Rockets best record in 2008 but still out of the playoffs
The Rockets have gone 17-3 since January 3, the best record from that date to the current All Star break. But with 30 games left in the regular season, in spite of that run they are still in 9th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoff picture. The Rockets are 4.5 games behind the Conference leading Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Hornets.
This is an indication of both how poorly the Rockets played before Jan. 3 (15-17) and how competitive the Western Conference is. Plus, of the 20 games in the 17-3 record, six were against Western Conference foes ahead of them in the schedule (wins vs. SA, Golden State and Portland twice, losses to New Orleans and Utah); there was no Dallas, Lakers or Suns in that mix. The Rockets are playing well, but the opponents have not been the cream of the crop.
The West may have gotten tougher with the additions of Shaq in Phoenix and Pau Gausol in LA…and, maybe, Jason Kidd if the Mavs do get him. “May” is the operative word, as all of these additions are somewhat risky, given either the players in the trade (Shaq is beaten up, Kidd is turbulent) or the players on the teams (Kobe, ’nuff said).
The Rockets are in fact playing better; Chuck Hayes is a hard worker, but the insertion of Luis Scola into the lineup has given the Rockets more offense and a bit of an edge. The rookies Brooks and Landry continue to play well, and T-Mac seems to have found a niche as a playmaker.
The schedule immediately after the break favors the Rockets with four homes games against weaker teams (Miami, Memphis, Washington, Chicago) and a couple of tests on the road (Cleveland, New Orleans).
The month of March will make or break the Rockets season. Eight of their fifteen games (nine home, six road) are against teams currently about them in the Western Conference standings. Throw in a home game against Boston and the Rockets certainly have the opportunity to either shine or sink.
I believe the Rockets will make the playoffs, but I do not believe they will pass Phoenix, Dallas or New Orleans. The Spurs appear to be finally aging, and the Lakers success will depend on Kobe’s injury, Bynum’s recovery and how well the team gets along. The Rockets could be seeded anywhere from 1st to 8th, but I believe they will be somewhere between 5th and 7th.