Ranking the Rockets' Potential First Round Opponents

Since Clint Capela returned, the Rockets have been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA.
Since Clint Capela returned, the Rockets have been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA. Photo by Eric Sauseda
As of writing this, the Rockets sit at third place in the Western Conference, a half game up on Portland. Even though the Blazers won the season series, the Rockets have the advantage because they won their division. So, if the teams end the season tied, the Rockets win the tie breaker.

But, the bigger concern for the Rockets is who they will face in round one of the playoffs. With five games remaining there are two-and-a-half games that separate the fifth through eighth seeded teams in the Western Conference. Let's break them down.

Utah Jazz
Current Position: 5
Series Prediction: Rockets in 5

This would seem to be the best match-up for the Rockets, a rematch of last year's conference semifinals. The Rockets play well against the Jazz and it would be difficult for Utah to keep up with the Rockets high-powered offense. If the Rockets continue playing defense the way they have since the All-Star break, this could be a sweep.

LA Clippers
Current Position: 6
Series Prediction: Rockets in 6

Right now, this is who the Rockets would open against and it would be the least desirable matchup. The Clippers, despite trading their best player at the deadline, have been remarkably consistent, playing fast and loose with little to loose. Former Rocket Lou Williams has been stellar and two other former Rockets, Patrick Beverley and Luc Mbah a Moute, would be very tough defensively. Still, the Rockets are certainly good enough to beat the Clips, it just wouldn't be easy.

San Antonio Spurs
Current Position: 7
Series Prediction: Rockets in 5

It's kind of amazing to look at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture and see the team that has dominated the West for what feels like decades. The Spurs are basically a shell of their former selves and just treading water at this point. Despite the long, storied I-10 rivalry, this wouldn't be much of a contest.

Oklahoma City Thunder
Current Position: 8
Series Prediction: Rockets in 6

And speaking of teams sinking like a stone, few teams in the NBA have crashed as quickly as the Thunder. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games and looking awful. They seem to be set up for a first round drubbing by the Warriors. But, if they somehow manage to right the ship and wind up playing the Rockets, it's not a terrible matchup for OKC. Given their recent failings, though, it's hard to imagine them challenging beyond game six.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke