Ball is Life: A look at the Houston Rockets’s NBA playoff chances

The Houston Rockets are in 9th place.

I still can’t believe I just typed that sentence out. As terrible as this season has been, I doubt there was a single Rockets fans who thought this team would struggle to make the NBA playoffs. And there is certainly a valid train of thought that this team should just tank for the rest of the season, if not tear this team down completely.

Morey may be thinking about that, given yesterday’s news that Houston may be looking to trade Dwight Howard. But let us assume for now that the teams stays as it is. Under those circumstances, what do Houston’s chances of making the playoffs look like? Even after yesterday’s loss to the Blazers, ESPN’s BPI Playoff odds gives the Rockets a 2 in 3 chance of making the playoffs. Could that possibly be too optimistic?


The first thing to do is to understand who Houston’s competitors are for the honor of getting blown out four times against the Spurs and Warriors.

While the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings are not that far above and below the Rockets, Houston should focus on the Portland Trail Blazers and the Utah Jazz. Both teams are sitting at .500, half a game ahead of the Rockets. The Trail Blazers, as we have seen twice, are a cohesive team which relies on the duo attack of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They have managed to survive the loss of Aldridge and have won eight of their last nine games, with the one loss being to the Toronto Raptors.

But while Portland is a fun and great story, the Utah Jazz are the better team. They’ve been slowed down by injuries to Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, who have each missed around 20 games. But they are both healthy now and the Jazz had won seven straight games before dropping one to the Pelicans on Wednesday night.

Schedule comparison

So, how do those two teams’ upcoming schedules compare to Houston’s?

The Rockets have 27 games left in this season. They have played two games of a five game roadtrip which will end on February 27.

Seven of those games are against teams with a record of .600 or better – the Spurs, the Cavaliers, the Clippers, and two games against the Raptors and the Thunder. Then Houston has eight more games against teams with a better than .500 record – the Celtics, Hawks, Hornets, Grizzlies, Pacers, Mavericks, and two games against the Bulls.
Perhaps most important of all, Houston has three games total against the Jazz and Trail Blazers, both whom are sitting at .500.

Portland has 28 games left. They also have seven games against team with a .600+ record, with three of those games against the Warriors juggernaut. They then have eight more games against teams with a .500+ record.

Utah has 30 games left in this season. The Jazz have eight games against teams with a .600+ record and then six more games against teams with a .500+ record.

So from a team opponent perspective, all three are about the same. I think Houston does have the easiest schedule out of the three teams, and they do have just six back to backs compared to seven for the Jazz and Blazers. But it will not make a huge difference.

Time to worry?

And here is the problem. If the Rockets cannot look to an easier schedule and hope things will turn around, then they have to look inside themselves.

The Jazz and the Blazers have played through plenty of adversity this season. Utah has been dealing with constant injuries to their most important players. The Blazers lost an All-Star caliber player in the offseason and were expected to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference during the preseason

Both teams had their excuses to suck, and yet they have found a way to get to where they are. And since both the Jazz and Blazers are young teams with rising stars, even a four game blowout will serve as an opportunity for Favors or Lillard or Gobert to grow and develop.

Houston has nothing like that. The Rockets have no bench, and no young future All-Stars. The team is what it is at this point, barring some progression from Montrezl Harrell or maybe K.J. McDaniels or Motiejunas.

I still think that even after everything which has happened, the Rockets are a more talented team than those two. But perhaps if there’s anything which Rockets fans should take away from this season, it’s the importance of both chemistry and coaching. While Terry Stotts and Quinn Snyder are no Popovich or Carlisle, they are still two of the better coaches in the league.

No one would say that about Bickerstaff.

So, can the Rockets make the playoffs? It’s certainly possible. But as things continue to look worse and worse for this team, it’s hard to say that it is probable.





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About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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