The Rockets NBA season high 17-game winning streak came to an end on Friday in Toronto. It was only the second loss of the season when James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela were all in the lineup. Toronto, which has the best record in the Eastern Conference, led by as many as 20 before the Rockets rallied to lose by three. The Raptors defense gave the Rockets some issues, particularly from behind the arc as the Rockets dropped the season series to Toronto 0-2.
Fortunately, Minnesota did the Rockets a solid beating the Warriors on Sunday just hours before the Rockets took out the Dallas Mavericks by 23 in Dallas thanks to another big effort from Eric Gordon, who has been stellar over the last handful of games. It gives the Rockets a two-game lead in the loss column to go with the tiebreaker the Rockets own. With 16 games left in the regular season, the Rockets would only need to be mediocre and the Warriors near perfect to keep Houston from the top seed in the West and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
But, crazier things have happened at the end of seasons and the Rockets face a daunting week of games ahead starting at home against San Antonio Monday night. The Spurs have struggled recently, going 2-8 in their last 10 and falling all the way to seventh in the playoff seedings. The Rockets will have the added advantage of a rested Harden, who sat out Sunday night's win.
Thursday, the Clippers are in town, but that is followed by back-to-back games at New Orleans and Minnesota, a ridiculous travel schedule against a team that has given the Rockets troubles in the Pelicans and a T-Wolves team anxious to hand the Rockets (a team that has beaten them every game this year by 18) a loss. If that weren't enough, it's followed up another road game against the red hot Trailblazers and then back home to face a tough Pistons team despite recent struggles.
If the Rockets can make it through that six-game gauntlet, the final 10 of the season will see them almost entirely at home and with only a handful of games against playoff teams. Undoubtedly, the goal will be to get through the next six games still atop the standings so they can rest and get their rotations straight as they close out the regular season.
But, there is still a ways to go. In the 2011-12 season, the Rockets had the inside track to make the playoffs but lost seven of their last nine games and spent the offseason wondering what happened. This team is obviously far more talented and they are clearly going to be one of the top seeded teams in the West, but they want the number one spot guaranteeing them home court throughout. They will need to keep winning to make that happen. Unfortunately, at least for the next week or so, the schedule isn't cooperating.