The Rockets' loss to Denver on Saturday night was almost a given. Very few teams who faced the Nuggets in Denver on the second half of a back-to-back travel game in the last couple seasons have won. It's tough to travel and play a game at altitude against a team that likes to run. Plus, the Nuggets are chasing a home winning streak (the win Saturday tied their record at 20). The Rockets, without Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino, stood little chance and crumpled down the stretch.
But in three critical road games, they did what they needed to do, winning at Sacramento and at Portland before the loss in Denver. It inches them ever closer to the playoffs even if the loss hurts their chances of moving up in the standings.
So, just what are their chances and where will they seed if they make the playoffs? Glad you asked.
There are four teams currently vying for the final three spots in the Western Conference playoff picture. Dallas is not entirely out of the picture, but as good as at this point. The focus here will be on the remaining four, including the Rockets, and what their chances are.
Golden State Warriors
Current Record: 44-33 Current Position: 6th Games Back/Ahead: 1 ahead Rockets Tiebreakers Owned: None Magic Number: 1 Likely Record in Remaining Games: 3-2 Likely Finishing Position: 6th Likely Matchup in First Round: Denver
After a painful loss to Utah Sunday night, the Warriors, instead of distancing themselves from the Rockets for the 6th spot, are only one game up with five to go. They still are in the driver's seat, but they still face the Thunder and Spurs in Oakland and go on the road to the Lakers.
Current Record: 43-34 Current Position: 7th Games Back/Ahead: 1 1/2 back Warriors, 2 1/2 ahead Lakers, 3 ahead Jazz Tiebreakers Owned: Warriros, Jazz, even with the Lakers Magic Number: 2 Likely Record in Remaining Games: 3-2 Likely Finishing Position: 7th Most Likely Matchup in First Round: Spurs
The loss to Denver hurt, but as long as they are nearly assured of a playoff spot and are pretty well locked into the 7th spot being 2 1/2 up on the Jazz and owning the tiebreaker. They face the Grizzlies at home and Lakers in LA, but are left with Phoenix (twice) and Sacramento.
Current Record: 41-37 Current Position: 8th Games Back/Ahead: 1/2 ahead lakers, 2 1/2 back Rockets Tiebreakers Owned: Lakers Magic Number: 5 Likely Record in Remaining Games: 3-1 Likely Finishing Position: 8th Likely Matchup in First Round: Thunder
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The Jazz got a huge win on the road over Golden State. That coupled with the Lakers loss to the Clippers gives them the edge for the final spot in the west. Despite looking like the walking dead a couple weeks back, the Jazz have rallied and are on course to make the playoffs, but every win is huge. They have a schedule that features a home game against OKC, two against the T-Wolves and the final game at Memphis, when the Grizz will likely have little to play for.
Current Record: 40-37 Current Position: 9th Games Back/Ahead: 1/2 back Jazz, 3 back Rockets Tiebreakers Owned: Even with Rockets Magic Number: 7 Likely Record in Remaining Games: 3-2 Likely Finishing Position: Out of playoffs Likely Matchup in First Round: n/a
Despite a mass of talent, it is likely the Lakers will miss out on the playoffs. They still certainly have a chance, but the Jazz holds the tie breaker over them, so they have to finish with the better record. Four of their last five are at home, but three of the games are against the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets. It's possible the final two games could be against bench squads if playoff seeding has been set, but it's going to be a mad dash.