So, with the big win against Portland last night, Houston now has a 2-game lead over Portland for the 8th seed. But perhaps just as important, Utah and Golden State both lost and the Rockets are only three games back of the 6th seed. In fact, Memphis hasn't been playing particularly well as of late with Gay gone and Randolph upset, so technically they're only 4 1/2 games back of 5th.
My prediction? The Rockets finish with at least the 6th seed. If Memphis continues to fall, the Rockets will jump them as well to the 5th spot.
I'm aware that this is a bit premature and I hate to jinx this by making a terrible prediction. After starting off 21-14, it looked like the Rockets were poised to finish in that position too before that horrid 7-game losing streak. BUT, the hardest part of the schedule is past and the Rockets have an insanely easy stretch coming up that could help them gain a huge chunk of games on the rest of the Western Conference.
First, this next five-game stretch will be pretty tough: @ Sacramento, @ Golden State, @ LA Clippers, OKC and @ Brooklyn. But they should at least be able to go 2-3 in that stretch and possibly 3-2 or 4-1 if they play great basketball.
Now look at the next 12 games: @ Washington, Milwaukee, @Orlando, Dallas, @ Dallas, @ Golden State, @ Phoenix, Phoenix, Minnesota, Golden State, Utah, Cleveland. There isn't a single team in that stretch that legitimately scares me and there isn't a single game in that isn't winnable. They also play 7 of 12 of those at home (and follow it up with two home games with San Antonio and Indiana). They'll probably drop one to Dallas and/or Golden State and Utah and Minnesota are never easy wins, but what's the worst you could see them finishing in that stretch? 9-3? 8-4?
Let's suppose the worst case scenario for a minute... Say the Rockets go 2-3 in the next five games and then finish 8-4 in the next 12. That would put them at 38-31 with 13 games left on the schedule. In those last 13 games, they get games with Orlando, Sacramento twice and Phoenix twice, as well as winnable games against Western teams like the Lakers, Memphis twice and Denver. In fact, after the next five games, the Rockets only have to face Miami, OK, San Antonio or the Clippers a combined two times the entire rest of the season!
The rest of the schedule looks so easy, that the Rockets would almost have to collapse to not finish with at least 45 wins this year and 50 is certainly not out of the question. Anyone care to agree or disagree with me?