It's always amazing that after 81 games, it can come down to a single contest between two teams. Such is the case tonight in Los Angeles as the Rockets face the Lakers in the final game of the season. For both, a win is paramount but for different reasons. The Lakers, the preseason favorite to win it all -- or at least reasonably challenge the Heat -- after the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, have been a massive disappointment. They are literally playing for their playoff lives. If they win, they are in regardless of whether Utah beats Memphis. However, if they lose and Utah wins, they would be out of the playoffs, completing their disaster of a season.
The Rockets have already clinched a playoff spot, but their loss to Phoenix Monday night could drop them all the way to the 8th spot for a first round match up with Oklahoma City. However, if Golden State loses at Portland and the Rockets win, they could move all the way back to 6th.
As usual, it's complicated, but the bottom line is the Rockets need to win to keep themselves in decent position and, bonus, to help boot the Lakers out.
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The good news for the Rockets is that no matter what happens, this will give their young players tremendous playoff experience to build on for the future. Playoff intensity is different from the regular season and giving guys a chance to feel that firsthand would be a boon to their development. Even James Harden, who was an integral part in the Thunder's run to the NBA Finals last year, can benefit from increased exposure to the post season.
For the Lakers, the situation is a bit more dire. They already lost Kobe Bryant to an achilles tear a few days ago and Howard is a free agent in the offseason having not made a commitment on what he will do when free agency hits. Ironically, the Rockets would provide a not unlikely landing spot for the big man. Daryl Morey has position this team to have enough money to sign a max dollar free agent, the only playoff team with that store of cap space.
With so much on the line, the Rockets should be ready, but they have laid eggs in big games earlier in the season, so who knows. With all the youth, it is tough to know just who will show up. But, if the team that got all the way up to the 6th seed despite their lack of experience and massive turnover last summer shows up, I like our chances.