemore held his own against Harden and may have actually been winning the battle. However, Mike Malone went away from the young guard later in the game and leaned on Rudy Gay and Darren Collison instead. Harden took the opportunity to dominate the overtime period and the Rockets escaped with an unlikely win.
With Collison and Gay out, expect McLemore to get up plenty of shots and try to recreate what DeRozan did to the Rockets the other night. At the very least, you have to hope he busts out these moves during the game.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. I Don't Know
I'm not sure who will start in place of the concussed Rudy Gay. Just looking at the Kings bench you can see that they have a few options depending on what strategy they want to use. They could go big with Derrick Williams or they could bring in another shooter like
Nik Stauskas Sauce Castillo to help spread the floor.
He may not have hit the game-tying triple in Toronto, but Trevor Afrieza is starting to show us his final form. And it's a good one that probably wouldn't be stupid enough to get cut in half by his own Death Saucers.
Power Forward: Josh Smith vs. Jason Thompson
I feel like every time the Rockets play the Kings, I make sure to mention that Jason Thompson always kills the Rockets. And for some reason, the Rockets never read the previews and thus are "blindsided" by JT going berserk.
Thompson's season averages: 6 points, 6 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks per game.
Thompson's averages against Houston this season (2 games): 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. He's usually good for at least one offensive rebound followed by a monster follow-up dunk per game.
I don't say it very often, but it bears mentioning now: Josh Smith has been a complete revelation for Houston. Admittedly, the "He's going to ruin the team because he's a cancer!" talk was overblown and most people with a decent head on their shoulders could see that the Rockets had enough of a system and leadership structure to prevent Smith from ruining anything. But the fact is that Josh Smith has overwhelmingly been a positive factor for the Rockets and has been everything Houston could have wanted from him when they signed him on December 26.
And it doesn't seem like Josh was ever trying to ruin anything. SVG made his distaste for the "Josh leaving made us good" narrative known early and often, and anyone who still thinks that way is clearly not watching the Rockets at all.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. DeMarcus Cousins
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
Just ask the Memphis Grizzlies. They "beat" the Kings earlier this year on one of the most bullshit timer issues you'll ever see.
Then they were handed an all-important tiebreaking-deciding game against the Rockets in Houston.
Then the Denver Nuggets rested their starters against them. That allowed those same starters to be better rested to play (you guessed it!) the Rockets.
And finally, the Sacramento Kings rested their All-Star center against them right before playing (you guessed it again!) the Rockets.
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
Rockets: Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni, Nick Johnson, Clint Capela, Joey Dorsey
Kings: Derrick Williams, Carl Landry, Omri Casspi, Andre Miller, Reggie Evans, Sauce Castillo
Prediction: Rockets win because they have to.
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