HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – Plenty of Rockets fans are probably still dazed and confused as to why a foul wasn’t called on the final possession when James Harden took the ball to the hoop on a potentially game-winning drive.
The bottom line, though, is that the Rockets lost 104-103 to the Spurs. And, with it, they lost their hold on the top three seeds, falling from third to sixth in one fell swoop. All of a sudden, playoff positioning has gone from important to dire for the Rockets.
So what’s next for the Rockets? Well, it highly depends on what everybody else does in the conference.
#2 Memphis (Record: 54-25; Remaining schedule: @Clippers, @Warriors, Pacers)
#3 San Antonio (Record: 54-26; Remaining schedule: Suns, @Pelicans)
#4 Portland (Record: 51-28; Remaining schedule: Jazz, @Thunder, @Mavericks)
#5 LA Clippers (Record: 53-26; Remaining schedule: Grizzlies, Nuggets, @Suns)
#6 Houston (Record: 53-26; Remaining schedule: Pelicans, @Hornets, Jazz)
Barring a major collapse by the Grizzlies, Spurs, and the Rockets in the last few games, the Blazers will most likely stay in the four seed, by virtue of their division title.
And, of course, anything can happen in the last few games. The Spurs could lose their remaining two games. Everybody else could lose and the Rockets could win the rest of their games and ascend back into the second seed. That’s a best-case scenario, but not a likely one.
Assuming that doesn’t happen and focusing on what might actually happen, here’s what Rockets fans should know: Based on the remaining schedules, the Grizzlies have the toughest games left. They have two games that they could very well lose in both the Clippers and the Warriors, although it remains to be seen how hard the Warriors play the rest of the way as they get ready for the playoffs.
The three seed is still possible for the Rockets. If the Grizzlies win out, Houston would need to also win out and have both the Spurs and Clippers lose at least once. If the Rockets get the three seed, they would either play the Spurs or the Clippers, depending on how each does in the remaining games. The Clippers, by the way, own the tiebreaker over the Spurs, by virtue of a better conference record. At this point, most people wouldn’t bet on the Spurs losing against the Suns or Pelicans, but stranger things have happened.
1) Warriors 2) Grizzlies 3) Rockets 4) Blazers 5) Clippers/Spurs 6) Spurs/Clippers
Now in the scenario where Memphis wins out, and if the Spurs win out as expected, as long as the Rockets win out too, this would mean the Clippers have at least one loss. This would also mean the Rockets would overtake the Clippers for fifth in the West and have home court against the Blazers, by virtue of having a better record.
So this is not a bad situation:
1) Warriors 2) Grizzlies 3) Spurs 4) Blazers 5) Rockets 6) Clippers
If the Grizzlies lose only one more game, they are still in position to win the Southwest Division unless both the Spurs and Rockets win out, which could very well happen. The Spurs would own the tiebreaker if all three teams tied. The Spurs would also own the two-seed tiebreaker if the Clippers joined in for the four-way tie. The Rockets lose all tiebreakers when matched up with the Grizzlies, Spurs, and the Clippers. In the event of a four-way tie, the Clippers would get the three seed and the Rockets would be matched up against them as the six seed.
1) Warriors 2) Spurs 3) Clippers 4) Blazers 5) Grizzlies 6) Rockets
If the Grizzlies lose one and the Spurs and Rockets win out, but the Clippers lose one, the three-way tie scenario would look like:
1) Warriors 2) Spurs 3) Grizzlies 4) Blazers 5) Rockets 6) Clippers
Another scenario to get to the five spot may be if the Grizzlies lose two games, which could happen. If the Spurs, Clippers, and Rockets all win out, there would be a three-way tie between the Spurs, Clippers, and Rockets. The Western Conference heirarchy would then be the following:
1) Warriors 2) Spurs 3) Clippers 4) Blazers 5) Rockets 6) Grizzlies
Of course, this sets up a potential second-round date with the Warriors, who the Rockets haven’t exactly been stellar against this season. But at this point, getting to the second round would be significant given what the Rockets may be facing. Also, if the Rockets lose any games, with the Pelicans looming as a legitimately difficult test, they would obviously need more help in the form of one more additional loss to the above scenarios from the Grizzlies, Spurs, and Clippers to escape the clutches of the six seed.