breaking down the rockets schedule

Basketball is coming back, about a month behind schedule. The NBA announced their regular season schedule today and, unlike in recent seasons, decided not to screw the Rockets badly. Since I can’t wait for the season to begin, I’m going to go ahead and break down their schedule to get an idea of what we can look forward to.

Conference Breakdown

The Rockets will play 18 games against the Eastern Conference and 48 against the Western Conference. They play every team in the Eastern Conference once or twice and every team in their conference either three or four times. Looking at the Eastern Conference, they play the teams that made the playoffs last year only once each. That means only one game against the Heat, the Bulls, the Celtics, the Knicks, etc. This should be awesome. It’s a good year to be a bad team. The Lakers, for example, will have the Heat on their plate twice, as will the Mavericks. The three teams that the Rockets do play twice from the East are the Bobcats, the Wizards and the Raptors. These three teams scrounged up 79 wins between them last season.

On the Western Conference, though, things are a little tougher. Of the eight teams that finished above the Rockets last year, they play half of them four times, this season: the Spurs, the Thunder, the Nuggets and the Grizzlies. I am completely okay with that. The Nuggets is missing about half their team (although most of them should be back the last two times Houston play them), the Spurs are aging and the Grizzlies have to hold on to their contracts to remain competitive. The Thunder are scary, but the team will be done with them mid-March, which means they won’t be a nuisance when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.

Opponent Winning Percentage from Last Season

Against the Eastern Conference, the average record of the Rockets’ opponents is .446. That translates to about 37 games over the course of a season. Very manageable. The same metric on the Western Conference is 0.532, which translates to 44 games won. 2 games above .500 while playing 16 games against teams with a better record than Houston last season? I’ll take it. Their overall opponent record weighs in at .508 (42 games). This happens to be just about their record last year, so Houston should be good to go.

Back-to-Backs

Back-to-backs have been the bane of the Rockets’ existence and this season the NBA is introducing something even more nasty: the back-to-back-to-back. The NBA announced yesterday that 7 teams would be playing more than one back-to-back-to-back this season. I was sure one of the lucky ones would be Houston. However, the league decided to be kind, this year.

The Rockets play 1 back-to-back-to-back affair and 21 back-to-backs. The toughest sequence is at the beginning, when Houston takes on San Antonio, Memphis and Atlanta in the last three days of 2011. The first and last of this sequence will be hosted at the Toyota Center, so at least that is some respite. The other back-to-backs are mostly harmless, although they do feature two bizarre sets where they play OKC and Denver home-and-away on back-to-back nights. I guess neither team has the advantage there…

30 of the Rockets games come after a 1-day rest, seven are after a 2-day rest, two are after a 3-day rest and they even have a 5-day rest, presumably coinciding with All Star Weekend.

National TV

Houston will have 7 games on “national TV”. The reason for the quotes are that all these games will be on NBA TV. Yup. Not a single game on ABC, ESPN or TNT. I guess I shouldn’t be too annoyed because this implies that they are going to be playing relatively weak teams. The national TV games are against the Magic, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Mavs, the Lakers, the Kings and the Heat.

Stretches

In terms of stretches, the schedule-makers have been kind, as well. Of the 33 away games, 9 will be played in 1-game segments (a lot of travel, I guess). 3 will be played in two-game road trips and they will have four road trips longer than two games, the longest being a 6-game trip trek of the West in early February. The home split is pretty similar, with 8 single-game homestands, three 2-game homestands and four homestands longer than that. The 6-game homestand, the longest of the season, will be right after the Rockets finish their 6-game road trip.

Conclusion

Schedule-wise, the Rockets have a relatively easy one, which is a nice side-effect of being a mediocre team in a short season in a league that is operated by a greedy commissioner. The beginning of the season is tough but it does settle down pretty nicely. If the Rockets end up struggling, it will be because of poor coaching, poor execution or badly thought-out trades (or bad refereeing). The schedule has been kind to them. Let’s hope they can make it back to the playoffs, finally.

 

nba playoff predictions: conference finals

Another round done and another series of predictions gone wrong. 🙂 Just kidding, although my results were once again mixed:

Actual (Predicted):
Chicago Bulls 4-2 Atlanta Hawks (4-2) +2
Miami Heat 4-1 Boston Celtics (4-1) +1
OKC Thunder 4-3 Memphis Grizzlies (4-2) +1
Dallas Mavericks 4-0 LA Lakers (1-4) +0
OVERALL: 4/8

Looks like I kept with the trend of pretty much everyone screwing up the Lakers-Mavericks series. I have to say that I was more than surprised to see how easily the Mavs were able to dispatch the Lakers. Unfortunately, this had to happen in the season that I decided to disown the Mavs to prove my full-on support for the Rockets. Hmmph. Well at least the Mavs have Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic, two players I was a fan of when I was growing up. Also, I have to mention Terry and Peja’s unconscious shooting in that Game 4 wipe. They were, what, 15-16 from deep? That’s nuts. That’s better than what you could manage in NBA 2K11 (or what I could manage, I guess).

Now on to the conference finals. I get to cheat a little bit here since I’ve already seen Chicago destroy the Heat in Game 1.

Conference Finals Predictions:

Miami Heat (2) 4-2 Chicago Bulls (1)

Yes, I suppose I’m going with a somewhat unconventional pick and also saying that Miami will go 4-1 in the remaining games. It’s a dangerous pick, but I can’t see the Bulls sustain their play over the course of the playoffs. Chicago’s defense is elite, but you really can’t rely on the likes of Luol Deng stepping up every game. If Boozer had been having a better playoff, I’d give Chicago the edge, but with Wade-James, I think Miami will have enough offense to overpower the Bulls. That said, Miami’s depth is definitely going to be problematic, with only 19 points today coming from players not named James, Wade or Bosh. However, they still have those three players compared to Chi-town’s Rose and company.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) 4-3 Dallas Mavericks (3)

I think OKC will pull this one out. Durant has been, apart from that Game 6 failure, been on fire these playoffs. He was always a huge scorer, but his touch from beyond the arc in this postseason has made a huge difference. Harden has been amazing as well and as for Westbrook, the Thunder have been winning despite him chucking up all manners of shots. The Mavs have found a consistent scoring option in Jason Terry, but I think the Thunder, with their young legs, will match up a lot better than the Lakers. Ibaka’s length and athleticism should bother Dirk, but we know that Nowitzki will probably find a way to get his points. Both these teams rely on runs through periods of awesome three-point shooting to pull away. It should be a fascinating series.

That’s it for now!

nba playoff predictions: conference semis

What an exciting playoffs it has been thus far! We’ve seen a bunch of tight games (and a few blowouts sprinkled here and there) and already two upsets. In the East, Dwight Howard’s Magic have been eliminated in the first round, which will certainly bring into focus both Stan Van Gundy’s and Howard’s future with the franchise. In the West, the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs were eliminated by the eight-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in a result that had me chortling with glee. I’m sure everyone’s heard by now how this is only the fourth time an 8th seed has knocked off the 1st seed, and only the second time since the  7-game first round series was instated.

Let me go ahead and see how I did with my first round predictions. The scoring system I’m using is +1 for correct result and +2 for correct result with correct scoreline. Max points are 16.

East (Prediction):

Bulls 4-1 Pacers (Bulls 4-0): +1
Heat 4-1 Sixers (Heat 4-1): +2
Celtics 4-0 Knicks (Celtics 4-2): +1
Hawks 4-2 Magic (Magic 4-1): +0

SCORE: 5/8

West (Prediction):

Grizzlies 4-2 Spurs (Spurs 4-2): +0
Lakers 4-2 Hornets (Lakers 4-1): +1
Mavericks 4-2 Blazers (Blazers 4-3): +0
Thunder 4-1 Nuggets (Thunder 4-3): +1

SCORE: 2/8

TOTAL: 7/16

Okay, so I didn’t do too flash. Definitely worse than last year, when I only missed one of the first round results (but got only one of the series outcomes correct). Anyways, I’m going to shake it off and make predictions for the Conference Semis.

