Shane Battier used to say that the toughest stretches of the season were right before and after the Christmas break, as well right before and after the All-Star break. Players are thinking of their families and their vacations rather than the games in front of them.
It’s a reasonable letdown. I’m sure productivity at most workplaces is at its lowest on Fridays and Mondays. When there’s an extended weekend coming up, I’m usually pretty worthless.
The Rockets have nine games before the break, and there’s some tough contests in there. Houston will travel to San Antonio, Cleveland, and Minnesota in that span. Not cool.
On the flip side, they do get four homes games they should win, starting tonight with the Orlando Magic. There’s no guarantee in the NBA as we’ve seen. If Phoenix had gotten literally anything from Josh Jackson rather than an 0-13 shooting display, they easily could have walked out of Houston with an upset victory.
The Rockets will be without Trevor Ariza because the injury gods hate Houston. Chris Paul is also listed as questionable. The Rockets should want health over the top seed in the West (not like catching the Warriors will be easy), so Houston needs both of those guys to be 100% and if that comes at the cost of losing a couple of games they could have won if those players rushed back and played at 85%, so be it.
The Magic are 14-34, but their last two wins came against a red-hot Timberwolves team and the Celtics in Boston. As fans it’s easy to look past certain games, but I sure hope the Rockets don’t. While the Magic had a lackluster game the last time these teams met, Orlando still has a talented squad.
I think one of the biggest differences for the Rockets this year than in years past is that outside of a couple of teams, Houston really shouldn’t need to prepare for teams individually. Rather, they just need to focus on their own strategies on offense and defense. The cold truth is that for the first time since the mid-90s, the Rockets are the masters of their own fate almost every night: if they play well, they will win; if they play poorly, they can still win but it will be more difficult.
Let’s hope they play well.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT