In about a month, the Rockets will open training camp followed by the beginning of preseason. In case you hadn't checked your calendar, October 1 is six weeks away, the Texans are already in training camp (one preseason game in the books) and the Astros are racing toward the postseason.
Recently, the NBA released its regular season schedule for every team including the Rockets. There is less to quibble about in terms of back-to-backs and wild road trips than just the recognition that the Western Conference is going to be so good, there won't be many soft spots in anyone's schedule. Here are some initial thoughts.
The season start is...weird.
After a home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks matching the last two years' MVPs, the Rockets play six games in eight nights, the final four of which includes a four-travel-games-in-five-nights stint. That's pretty tough coming out of the gate. Fortunately, most are against likely inferior opponents. An interesting Pelicans (sans Anthony Davis) team comes in second followed by the return of Chris Paul and OKC. Then, they hit the road for four in Washington, Brooklyn, Miami and Memphis (all back-to-backs), not exactly murderers row, but certainly a disadvantage given the schedule and travel. If they come out of that stretch looking good, it will be a bonus.
Early-season matchup with the Clippers.
In the first three weeks of the season, the Rockets will see both the Warriors and the Clippers, but the Clippers will be (we assume) at full strength, while the Warriors will be missing Klay Thompson, never mind Kevin Durant's departure in the off-season. The Clippers and their wild maneuvering to land both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George has made them one of the favorites to win it all. This early match on ESPN will set an interesting tone for the rest of the season.
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Happy holiday schedule.
Once again, the Rockets get a Christmas Day match-up, this one in Golden State with the Warriors. The annual spate of games on Christmas often delivers some rather heated mid-season games between quality opponents. It is unlikely Thompson will be back yet, so where the Warriors are and how healthy they can be will be fascinating to follow. The other holiday game is the Rockets annual New Year's Eve game at Toyota Center. This year, they will ring in 2020 playing host to the feisty Denver Nuggets.
Rockets could clean up on their way to the postseason.
Every season is tough at one point or another, but what starts with some odd scheduling ends with what should be a smooth finish. The final eight games of the season — the entire month of April — will be in Texas. It begins with the toughest two tests against the Warriors and defending-champion Raptors. After that, the final opponents include Dallas, San Antonio (twice), Washington, Phoenix and Memphis. A couple of those teams could be near the bottom of the league. If there is any fighting for position in the postseason happening, count this as a favorable stretch for the Rockets.