Conference Semis

Chicago Bulls (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)

I think it is fair to say that Atlanta surprised nearly everyone by not only beating the Magic, but finishing them off so effortlessly. In my first round prediction, I thought the Magic would easily take care of the Hawks, but I had noted that the Hawks tend to play up (or down) to their opponent’s level. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch too much of that series since I was moving and also because a bunch of the games were on NBATV. I did get to watch a few of the Bulls games and it seems evident that it is going to be D-Rose or nothing for the Bulls. The support cast have thus far not showed up for him consistently. Boozer is going to have to step up. This is a tough prediction for me. The Hawks have more offensive weapons and are probably a better rounded team, but the Bulls’ defense has been stellar. I’m going to ignore the upset calls from my gut and go with Bulls 4-2.

Miami Heat (2) vs. Boston Celtics (3)

This series is going to be epic. The Celtics won the first three season match-ups in tight games before being beaten to the pulp by the Heat in the last regular season game between these two teams. The Celtics somehow managed to sweep the Knicks for the only 4-0 scoreline in the first round. Although in the past I’ve said that the Celtics would have the upperhand, I think the Heat have got their stuff together. They’ll need to find an answer for Rondo but apart from that, I think they’ll be in control here. Heat 4-2.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8)

OKC must feel like they’ve dodged a bullet to avoid the Spurs, but the way the Spurs and Grizzlies were playing, I think the Thunder would have preferred going up against San Antonio. Memphis is playing very old-school basketball–almost every possession they go down to the post. Almost everyone on their starting 5 can play with their backs to the basket. It’s very hard to defend. The Thunder do have height to match-up with the Grizzlies, though, which is something San Antonio did not have. I think Ibaka will cause Randolph a lot more trouble than Duncan, McDyess or Splitter (don’t know why Blair wasn’t persisted with). I also think the Grizzlies will find it difficult to cover KD. I have no idea what the scoreline will be here, so I’m going with Thunder 4-2.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (3)

This should also be a delectable match-up. The Lakers managed to finally get their heads in the game to overcome CP3’s valiant Hornets team. But the fact is they should have won that series a lot more easily than they did. The Mavericks, meanwhile, looked good taking care of the Blazers, who I thought would give the Mavericks more trouble. I still think the Mavs will be missing a consistent second option on offense, especially now that they will be in Lakerland and probably not getting a lot of the calls. I’m going to say the Lakers take care of this easily. Lakers 4-1.

So no upsets predicted here, for me. If I had to pick a series to be an upset, it’d probably be the Celtics over the Heat. Should be exciting stuff, though!

nba playoff predictions

It is once again that time of year when I make playoff predictions. Last year, I went 7-1 in the first round, but only picked one upset (Spurs over Mavs). I only got one series absolutely right from a scoreline perspective (the Suns 4-2 against Portland). This year is going to be significantly harder, especially in the West where the top teams are split within just a few games and there have been a lot of regular season upsets. Anyhow, let’s get going!

Eastern Conference

Chicago Bulls (1, 62-20) vs. Indian Pacers (8, 37-45)

This one’s the easiest pick, in my opinion. I’m still not quite comprehending the fact that the Bulls actually ended up with the best record in the NBA. About a month ago, one would think it would definitely be the Spurs grabbing homecourt advantage for the duration of the playoffs. Derrick Rose has been in beast mode for pretty much all of the season, and his complementary players are really stepping up. Boozer has been big for them and even Korver has stepped in nicely into a “big-Hinrich” role. This is a hard team not to like, even though it is full of ex-Jazz players. The Pacers scraped through the playoffs, 8 games below .500. They’ve got some good young talent but I just don’t see them having the firepower to stop a rampaging Bulls team. 4-0 to the Bulls.

