Despite what has felt like an up-and-down season for the Houston Rockets, they’ve set themselves up for a nice second half to the season.
At 34-20, the Rockets haven’t been nearly as bad or inconsistent as the panicky fan base has made them seem. In fact, they’ve done a lot more consistent winning then losing. Remove a four-game and a three-game losing streak, and Houston goes plenty of good stretches without a loss.
They’ve also done this while struggling to find their identity, as they incorporate a new, ball-dominant point guard into their rotation and continuously get stifled by injuries. Now, the Rockets are only 3.5 games back of the second seed and in position to make a serious run at homecourt in the playoffs, and their best friend from now until June looks to be their schedule.
With only 28 games left in the season, the Rockets are tied with several other teams for the second-most amount of games in their remaining schedule. Ahead of them in the standings, the Denver Nuggets have 27 games, the Los Angeles Clippers have 26, and the Utah Jazz have 28. While scheduling-wise the Rockets may be at a disadvantage and get less rest, they have an opportunity to accumulate more wins.
That’s good news for them, seeing as they have the seventh-easiest strength of schedule for the rest of the season. They’re one of only three Western Conference teams currently in the playoffs that are in the top 10 of easy schedules, the other two being the Clippers at the eighth-easiest and Los Angeles Lakers at ninth. In competition in the standings with Houston, the Dallas Mavericks have 27 games and the 18th-hardest remaining schedule, the Jazz have the 15th-hardest, the Oklahoma City Thunder have 27 games left and the 13th-hardest schedule, and the Nuggets have the ninth-hardest.
As for the Rockets’ opponents, Houston as 13 of their final 28 matchups against the Eastern Conference, the most for any West team — Houston has 12 wins against their last 13 East opponents. They also have 13 games against current playoff opponents, three of those consisting of games against the eighth-seed Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies.
Houston has a great opportunity to start off the second half strong. 4 of their first seven games include serious opponents, but none out of their league — Jazz, Grizzlies, Celtics, Clippers — and in between they face the New York Knicks twice and the Golden State Warriors. But in their eight games after that stretch, they face only one team with a winning record, the Lakers. As far as record and homecourt advantage goes, their toughest remaining stretch of games will be a five-game road trip where they face the Mavs, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Piston, and the Philadelphia 76ers. Just two games after that, they face the the Toronto Raptors and Mavericks. So really, the pessimistic would say that it’s an eight-game stretch that could end in disaster for them if they take any nights off. Then, their next stretch of four games are all opponents with losing records, all of them in Texas (away at San Antonio Spurs), and then their final game is against the Grizzlies at home. *Here’s where I realize I unintended broke down every stretch of games*
Some other notables from the remaining schedule: Houston plays 14 games on the road and at home. They have two back-to-backs, at Charlotte Hornets and vs. Orlando early on and then at San Antonio and vs. Phoenix in the third- and second-to-last games. Their games against the Jazz and Clippers are tie-breakers. They have two games against the Mavericks and are currently tied 1-1 in the season series. 16 of their opponents have losing records. They play the Knicks, Warriors, Spurs, and Grizzlies twice. Houston tied their season-series with the Nuggets, 2-2, and lost their series against the Thunder, 2-1.
One thing that can’t be accounted for through the eye test is Mike D’Antoni’s success after the All-Star break. In his first three seasons as the Rockets head coach, he has won 74.6% of his games in the second half of the season — including an immaculate 20-5 post-All-Star record last year — upping his 70.1% win percentage before the break. This will also be the first time Houston will play with the lineup and identity they’ve been looking for all season.