HOUSTON (CBS HOUSTON) – There’s a drastic difference in what the Rockets and Pelicans are battling for Sunday night at the Toyota Center, but make no mistake about it – this game is a must-win for both teams.
For Houston, they’ve already clinched a playoff spot. However, two losses to the Spurs took them from the two seed to now the sixth seed. The Rockets need help from the Grizzlies, Spurs, and Clippers to get out of the sixth spot, so it would benefit them to win all their remaining games, starting with Sunday against the Pelicans. For Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, he’s not thinking about what importance the last three games may have on the path ahead.
“Tonight’s the biggest game of the year,” he said. “And tomorrow night (against the Hornets) will be the biggest game of the year. We’ve just got to play tonight’s game, I don’t know.
“We’ve just got to go play,” McHale added. “We’ve got to go win a game. We had a chance last game, didn’t get it done. We’ve got to go out there and play well.”
A similar approach comes on the New Orleans end. The Pelicans are currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference, but Oklahoma City has the same record with three games remaining. Pelicans head coach Monty Williams says the focus is solely on the Rockets and not the playoff race.
“We’ve been chasing something and yet, you can’t grab a hold of that until you take care of what’s at hand,” Williams said. “And that’s tonight’s game – the next phase. We try not to get too far ahead of ourselves as far as our schedule goes. Your natural instinct is to look at all that stuff. For me, I’ve always pointed to our guys to have them think about the next phase. Tonight, that’s just our (team) meeting. After that, the game.”
Oklahoma City has a game against the Pacers on Sunday that will be going on while the Pelicans face the Rockets. Asked if he would sneak a glance at the scoreboard during the game, Williams replied, “No.” Asked if maybe he’d check the score at the half, he again said, “No.” Afterwards, though? The Pelicans coach silently nodded with a smile as the reporters around him burst out laughing at the sequence.
Still, it’s clear that the Pelicans’ focus is not on what’s at stake, but is on the immediate task at hand.
“Tonight’s game is the only thing we’re thinking about,” Williams said. “We win tonight and do what we’re supposed to, (then) we’ll think about the next phase, so (the playoff race is) just not part of our focus. We won’t allow it to be.
“We have a job tonight ahead of us, and that’s to beat the Rockets,” he added. “It’s just taking care of the business in front of you. If you do that, it makes everything else not easier, but attainable.”