Miami Heat (2, 58-24) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (7, 41-41)

The Heat made a good late-season push to oust the Celtics from that second spot in the East. Their livelihood in the second round may be more questionable, but they’ve set themselves up for success going into the first round of the playoffs. Barring any injuries, I don’t think this team will be stopped in this round. Even though Philly has been playing some really good basketball, in the end I think they will lose simply because they will rely a little too much on team basketball, which doesn’t work as well in the postseason. Igoudala has been good and Holiday is having a career year, but the Heat will probably take care of business. 4-1 to the Heat, with the Sixers winning one of their home games.

Boston Celtics (3, 56-26) vs. New York Knicks (6, 42-40)

This is probably the series to watch in the first round of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics will be mighty annoyed that they couldn’t take care of business the last couple of weeks and fell down to the third seed to face a challenging Knicks team that has done well to finish above .500. Amar’e has missed a couple of games in the stretch, but Carmelo has been filling in effortlessly. I still think the Knicks traded away too many assets in the Melo deal and will have a tough time closing this series down. That said, the Celtics offense has been sputtering ridiculously in the last few weeks, with Allen having lost his touch and Pierce being in a shooting slump. They’ve also lost some of their paint presence, so I expect Melo and Amar’e will have a field day in the paint and at the line. Still think the Celtics will pull it out, but they’ll have to work overtime to do it. I’m going to call it 4-2 to the Celtics but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Knicks won the series by the same margin.

Orlando Magic (4, 52-30) vs. Atlanta Hawks (5, 44-38)

The Hawks are the most underwhelming team in the playoffs, which is strange considering they’re a 5-seed. They’ve been at the wrong end of some of the worst losses this season and are in fact entering the postseason on the back of 6 straight losses. However, right before that, they also beat the Magic and Celtics in the span of 3 days. They have the players to get it done, but come on, this team lost to the Wizards by 32 points just about a week ago. They may just be one of those teams that plays to their opponent’s level. I think the Magic roll this one. 4-1 to the Magic.

Western Conference

San Antonio Spurs (1, 61-21) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8, 46-36)

Ah, here is the fun stuff. Divisional rivals taking on each other in the first round of the playoffs. The Spurs, who have traditionally been a very defense-oriented league made a major change this season by going to the completely opposite side of the spectrum–becoming an offensive-minded team. They play with great pace and still have the ability to shut down teams in the 4th quarter. They are obviously still a contender, although the window is closing rapidly for Ginobili, Parker and Duncan. The season series between these teams was split 2-2, with the home team winning all of the games. The Grizzlies have been coping well without Rudy Gay, but I think they’ll find it tough to overcome the Spurs. I’m going slightly left-field with this scoreline, but that’s because I’ll have to see if the Spurs can slow down the pace during the playoffs, essentially re-tooling their game. 4-2 to the Spurs.

Los Angeles Lakers (2, 57-25) vs. New Orleans Hornets (7, 46-36)

Everyone has been talking about the Lakers the last few weeks as they went on a rabid run post all-star break before simmering down considerably. The Lakers would be disappointed on missing out on the top seed, as they failed to take advantage of a Spurs slump. However, I don’t think the Lakers will have too much of an issue dispatching the Hornets. Maybe with D-West, they’d have a chance, but I think they’ll fail to make an impact here. Lakers swept the season series, too. 4-1 to the Lakers.

Dallas Mavericks (3, 57-25) vs. Portland Trailblazers (6, 48-34)

This is a match-up to watch out for. I still don’t understand how the Trailblazers manage to stay competitive after going through injury after injury every season. Kinda wish the Rockets could replicate that effort. The Mavs have been blowing hot and cold the last few weeks and split the season series between these two teams 2-2, with the home team winning every game. I have a feeling Rip City could pull off an upset here, depending on if Dirk’s teammates decide to show up. Going to go with my first upset. 4-3 to the Blazers.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4, 55-27) vs. Denver Nuggets (5, 50-32)

The Denver Nuggets have been playing some solid basketball since they got rid of their whiny star. The main reason for this is that they got a massive package from the Knicks and a bunch of players who play well with each other. OKC, meanwhile, was at one point threatening to slip down into the bottom seeds, but they did a good job to revive their season and almost go up as high as the 2nd seed. The Thunder won the season series between these two teams 3-1 and I think they’ll win here, but it will be tight. 4-3 to the Thunder.

