The playoff seeding in the West changes more than Taylor Swift's dating life (sorry, Tay, but you're never, ever ever going to settle down). The Rockets currently sit in second place but could drop as low as fourth or fifth by the end of the week.
Hopefully the Rockets don't drop down in the standings, but the only thing set in stone about the Western Conference playoff picture is the Warriors in the driver's seat. *There are numerous potential matchups for the Rockets because of the seeds, but some are more favorable than others.
*The only sure thing for "T-Swizzle" is that she'll release two or three bangers every year. She can't stop, won't stop.
Speaking of not stopping, the Spurs have come on at just the right time. Nobody, not even the Warriors, want to see them in the first round. San Antonio has won 16 of their last 19 games in the most predictable winning streak of all time. Who knew the Spurs would get hot right before the playoffs?
Fortunately, the Rockets wouldn't have to play the Spurs in round 1 if the regular season ended today. That gift would be given to the third place Memphis Grizzlies who are jockeying with Houston for the second seed. The Southwest division rivals have the same exact record but Houston holds the tie breaker. If the Rockets fall to the third seed, which is totally conceivable, how do they match up with the Spurs?
San Antonio Spurs
The Rockets are 1-1 against the Spurs this year with two more games scheduled for next week. Historically, Dwight Howard has feasted on the Spurs interior defense. In the two games this year, he's averaged 28 points and 17 rebounds.
Howard gets more low-post touches than usual considering Harden is smothered by Kawhi "The Claw" Leonard. The Spurs' philosophy against Houston is to make someone other than Harden beat them. If Howard isn't up to the challenge because of his health, the Rockets would be in deep doo-doo.
Also, containing Tony Parker would be a problem without Patrick Beverley. Say what you want about Parker, but he always turns it on for the playoffs.
Unlike the Spurs, every team would be glad to play the deteriorating Dallas Mavericks. Sure, there's the looming possibility of "Playoff Rondo" and the legend of "The Germanator," but the Mavs' roster is simply underwhelming. They are well-coached but don't have the necessary talent to win a playoff series.
If they hold on the the two-seed, the Rockets will likely face Dallas and would be ecstatic about it. Houston is 3-1 against the Mavericks with their only loss coming without Howard. The Mavericks just wouldn't have enough to stop Harden and their lackluster defense can only hope to keep the Rockets under 100 points.
This series would be awesome. The Clippers and the Rockets are the two heels of the NBA and the general fan wouldn't even know who to root for. The Clips and Rockets have played some great games this season, including a thrilling 100-98 victory on March 15.
Harden has been up-and-down against LA this year, scoring just 16 and 21 points in the first two games, but following that up with a 34 point performance.
The Rockets and Clippers split the season series and are very familiar with each other's styles and offensive sets. However, neither team is used to having a full-squad as both clubs have struggled with injuries. In both of Houston's wins, they didn't have Howard and the Clippers only had Blake Griffin for one of their losses.
For both the Clippers and Rockets, playoff success will be determined by injuries. If they are matched up in Round 1, the winner will likely be the healthier team.
You know the Blazers, right? The team that broke our hearts last year. Does the name Damian Lillard ring a bell? He knocked us out of the playoffs with a buzzer-beater in Game 6. I would embed the video here, but it is practically torture to watch and re-watch.
But the 2015 Blazers are a tad different than last year's squad. Without Wesley Matthews, the glue that holds them together, Portland will likely struggle this go-around.
Matthews guarded Harden very well last year so if Portland and Houston meet in Round 1, Harden will feast on a combination of Nicholas Batum and Aaron Afflalo, both overrated on-ball defenders.
The Rockets playoff success is immediately affected by who they are matched up with in the first round, but they don't have any control over that. Late-season tanking to jockey for position seems unlikely and pointless in such a crowded conference, but natural movement in the standings for the next week is expected.
To answer the question, the Rockets would love to play the Blazers, and Mavericks in the first round but hope to avoid the Spurs if possible. The Rockets wouldn't necessarily want the Clippers, but they aren't scared of them. It's unlikely for Houston to play the Memphis Grizzlies, but that would not be favorable at all, making them the second team to stay away from.
Regardless of the matchup, the Rockets will look to "shake it off" and overcome the adversity that is the injury bug. Houston will go as far as James Harden will take them and with the help of Dwight Howard, hopefully he can lead them to the promised land.