First and foremost, a hearty “fuck you” goes out to the referees of the national championship game last night. Watching it reminded me of Scott Foster in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Texas Tech got hosed just like Houston did that night last May.
Speaking of Foster, the Rockets haven’t seen him since the Lakers fiasco. I was hoping the Rockets would get him for the New York or Phoenix games since they weren’t as important. Every game now is important, and if Foster is there, it’s an important game that Houston will be unlikely to win. He might even show up tonight. I still think Houston did the right thing by making a big deal out of his bias. Now any game where he refs the Rockets will be heavily scrutinized and he cannot just hand the game to Houston’s opponents.
Yes, I’m on a bit of a anti-ref kick right now. I’m sure fans from other teams will go “But the Rockets get all the calls!” They will of course be wrong, but still. In fact, that’s two of my basketball teams that can’t get a call to go their way late in a big game.
Anyway, back to the actual basketball game at hand.
This game is huge for both teams. A Houston win gives the Rockets a guaranteed top 3 seed and puts pressure on Denver to win out to avoid Houston leapfrogging them. The Thunder need the win to try to get to the fifth spot. It’s an odd choice here for OKC, as a win means they might get Houston in a 4-5 matchup (which they will believe they can win, since they will have just recently beat Houston to complete a 3-1 season series win), or if they lose they could end up at 6 or 7 and get the Rockets that way.
Oklahoma City has struggled since the All-Star break (10-13), mostly due to injuries to Paul George and an inconsistent defense. However, the Thunder have won three straight and are coming in feeling much better about themselves than they did last week. For whatever reason, this is the team in the 5-8 group that gives Houston the most trouble and that means the Rockets would probably see anyone from the Jazz-Clippers-Spurs trio rather than OKC.
The Thunder are going for the game for sure. They know that with a win they could lock in the Blazers in the first round, a team that OKC swept this season. A win would give OKC a realistic shot at a 4-5 or 3-6 matchup against a Portland team that won’t have the interior defensive presence to handle Russell Westbrook forays into the paint. Oh, and Russ is going to pissed tonight because like 8 NBA players said that he’s overrated in a poll conducted by The Athletic.
A loss for Houston could spell disaster since Portland is almost assuredly going 2-0 with games against the Lakers and Kings. Barring an incredible 0-2 run from the Nuggets, that would put Houston in fourth and mean they might get an OKC team that just beat them or a Utah team riding the momentum of an easy closing schedule.
I know I just threw a lot of scenarios in there, so if you need some clarity you can read Darren’s breakdown or take a look at my terrible flowchart handiwork below.
Obviously, Houston’s eyes will be glued to their televisions after tonight. Win or lose, the good news is that Houston will get an extra night of rest over everyone else. And if Houston doesn’t play until Sunday, they will have had four days off.
The fun thing about tonight’s game is that Houston’s chief seeding competition (Denver and Portland) both play tonight but start their games at different times than the Rockets. Therefore, Denver will have to try from the start against Utah and can’t rest their players again. Portland starts last of the three and might know their fate by halftime.
These last two nights are going to be fascinating. Nothing will be decided for Houston tonight. But the Rockets can only control what happens tonight.
On the injury front, both teams enter without any big names out or even questionable. The Rockets will be missing Mike D’Antoni as he continues to recover from an intestinal virus. With how Houston plays, I don’t expect MDA’s absence to matter too much in the micro view, but of course Houston wants him back for the playoffs.
As this is the last regular season preview, I’d like to deliver my end-of-season spiel now. I’ll be doing previews for the playoff games (and then you’ll still get me next year), but those are too serious to really do anything other than talk about the upcoming game. I tried to invite Daryl Morey and James Harden as my plus-ones (or as we call it on the NBA awards circuit, my and-ones), but it didn’t work out.
First, I want to thank Conrad and Colin for covering for me with a couple of awesome previews while I was at a wedding in March. I always know that when I can’t grab a preview that someone else on the staff will pick up the slack and deliver some truly great writing. Those two delivered.
I’d also like to thank everyone who reads TDS and say that none of this happens without you. I could write 5000-word mailbag previews until I’m blue in the face but if no one reads them then I’m just a crazy guy screaming into the void. Now I’m just a crazy guy screaming at all of you. Thank you, truly.
I always have to give a shoutout to Xiane, who inspires me to be a better writer and think about basketball and how we as fans approach it on a macro level. The amount of intelligent Rockets and basketball fans on this site astounds me on a daily basis, and Xiane rises above all of us at times. It’s an honor to get to write in the same space as him.
Finally, I want to thank Darren, who’s been supportive of me since the day he took over for Ethan. Despite our failed attempts to get TDS credentialed this season, everything else went really well this season. I’ve been blessed since I started here to have had people in charge who haven’t tried to constrain my voice. It would have been easy for Darren (or Ethan, Patrick, or Tom) to tell me to cool it and just write basic previews without the extras. But that would be boring and The Dream Shake is a hobby that I need in my life. So I’ll be forever grateful that I’ve been given slack and can write previews about NBA lottery conspiracy theories (fun), about how much I hate Players Only (the worst), or about how it’s still stupid that a team with four fouls isn’t considered “in the bonus” when obviously they are (the next foul is free throws so they’re in the bonus so it’s ridiculously ignorant to make it seem like they have a foul to give when they don’t).
See? Darren’s a saint for letting a madman like me rant on this site.
Oh, and the Rockets are losing this game. 100%.
Tip-off is at 8:30pm CT on TNT (PLEASE GOD NOT PLAYERS ONLY I BEG YOU!)