That’s it. Can’t wait for some postseason basketball, even though I wish I had a chance to cheer for the Rockets!

rockets playoff watch: march 29th

I took the weekend and an extra day off to let the standings develop a little more and as a result it looks a lot clearer who is still in the race. At 36-39, I’m ready to eliminate Utah, for whom it would take the most miraculous of circumstances to pull through for a playoff spot. At 36-36, Phoenix looks all but eliminated as well, but I’ll leave them in the list until they cross the suggested threshold of 45-37 for the 8th seed.

Over the last few days we’ve seen a lot of the playoff teams in action. Houston lost its game at Miami but came very close to pulling off an upset. That occasion, of course, was completely ignored by the national media who instead decided to pour accolades all over the big-3’s impressive achievement of each of them recording 30-10 nights. The fact that the Rockets lost by just 6 points and were in the game going into the last couple of minutes was somehow lost in all the hoopla.

New Orleans lost David West but has so far coped well, with Carl Landry stepping in nicely into his place. The Hornets were not able to take care of the Lakers but they were able to squeeze past the Suns with a late push (that, in my opinion, eliminated the Suns from that last playoff spot). The Grizzlies have been on a freaking tear and seem like they’ll be impossible to catch down the stretch. They’ve won all the games they need to and also some that they don’t need to. They’re still a game behind the Hornets, but with one of the easiest remaining schedules in the NBA, they should be able to pull through to a 7th seed.

Finally, the Spurs have looked a little vulnerable. After losing Tim Duncan for a few weeks, the Spurs also listed Manu Ginobili day-to-day and gave Tony Parker and Antonio McDyess a night off yesterday against the Trailblazers. The Blazers, who were playing the Spurs twice in 3 games, ended up winning both and quite possibly the season series as well. The Spurs are in the middle of a 3-game skid (all three while missing Tim Duncan). While they have no reason to panic, I think they’re finding out how Duncan’s loss in the post closes off their three point game considerably.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
— already qualified —
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Portland Trailblazers
— probably qualified —
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2.5)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1.5)

Today’s Games

There are a only two games of interest tonight.

Houston Rockets (38-35) @ New Jersey Nets (23-49)

There is not much to say about this game except that it is a must-win (as will be the case with almost every game down the stretch). A loss here will almost absolutely eliminate us from the playoff race. A victory here won’t be anywhere near guaranteeing a playoff berth. So there’s everything to play for, for Houston, as we continue our final Eastern Conference road trip. This is the first game of a back-to-back and we need both games.

Phoenix Suns (36-36) @ Sacramento Kings (20-52)

Phoenix are in a similar situation to us in that a loss to a team like Sacramento will all but end their postseason hopes. The Suns do have one of the tougher remaining schedules of the teams competing for the last playoff spot, given that they are playing OKC, San Antonio twice, Chicago and Dallas in their last 10 games.

Other Notes

LeBron James returns to Cleveland for the second time this season. Watch out for angry fans and much hoopla about nothing. Last time the Heat visited Cleveland, LeBron dropped 38 on them and began a suicidal skid where I think the Cavs lost like 21 of 22 games and the Heat went on a similar positive run. Miami has already won the season series, leading 3-0, but we can always hope that LeBron trips over a Dwyane Wade who is feigning injury and twists his ankle as he barges into Chris Bosh’s nose, breaking it.

rockets playoff watch: march 25th

Another day, another result going against the Rockets playoff hopes. There was just one game of interest for Houston yesterday as the New Orleans Hornets traveled to Salt Lake City to take on the Jazz in an important match-up for both teams. In the end, the Hornets managed to scrape out a win, but in doing so they lost the services of their starting 4, David West, probably for the remainder of the season. West injured his knee, painfully, as I understand it. The Hornets moved to 41-31 and the Jazz are all but eliminated at 36-37, but perhaps a beacon of light opened up for Houston with the injury.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+0.5)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+1.5)

Today’s Games

There are a bunch of games of interest tonight.

