Wednesday’s loss to the Utah Jazz sucked. It was ridiculous watching the Jazz hit every three pointer like they were the Warriors, it was ridiculous watching Rudy Gobert like the defensive fusion of Hakeem and Dikembe Mutombo, and it sucked to watch just absolutely uninspired defense from the Rockets. If that was not bad enough, the Utah are now just three games behind the Houston Rockets with the tiebreaker.
But despite that bad loss, the Rockets still have a 92 percent chance of hanging onto the third seed. In fact, it may turn out that the Rockets may not actually want to be the third seed after all thanks to the realistic possibility of the Durant-less Warriors falling to the second seed.
A look at the schedule
The Utah Jazz are essentially just two games behind the Rockets, and each team has 17 games left in the season. Why is the possibility of the Jazz catching up so unlikely?
Because Houston’s schedule for the rest of the season is much easier. The Rockets have only five games left against teams with a +.500 record. They have two games against the Golden State Warriors, and one against Cleveland, Oklahoma City, and the Los Angeles Clippers. After facing the Cavaliers on Sunday, the Rockets will have a two-week stretch where they play teams like New Orleans and Denver. Furthermore, the Rockets will only have five games over that two-week stretch which should help this team stay rested.
Meanwhile, the Jazz have nine games against teams with a +.500 record. This includes two games against San Antonio and the Clippers, as well as one game against the Warriors and Cavaliers. It is true that their final two games will be against the Spurs and Warriors, which could mean that those two teams may rest their stars depending on their playoff seeding. But given how close they are right now, it is just as likely that they will play hard to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Third or Fourth?
However, that competition between the Spurs and Warriors changes the dynamic of whether Houston actually wants the third seed. Even a Warriors team with a hobbled Durant is still a greater threat to Houston’s championship hopes than the Spurs. Even though the Rockets lost to the Spurs on Sunday, it was a close game and I have no doubt that the Rockets would have a fair shot at defeating San Antonio in a 7-game series.
But the Warriors just have too many weapons and are a bad matchup for the Rockets overall. They take the things Houston is good at and do them even better, which is not helped by the fact that the Rockets have been bad at defending the three-point line (and the game against Utah shows they have not gotten better).
The Rockets will almost certainly continue to play their hardest, as the odds still remain in favor of Golden State retaining the #1 seed. They will also likely keep the third seed as they have an easier schedule than Utah. But even if the Rockets somehow fall to fourth, it may not be that bad depending on what happens between the two teams above them right now.