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The Final Day: Houston Rockets playoff implications

The Houston Rockets can still ride the Western Conference's white-knuckle thrill ride to a second, fifth or sixth place finish.

Study up Rockets fans
Study up Rockets fans
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It's here. The final day of the NBA season. The Houston Rockets rode the Western Conference to this... a compost pile of uncertainty:

  • The Rockets could start the playoffs playing at home. Or on the road.
  • The Rockets could play the Spurs, Clippers, Trail Blazers or Mavericks in the first round.
  • The Rockets could be any seed from second to sixth. Except third or fourth, of course. That's just intuitive.

Yea. It's that easy. Good thing the Rockets clinched a playoff spot over two weeks ago.

Let's make sense of this:

On Tuesday night the Phoenix Suns did the Rockets no favors. They served up an NBA doormat to the L.A. Clippers, who are the only team in the playoff picture with no games left to play. After the Clippers win, here are the Western Conference standings:

Golden State Warriors 66-15 0 8-2
L.A. Clippers 56-26 10.5 9-1
San Antonio Spurs 55-26 11 10-0
Portland Trail Blazers 51-30 15 5-5
Houston Rockets 55-26 11 7-3
Memphis Grizzlies 54-27 12 4-6
Dallas Mavericks 49-32 17 5-5
New Orleans Pelicans 44-37 22 7-3
  • The only two teams locked in due to their regular season record are Golden State as the one seed and Dallas as the seventh seed.
  • Portland holds the four seed no matter what as victors of the Northwest Division.
  • The Clippers won't fall past third due to their conference record. Should either the Spurs or Rockets win (or both) the Clippers will cede second place to the Southwest Division champion (winning a division is the first tiebreak, even before head-to-head record).
  • The fifth seed in the playoffs will have home-court advantage over the Trail Blazers because of a superior win percentage.
  • The Rockets hold no vital tiebreaks. The Spurs, Grizzlies and Clippers all hold tiebreaks over the Rockets due to the season's head-to-head records.
  • The Pelicans are win and in. They're against the Spurs tonight and they hold the tiebreak over the Thunder. The two teams are currently tied.
Good thing this isn't confusing, right? Here's the games that matter tonight:
  • Utah Jazz @ Houston Rockets -- 7:00 p.m. (Central)
  • San Antonio Spurs @ New Orleans Pelicans -- 7:00 p.m. (Central)
  • Indiana Pacers @ Memphis Grizzlies -- 8:30 p.m. (Central)
Remember: The Pelicans control their own destiny. If the Spurs beat the Pelicans, then Oklahoma City is in control. Should they both lose the Pelicans are in. Bonus fun: Both games start at the same time.

The Clippers do not play today. They played their final game last night. The Trail Blazers play the Mavericks in Dallas tonight, but the game doesn't matter. Neither team can rise or fall in the standings.

The Rockets got blown out in Utah the last time they played the Jazz. So a home win isn't guaranteed tonight.

Here's how the Rockets arrive at each seed:

Second Seed

  • Rockets win and San Antonio loses. The Rockets would have the same record as the Clippers, but have the tiebreak as Southwest Division champion. The second seed automatically faces Dallas.

Third Seed

  • "That's unpossible." If San Antonio or the Rockets win, they get the two seed as division champs bumping the Clippers to third.

Fourth Seed

  • This is also unpossible. Portland holds this seed no matter what as division champions. Portland does not hold home court. A four-five Trail Blazers-Rockets showdown would start at Toyota Center.

Fifth Seed

  • Rockets win and San Antonio win. The Rockets lose the head-to-head with the Spurs for the division title and the two seed. The Rockets lose the head-to-head with the Clippers for third and we leapfrog Portland. The fifth seed automatically faces Portland.
  • Rockets lose and Memphis lose. The Grizzlies come into the day a game down. Losing today relegates them to sixth. In this scenario the Spurs result doesn't matter. The fifth seed automatically faces Portland.

Sixth Seed

  • Rockets lose and Memphis win. Memphis holds the head-to-head tiebreak against Houston. Any combo of Rockets loss and Grizzlies win sends the Rockets to sixth. In this scenario the Spurs result matters:
    • San Antonio win. In this scenario the Rockets would play the Clippers. Who would be the three seed.
    • San Antonio lose. In this scenario the Rockets would play the Spurs, who would be the three seed after finishing a game behind the Clippers.
So there you go. Enjoy the games today.