Memphis Grizzlies (40-32) @ Chicago Bulls (51-19)

The Grizzlies started off their stretch of games against .700+ teams with a close victory over the Celtics on Wednesday. They now start challenges against the best teams in either conference, beginning with a game in Chicago tonight. The Bulls are just a game ahead of Boston in the standings and would want to continue building on that to ensure home court through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Here’s hoping that Derrick Rose and company can take care of a Grizzlies team that has decided to play its best basketball after its best player was announced to be out for the season.

New Orleans Hornets (41-31) @ Phoenix Suns (36-34)

This is a tough game for both teams as the playoff implications are huge. The Suns are still a few games out of the last playoff spot and a win here would go a long way in helping them make the cut, although they’d have to rely on Houston fumbling towards the end, as well. The Hornets are on the second night of a back-to-back and will be playing their first game down the stretch with no David West. For the Rockets, the best scenario, apart from both teams losing somehow, would be for the Suns to take this game. Why? Because even if they win this game we will be a game ahead of them. And with the Hornets facing injuries, it is plausible that they will slide out of the playoffs. Hence, I’ll be cheering AB and the Suns in this game.

San Antonio Spurs (57-14) @ Portland Trailblazers (41-30)

The Spurs play their second game without Tim Duncan, having dropped the first one to the Nuggets by three a few nights ago. Portland are currently streaking and our breathing down the necks of the Nuggets. It doesn’t really matter to the Rockets who wins this one, but it will be interesting to see how the Spurs are playing without Duncan anchoring their frontcourt.

rockets playoff watch: march 24th

The 4 games the Rockets were interested in yesterday went 2-2 so it can be considered an okay night. Fortunately, one of the results going in our favor was a home victory over the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies’ game was one result that went against us, as Memphis managed to pull off an improbably upset in Boston. Let’s take a look at the games one by one.

Memphis played a tight game against Boston that, I believe, didn’t go more than 3 points in any team’s favor in the 4th quarter. The Celtics were playing from behind for most of the way. Going into the last minute, down by three points after a missed shot from the Grizzlies, Rondo ran the break and, instead of looking for a good shot, tried to finish a tough teardrop to cut the lead to 1. He failed and the Grizzlies had to foul. Marc Gasol managed to miss both free throws (just a day after his brother, Pau, made to clutch free throws to send the game into 3OT) but the Celtics were unable to convert on the other end with about 4 seconds left on the clock. Boston, as a result, fell a game behind Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings. These losses could be crucial for Boston since they will be the difference between playing Orlando and Miami in the second-round.

Next up, we had Utah in Oklahoma City. Thankfully, the Jazz were working with a depleted roster with neither Favors or Harris active and fell to the Thunder by 12 points. That loss pushes the Jazz to a .500 record and they can probably write off their playoff hopes now unless the rest of the teams competing for a spot in the Western Conference severely implode. The Jazz shouldn’t mind missing out on the playoffs too much as they have gone through wholesale changes during this season.

The Rockets took on the Warriors at the Toyota Center next and it was the exciting, high-scoring affair that was expected. Well, exciting if you are a Rockets fan, which I am. The first quarter was pretty close, with the Warriors pulling up to 57-57 at one stage, before a 9-0 run gave the Rockets a bit of a cushion going into the halftime break. The Rockets came back in the second half and totally took care of business, with Chuck Hayes recording his first career triple-double. Most of the Warriors starters sat out most of the fourth quarter as Houston pulled out an easy win 131-112, including their highest scoring output this season. Interestingly, new signees Mike Harris and Demarr Carroll got minutes yesterday, but Terrence Williams continued his accommodation at the RADHisson (that’s the Rick Adelman Dog House).

