The Houston Rockets solidified their grip on the top spot in the Western Conference standings, while perennial contender San Antonio Spurs are now in danger of missing the 2018 NBA Playoffs. The Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Milwaukee Bucks also improved their playoff chances.
The Rockets extended their lead in the Western Conference playoff race after scoring a masterful 109-93 win over the Spurs on Monday at the Toyota Center in Houston. James Harden returned from a knee injury and led his team with 28 points, six rebound, and six assists.
Harden sparked a huge rally, scoring 16 points in the third quarter to give the Rockets a commanding 88-67 lead heading into the final period. The Spurs had their moments in the fourth quarter, but the Rockets did not look back en route to the huge victory.
Chris Paul also had another solid performance with 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting, while Clint Capela posted 13 points and nine rebounds. Trevor Ariza added 15 points and five boards, while Gerald Green provided a huge lift off the bench with 14 points and nine rebounds for Houston.
With the win, the Rockets improved to 53-14, and are now two games ahead of the defending champion Golden State Warriors (51-16) in the race for the top spot. The Rockets have won in nine of their last 10 games, including their last two matches.
On the other hand, the Spurs dropped to 37-30 and are now in 10th spot in the West. They have now lost in five of their last six games. San Antonio could get a boost, though, with the possible return of Kawhi Leonard. According to ESPN, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will meet Leonard on Tuesday to talk about his comeback.
Meanwhile, Portland and Oklahoma City also maintained their respective positions in the West playoff picture. The Trail Blazers (41-26) are still in third place after scoring a 115-99 home win against the Miami Heat. The Thunder (40-29) remained fourth after escaping with a 106-101 victory over the already-eliminated Sacramento Kings.
With the loss to the Thunder, the Heat dropped to eighth in the Eastern Conference standings with their 36-32 record. Miami is still five games ahead of the ninth-running Detroit Pistons (30-36), and 6.5 games ahead of the Charlotte Hornets (29-38).
The Bucks took the seventh spot after scoring a 121-103 win over the cellar-dwelling Memphis Grizzlies. Brandon Jennings had a solid season debut for the Bucks, finishing with 16 points, 12 assists, and eight boards. Khris Middleton led the team in scoring with 24 points, while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 20 points.