Houston currently sits ahead of both the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder for the fourth spot. Normally, the goal would be to improve as high as possible to secure a better matchup, but this year is odd for many reasons. One of those is the fact that the difference between third and fourth place is kind of irrelevant.
With homecourt advantage being moot, moving up in the standings does little to improve a team’s chances of hosting more games down the line. Furthermore, with the bunching up of the West, the 2-7 matchup seems destined to be Clippers-Mavericks. That leaves Denver, Houston, OKC, and Utah in the 3-6 range. That means those teams will face each other in the first round, with one winner getting the Clippers and the other getting the Lakers.
So the goal for Houston should not only to be to set up a favorable first round matchup (Utah is probably the preferred opponent once again), but to stack the deck to play the Los Angeles team that they feel they have a better shot at upsetting. You don’t need me to rehash all the reasons why the NBA desperately wants an LA-LA Western Conference Finals, so just know that Houston would go into either series as heavy underdogs. That being said, the Rockets are 2-1 against the Lakers and 2-2 against the Clippers.
The Sacramento Kings came into the bubble with a puncher’s chance of sneaking into the top 9, but have gone just 1-4 in their seeding games. As I type this, the Portland Trail Blazers are playing the Clippers, and a Portland win would eliminate the Kings from playoff contention. Basically, the Kings lost their first seeding game to the Spurs and never really had a chance after that.
Kent Bazemore and Richaun Holmes are day-to-day for Sacramento. On Houston’s side, Eric Gordon is still out and Russell Westbrook is day-to-day with a quad injury that caused him to miss the Lakers game on Thursday.
Tip-off is at 7pm on AT&T SportsNet Southwest