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.

 

rockets playoff watch: march 21st

As the Rockets try to sneak back into the playoffs, I’ve decided to do a bit of a daily watch at the position of the teams competing with us for that last spot and how the match-ups of the day will affect it. Since this is the first post of this nature, let me put in a bit of an introduction. First, let’s look at the Western Conference playoff race.

1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dallas Mavericks
— already qualified —
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. New Orleans Hornets
— probably will qualify —
8. Memphis Grizzlies
9. Houston Rockets (+1.5)
10. Phoenix Suns (+0.5)
11. Utah Jazz (+0.0)

As I see it, the Blazers and Hornets will creep into the 6th and 7th slots, leaving 4 teams competing for that lost slot. Memphis is currently in the lead, but only2 games separate the teams going for the 8th spot. So this daily watch will basically be looking at those four teams, what their match-ups look like and what the Rockets need from them to be able to sneak into the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in pole position at the moment, holding a game-and-a-half lead over the Rockets with a relatively easy remaining schedule. With 12 games remaining, the Grizzlies have 7 at home and 5 on the road. They play 3 elite teams in the space of 5 days as they take on Boston, Chicago and San Antonio (the first two being an East Coast road trip). If they are able to get a win in even one of those games, I’d say they are fairly certain of locking up the 8th seed.

Must-Win Games: GSW, MIN, LAC, SAC, LAC
Elite Teams: BOS, CHI, SAS
Other Important Game: NOH x 2, POR
Next Game:
Today vs. the Utah Jazz

Houston Rockets

With a vital win over Utah at home yesterday as well as an important win against the Celtics last week, the Rockets have a bit of momentum. If we look at purely win-loss records of our remaining opponents, we have the “easiest” schedule at an average record of .497. That would not be the most accurate estimate, however,since we do play a bunch of contending teams in our remaining games.

Must-Win Games: GSW, NJN, PHI, SAC, LAC, MIN
Elite Teams: MIA, SAS, ATL, DAL
Other Important Games: NOH
Next Game: Wednesday vs. Golden State

Phoenix Suns

Phoenix was hit with the injury of Steve Nash at the worst possible time. They’ve gone from being solidly in the playoff race to chasing after everyone. Mind you, they are only half a game behind the Rockets. Phoenix have one of the toughest remaining schedules and as long as they don’t start beating teams that they shouldn’t be, we should be able to write them out of the race.

Must-Win Games: TOR, SAC, LAC, MIN x 2
Elite Teams: LAL, DAL, OKC, SAS, CHI, DAL, SAS
Other Important Games: NOH x 2
Next Game: Tuesday @ Los Angeles Lakers

Utah Jazz

Following the resignation of Jerry Sloan and the trading away of Deron Williams, Utah is in full-scale rebuilding mode and as such a playoff berth would be a bonus for them. They’ve had a torrid time following the trade and have dropped a couple of games that they should have won. The Jazz also have quite a difficult schedule remaining, facing only 2 teams below .500 in their remaining 12 games.

Must-Win Games: WAS, SAC
Elite Teams: OKC, DAL, LAL x 2, SAS
Other Important Games: MEM, NOH, POR, NOH
Next Game: Tonight @ Memphis

So that’s how the teams look going into the final few weeks of regular season action. Let’s take a look at the games today that will have some effect on the Rockets playoff hopes:

Utah (36-34) @ Memphis (38-32)

Ideally, both these teams would lose so that the Rockets could move half a game closer to the Grizzlies and half a game farther from the Jazz. Unfortunately, this is not possible. If the Jazz win today, they will once again be tied up with the Rockets at 37-34, but we would, I believe, own the tie-breaker by winning the season series 2-1. Given the Jazz’s remaining schedule and the Grizzlies’ remaining schedule, we should be hoping for a Jazz win tonight. If Utah beats Memphis, the Grizzlies will have only one fewer loss than us and with our remaining opponents more or less the same difficulty, it will come down to who plays better basketball down the stretch.

That’s it for this first update!