There has been no shortage of sports fare to satisfy our appetites lately here in Houston. The Deshaun Watson Era could be dawning here very soon, with the second preseason game a few days away, the Astros are making the race for the American League's best record a lot closer than we probably want, and college football is just two weeks away.
Amidst a summer where they've done an incredible job of staying relevant — a trade for Chris Paul, a near trade for Carmelo Anthony, and the team being put up for sale — the Rockets have found themselves temporarily placed on the back burner. However, the league unveiled the schedule on Monday night (hey, it's SOMETHING!), so that give us a decent reason to resume dreaming about the 2017-2018 season.
In looking at the schedule in its entirety, the first thing that jumps out is the early start. The season opener is around two weeks earlier than normal, which is one way that the league is trying to cut down on back-to-back games, which should, in theory, cut down on the amount of times we see teams resting star players. Here are a few more observations, as you ponder which games to purchase tickets for this season:
1. The Rockets are on national television A LOT.
A few years ago, pre-James Harden, when the Rockets were a spunky, competitive, back end of the lottery team whose biggest star was Kevin Martin, you could count on one hand how many times the Rockets were on national television in a given season. My, how times have changed. This season, on the strength of a backcourt of Harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets are the second most nationally televised team in the league, with 40 games going out to the whole country, behind only 43 for Golden State. (Yes, the Rockets have more nationally televised games than LeBron James!) The breakdown of Rocket games by network:
NBA TV: 12
2. The league is making sure the Rockets are part of all the special occasions.
How do you know you're sitting on a potential "super team"? You know it when the league includes you in all of the major dates on the league calendar. The Rockets are the second half of the opening night double header (at Golden State), the prime time spot on Christmas night (at Oklahoma City) and the final game of the night on Martin Luther King Day (at the Clippers). That's respect!
3. When are the Rocket "grudge matches"?
I would say the pool of Rockets "grudge level" opponents is fairly small — Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland (because of LeBron), the Clippers (because they're Paul's old team), Oklahoma City (because they're Harden's old team and because Westbrook), and Dallas (because Dallas). So here you go (all times local Houston times):
Tuesday 10/17 @ Golden State 9:30 p.m. (TNT)
Saturday 10/21 vs. Dallas 7:00 p.m.
Thursday 11/9 vs. Cleveland 7:00 p.m. (TNT)
Friday 12/15 vs. San Antonio 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Friday 12/22 vs. LA Clippers 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
Monday 12/25 @ Oklahoma City 7:00 p.m. (ABC)
Thursday 1/4 vs. Golden State 7:00 p.m. (TNT)
Monday 1/15 @ LA Clippers 9:30 p.m. (TNT)
Saturday 1/20 vs. Golden State 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Wednesday 1/24 @ Dallas 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
Thursday 2/1 @ San Antonio 7:00 p.m. (TNT)
Saturday 2/3 @ Cleveland 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Sunday 2/11 vs. Dallas 6:00 p.m. (NBATV)
Wednesday 2/28 @ LA Clippers 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday 3/6 @ Oklahoma City 7:00 p.m. (TNT)
Sunday 3/11 @ Dallas 6:00 p.m.
Monday 3/12 vs. San Antonio 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
Thursday 3/15 vs. LA Clippers 7:00 p.m. (NBATV)
Sunday 4/1 @ San Antonio 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
Saturday 4/7 vs. Oklahoma City 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
4. Back to backs are still a bit of an issue.
Despite the revamped schedule, which is stretched out over another couple weeks, the Rockets still have their fair share of back-to-back nights with games. There are 14 instances of this on the schedule, including four in the month of March. In an odd scheduling quirk, the Rockets open and close the season with back-to-back nights of games that end with games in Sacramento.
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5. The toughest stretch of schedule
NBA fans are very familiar with rodeo season in San Antonio, when the rodeo comes to town and the Spurs are forced to go on the road for what seems like an entire month. Well, it just so happens the Rockets toughest chunk of schedule overlaps with the Houston rodeo (which is a total coincidence because they don't share the building with the rodeo). Here it is:
Friday, February 23 vs. Minnesota
Sunday, February 25 @ Denver
Monday, February 26 @ Utah
Wednesday, February 28 @ LA Clippers
Saturday, March 3 vs. Boston
Tuesday, March 6 @ Oklahoma City
Wednesday, March 7 @ Milwaukee
Friday, March 9 @ Toronto
Sunday, March 11 @ Dallas
Monday, March 12 vs. San Antonio
Thursday, March 15 vs. LA Clippers
Saturday, March 17 @ New Orleans
Sunday, March 18 @ Minnesota
Tuesday, March 20 @ Portland
This is a 14-game stretch out of the All Star Break, which starts with one of the Western Conference dark horses in Minnesota. From there, the Rockets play a back to back in altitude (Denver, Utah) and then to a grudge match with Paul's old team. They come home for one game against one of the East's two best teams (Boston), before embarking on a four-game road trip, which includes three playoff teams and a rivalry game in Dallas. They come home for the Spurs and Clippers before finishing out with a three-game road trip that hits the Deep South (New Orleans), the great, white north (Minnesota), and the Pacific Northwest (Portland) in four nights. Yikes.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.