The Houston Rockets are currently third in the Western Conference behind the dominant Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Though Houston is pretty much guaranteed the third spot, it is still uncertain who they will play in the first round of the playoffs. The Houston Rockets will play against whoever ends up in the sixth slot. Currently there is only two and a half games separating the fifth through seventh spots. These slots are filled with the Clippers, Grizzlies, and Thunder, respectively. With still about 10 games remaining in the season for each team, it is unknown who the Rockets will face.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Rockets have won both meetings this season by an average of more than 20 points. However, the Clippers were not completely healthy in both these match-ups. They were battling injuries to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul earlier this year. They have each only played the Rockets in one game this season. Out of the three teams the Houston Rockets are most likely to face in the first round of the playoffs, the Clippers’ defensive rating is the worst. They are currently tied for 19th in the league.
The Houston team has one of the most prolific offensive teams in the league and this Clippers team is unlikely to slow them down. It will be important for Patrick Beverley to be healthy and continue with his usual stubborn aggressive self for this match-up. The Houston Rockets will need him on the defensive side to slow down the engine of Chris Paul.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Going into Thursday night’s games, the OKC Thunder were a game and a half behind the Clippers and a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies. This will be the most likely match-up for the Houston Rockets in the first round but this could change in an instant. If this were to be the first round match-up, it would be a great one to watch, the two most highly regarded candidates for MVP this season going head to head and throwing up nightly triple doubles.
So far, the Houston Rockets are leading the season series 2-1 with one more game remaining in Houston. Russell Westbrook is averaging 35.3 points per game on 51.1 percent shooting against the Rockets this season. A huge possible disadvantage for the Rockets would be the Thunder’s defensive efficiency at guarding the three-point line. The Thunder has allowed the fourth fewest three pointers in the NBA while the Rockets live and die from night to night by the three-point shots.
James Harden, on the other hand, has averaged more points against his former team in his career than against any other opponent.
The aged Memphis Grizzlies are seventh in the Western Conference. This season, The Rockets and Grizzlies have each won two. In their two most recent meetings, however, the Rockets have beat the Grizzlies.
The Rockets have been able to keep Randolph’s scoring under control by using Nene off the bench who is known to be a strong physical defender.
These are the three most likely opponents the Houston Rockets will face in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Rockets should be a strong favorite in each of the three match-ups, especially with their home court advantage.
The Thunder match-up will be a showcase of athleticism between two of the greatest stars in the league. Russel Westbrook’s sheer determination to win is exuded with every single one of his drives and rebounds. The Grizzlies have a defense that will certainly challenge the Rockets. The Clippers will have two stars that have repeatedly been to the playoffs. Regardless of who the Rockets play, it should be a great series to watch.
[Featured Image by Harry How/Getty Images]