As I write this, Hollinger has the Rockets at 79% odds to make the postseason. Myself and four others all chose Houston to get in. The team sits in 7th, but tied in the win-loss with Dallas and Denver. If postseason play began today, the Rockets would open up at San Antonio.
Including tonight’s showdown (on ESPN) against the Suns, there are eight games remaining. Home for Phoenix, at Denver, home for Denver, at Dallas, at New Orleans, home for Golden State, at Miami, and home for New Orleans.
The two against New Orleans should be complete ‘gimmes.’ The Warriors have given the Rockets fits in recent years, but that was before the trade that sent Monta Ellis to Milwaukee. At Miami is an expected loss but is winnable – in fact, any game against any team in the NBA is winnable for the Houston Rockets.
The next four game stretch will determine the season. If they win two from this quartet set, they should get in. If they lay an egg, there could be a Houston representative at the draft lottery. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that the team takes care of business. The clunker against Utah was disappointing, but a letdown was eventually to be expected.
Tonight’s matchup will feature a high-stakes showdown between mentor and mentee as Steve Nash squares off against Goran Dragic. Expect a shootout – the Suns are tenth in the league in pace and eighth in overall offensive efficiency. And of course the home team has no qualms about getting up and down.
Looking ahead: Still no word on Kevin Martin. With just eight games remaining, it appears he may not be brought back at all. With so little time left, it would be difficult to re-acclimate him into the lineup with everyone already having found their niche. If the shoulder suddenly heals, it would be a tough call. The team could surely use the sharpshooter’s offense off the bench.
I’d expect even heavier doses of Lowry-Dragic in tandem down the stretch. Even before Martin’s injury, it seemed this was Kevin McHale’s backcourt of choice to close games. The duo gives the Rockets’ coach options galore to run the side screen and roll and also to push the tempo in transition. Without a superstar, Houston will have to create some sort of advantage and this small-ball effect is their best bet.
Most importantly, however, the Rockets must keep moving, at all times. Without isolation scorers, the team runs into trouble when the ball and players stagnate. They must move the ball and more importantly, move players through misdirection, swinging the ball back when the defense is off balance.
Around the NBA: The other big matchups tonight pit the Mavs against Portland and the Nuggets against LA. Without LaMarcus Aldridge (done of the year), the Mavs should easily take care of business against the Blazers. Denver-LA is a toss-up. I’d expect all three of Houston-Dallas-Denver to remain deadlocked at the end of the night. This thing will come down to the wire. Luckily there is somewhat of a cushion above 9th and 10th. But the Rockets must take care of business, starting tonight.