The last game of the night was Phoenix hosting the lowly Toronto Raptors. The Suns, of course, were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after their close 3OT loss in LA on Tuesday night. Their tiredness showed as they were trailing most of the way, but Aaron Brooks came off the bench fresh (he was suspended for the previous game) and drained 25 points en route to a comeback win. The win keeps the Suns hovering around that last spot.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+0.5)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+1)

Today’s Games

New Orleans Hornets (40-31) @ Utah Jazz (36-36)

The Hornets should have all but locked up a playoff spot this season, but the fact of the matter is that they are still just half a game ahead of the Grizzlies and 2.5 games ahead of the Rockets with about 10-11 games remaining for all the teams competing for a spot. A win for Utah would be nice here, but the last time we wanted them to do that they went and got blown out by the Grizzlies. Nevertheless, the Jazz are back at the Energy Solutions Arena and their motivation is that a loss here will almost certainly eliminate them from the playoffs (with the 8th seed mark speculated to be 45-37). Let’s hope Harris and Favors are back today and put a pounding on the Hornets.

Other Notes

The Nuggets continued to show how awesome they have become in the post-Carmelo era by taking care of the league’s best team, minus one Tim Duncan. The Spurs were off to a hot start again, opening a double-digit lead against the Nuggets in Denver, before the home team fought back through Al Harrington, of all people. It seemed like the Spurs were reduced to mainly a jump-shooting team and were beaten at their own game (three-pointers) by a sharpshooting Nuggets offense. Even with Arron Afflalo, their self-elected closer of late, injured the Nuggets were able to pull out a 3-point victory. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Spurs the rest of the season. If they continue to struggle without Duncan, perhaps a first-round date with them wouldn’t be entirely catastrophic for whoever the the 8th seed is.

rockets playoff watch: march 23rd

There were two games that had playoff implications for the Rockets yesterday night and they went 50/50 in the Rockets favor.

First, the Blazers hosted the sinking Washington Wizards and took care of business. This was not surprising or unexpected. What is more concerning for the Rockets and the other teams grappling for playoff spot in the West is the performance of Gerald Wallace. Wallace led the Blazers to the victory scoring 28 points off 14 shot attempts and also recording 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Even while keeping in mind that this performance came against the lowly Wizards, it’s certainly demonstrating that Wallace has been fully integrated into the Portland offensive and defensive schemes. We are done with our season series against the Trailblazers and given that they’ve probably more or less confirmed their playoff spot, this event should only really be a danger sign for whomever between the Lakers and Mavericks gets that 3rd seed.

In the second game, Phoenix visited the Los Angeles Lakers and for most of the game they looked like they were up against it. However, a late rally from the Suns sent the game to overtime. In OT, Channing Frye went to the line shooting three with 1.1 seconds left and drained all of them to send the game to double-overtime. In 20T, it was this time Pau Gasol knocking down two important free throws with a little more than 2 seconds left on the clock to tie the game up. Grant Hill was unable to handle an inbound pass from Dudley to shoot for the win and the game went into an unprecedented triple-overtime. This time, Ron Artest took over (never thought I’d be typing those words in that order) with some solid defense and a ferocious left-handed dunk that probably was the last nail in the coffin for the Suns. Some very questionable play-making in the ensuing Suns possessions ensure that they fell short by 2 on the night.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+1)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+1)
11. Utah Jazz (+0)

Today’s Games

There are many games of interest today as every one except the Hornets and Blazers are in action.

Memphis Grizzlies (39-32) @ Boston Celtics (50-19)

This is a very important game for the Rockets, who themselves beat the Celtics just about a week ago. The Grizzlies open a tough stretch of games, playing on the road at Boston and then Chicago on Friday before coming back home to face the Spurs on Sunday. If they go 0-3 in that stretch, they will end up with 35 losses, which is one more than the Rockets have now. That would be the ideal scenario for Houston. This is the last difficult stretch of games remaining for the Grizzlies and, in fact, their only remaining opponents above .600. If they swing even one of these three games, I would wager that the Grizzlies will lock up the 8th seed.

