As I was in Houston over the weekend, this week’s iteration of The Week Ahead is brought to you on a Monday morning, with the marquee-matchup of the stint already having been played. I’m probably in too foul of a mood to put this together had the Rockets lost last night to Cleveland, but they didn’t, and thus, we’re here. After a murderer’s row last week, the Rockets face some lesser competition in the form of the Lakers and Pelicans, before closing out the week against a sneaky Denver team that could steal a win if Houston isn’t focused. The Lakers are the worst team in the conference, having gone 1-9 in their last ten games (doesn’t it feel like ages ago when L.A. stole the season opener from Houston on national television and people were talking about the postseason as a goal for that team?), and the Pelicans haven’t exactly set the world on fire since their blockbuster trade at the deadline. But beware Nikola Jokic.
A Spurs fan co-worker put it best when asking me which team I feared most in a first-round postseason matchup. After I responded that the Utah Jazz were simply a nightmare matchup for the Rockets, he replied, “Well, somebody must be matching up with them.” If they continue taking care of business, especially with last week’s stretch in the rearview mirror, the Rockets should safely secure the third seed in the Western Conference. And look at that: the 60 win dream is still alive! In seriousness, to achieve 60 wins, Houston would need to go 14-1 to close the season, a run that, while possible, is probably not likely. At this point, as long as the Rockets continue their current rate of competence, the only significance their win total holds is aesthetics. If 60 is out of the picture, and the third seed is locked up, I’d expect Mike D’Antoni to rest his starters in the season’s few final games. But James Harden will need the #3 seed to win the MVP, a recognition which seemed to be slipping from his grasp last week after Houston’s loss to the Spurs, and might be back in Houston’s favor over last night’s win over Cleveland.