Rockets Potential First Round Match Ups Present Different Challenges

Rockets look to run in round one against some interesting, but inferior teams.
Rockets look to run in round one against some interesting, but inferior teams. Photo by Eric Sauseda
By Friday night, it is likely the Rockets will have clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and home court advantage throughout the entire playoffs including the NBA Finals, were they to make it that far. They hold a six-and-a-half game lead on the Warriors who seem content to rest their stars until they are healthy. This is a remarkable accomplishment for the team and a first in franchise history.

But, what lies ahead for them in the first round of the playoffs. Currently, there are six teams vying for the final spots in the West. Regardless of who they meet, the Rockets should win and decisively, but some match ups are better than others.

As of writing this, the Rockets would face the Utah Jazz, but that is far from set with still 8 or 9 games remaining depending on the team with some schedules much tougher than others. For now, we'll break them all down.

Utah Jazz
Record Against the Rockets: 0-4
Most interesting individual match up: Clint Capela vs. Rudy Gobert
Prediction: Rockets in 5

Despite having one of the league's best defenses, Utah has been mostly helpless against the Rockets losing by an average of 17 points while allowing the Rockets to score an average of 116 on them. But, Utah's defense is unique and they could force the Rockets to slog through a slowed down version of themselves. Still, the Jazz would be an extreme long shot.

Denver Nuggets
Record Against the Rockets: 0-3
Most interesting individual match up: P.J. Tucker vs. Nikola Jokic
Prediction: Rockets in 4

Much like the Jazz, the Rockets have piled on the Nuggets winning by an average of 20. The Nuggets have been wildly inconsistent all season. A win over the Rockets would be more significant than when their team led by Dikembe Mutumbo beat the Seattle (yes, Seattle) Sonics in the first round of the 1994 playoffs.

New Orleans Pelicans
Record Against the Rockets: 1-3
Most interesting individual match up: James Harden vs. Jrue Holiday
Prediction: Rockets in 5

Before DeMarcus Cousins went down with a season-ending ankle injury, the Pelicans offered a difficult match up for the Rockets with their size and length on the low box. Without Cousins, despite the presence of MVP contender Anthony Davis, they just don't have the firepower to match up with Houston.

San Antonio Spurs
Record Against the Rockets: 0-3 (one game remaining)
Most interesting individual match up: Chris Paul vs. Dejounte Murray
Prediction: Rockets in 5

The loss of Kawhi Leonard has failed to keep the Spurs from the playoffs, even as Greg Poppovich pieces together a lineup out of bailing wire and former All-Stars. Avenging the loss in the playoffs last year would be sweet, but even if Leonard was playing, it wouldn't be likely to sway the outcome.

LA Clippers
Record Against the Rockets: 2-2
Most interesting individual match up: Trevor Ariza vs. Tobias Harris
Predictions: Rockets in 6

You have to hand it to the Clippers. Not only have the been pretty good against the Rockets this season, but they've hung in despite the trade of Blake Griffin. It is also worth noting that since the brawl against the Rockets in LA back in January, the Rockets have gone 31-2. The Clips are tenacious, but they are likely on the outside looking in come playoff time.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Record Against the Rockets: 0-4
Most interesting individual match up: Trevor Ariza vs. Jimmy Butler
Prediction: Rockets in 4

The Rockets mastery over the T-Wolves has been a textbook in how difficult match ups can favor one team over another, despite talent. It also demonstrates just how far the Wolves have to go even with the monster talent of Karl-Anthony Townes. In the first three games against them, the Rockets won by 17 in each game. They are just too much for Minnesota.
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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