Utah Jazz (36-35) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (45-24)

Oklahoma City is in a strange position where they don’t really have too much room for improvement with regards to playoff positioning. A rough last couple of weeks, however, could mean that they surrender home-court advantage in Round 1 to the Nuggets. Hopefully that is motivation enough for them to take care of business against the Jazz. Devin Harris is listed as a game-time decision for the Jazz and Derrick Favors is currently questionable. Given that a loss here would push the Jazz to 36 losses, I would say it is extremely likely that they try to get both to play to give them the best shot at victory. A victory here for the Thunder would be perfect and probably push the Jazz one game away from playoff elimination.

Golden State Warriors (30-41) @ Houston Rockets (37-34)

This is the final game in the homestand for the Rockets before they head on an Eastern Conference road trip including a match-up against the Heat. A victory here for Houston coupled with a loss for Memphis would put the Rockets just 1 game out of the 8th seed. The Warriors are a team that depends heavily on their offense and I’m hoping that Houston’s improved defense of late will be able to counter them. The Rockets will be missing Budinger, however, which means that Courtney Lee will be starting, so the team chemistry may be affected slightly. This is a must-win game for Houston–a loss in a game like this most certainly eliminates us from playoff contention.

Toronto Raptors (20-50) @ Phoenix Suns (35-34)

After a chaotic game last night against the Lakers, the Phoenix suns head home for the second-night of a back-to-back. The Suns are likely going to be very tired–not only is their core made up of veterans (Nash, Hill, Carter) but they played a 3OT game last night. The Raptors have had a torrid season after Chris Bosh took his talents to Miami and our statistically eliminated from the playoffs, I believe. They have nothing to lose at the moment. A win here for Toronto against a tired and drained Suns team would push the Suns over the Rockets in terms of losses, as long as we win our game.

rockets playoff watch: march 22nd

Not too many updates since yesterday. There was one game of importance for the Rockets: Utah vs. Memphis. We needed Utah to win this one so that we’d pull closer to the Grizzlies in terms of losses but unfortunately the Jazz were still smarting from their loss against Houston on Sunday. Or perhaps it was just that they lost Devin Harris in the first quarter, apparently. I don’t know how serious his injury is but if he is out long term then we can probably comfortably eliminate Utah from the playoff race.

Updated Standings

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
— already/probably qualified —
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets (+0.5)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (+1)
9. Houston Rockets (+2)
10. Phoenix Suns (+0.5)
11. Utah Jazz (+0.5)

Today’s Games

There are two games of interest today as both the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trailblazers are in action.

Washington Wizards (17-51) @ Portland Trailblazers (40-30)

This should be a pretty simple walkthrough for the Blazers, who have managed to integrate Gerald Wallace into their line-up pretty quickly. The Wizards are having a season to forget. With Portland probably out of reach for the Rockets, a victory here for them wouldn’t hurt our playoff chances all that much. So while I’ll be cheering for John Wall and the Washington Wizards, I don’t really care what the outcome of this game is all that much.

Phoenix Suns (35-33) @ Los Angeles Lakers (50-20)

This is an important game for the Rockets because if Phoenix wins these types of games, they will jump ahead of Houston in that push for the 8th playoff spot. This is the first of 6 remaining games on the Suns’ schedule against teams above .700. LA has their playoff participation locked up, but the Mavs are close on their back for what would be homecourt in the second round of the playoffs, so I don’t expect the Lakers to take it easy. They also need to get Kobe into some rhythm heading into the April.

If the Suns lose here, like they’re supposed to, they’ll slip another half a game down from the Rockets and, more importantly, will have the same number of losses as Houston. This would mean that Houston would have to win more games down the stretch than Phoenix, which should be easier considering we have an easier remaining schedule. I’m sure Steve Nash is not going to go down easily, so this will probably be a good game to watch. Go LA!

Other Notes

Just saw the news on Tim Duncan’s injury this morning. Apparently the Spurs were still able to take care of business against the Warriors. Unfortunately, it seems like a pretty minor injury in the context of things, and Duncan is expected to be out only a couple of weeks. I don’t expect the Spurs record to deflect much as a result of it but it could present itself as a ray of hope for whoever ends up getting 8th seed in the West, although in reality Duncan’s usage has been so low this season that it probably won’t mean much in the opening rounds.