The Houston Rockets have lost two games in a row with last night’s defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers, and are likely to lose three games in a row for the first time this season as they prepare to take on the Golden State Warriors on the second night of a back-to-back. James Harden and Patrick Beverley looked bad against the Trail Blazers, Lou Williams showed the “cold” part of being a hot and cold player, and the defense was miserable against Portland.
The Rockets themselves clearly appeared disappointed by the loss, as Harden stated afterwards that “I have to do a better job of closing the game out” and Trevor Ariza observed that “we have to get back to our old mindset” of being ready to play. But should the Rockets be worried, or is this is just little blip which everyone will forget about in a week or two?
Scheduling, Seeding, and Injuries
Even if the Rockets lose to the Warriors tonight, that will do little to alter who they face at the end of the postseason. Houston still has a greater than 99 percent chance of finishing at the third seed. The Rockets will have six games left after the Warriors. Only one of them is against a playoff team, and that is against the Los Angeles Clippers, a team which Houston has beaten in both of their previous meetings.
And while Harden appears to be slipping behind Russell Westbrook in the media narrative surrounding this MVP race, he could get the last laugh in the games which actually matter. The Rockets will still likely face the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, and Houston’s excellent three-point shooting against a team which has serious spacing issues makes them a bad matchup for Westbrook’s Thunder.
But that does assume the Rockets are ready for the playoffs. Harden for the past few games has been clearly bothered by a jammed left wrist, and the Ryan Anderson injury has been a serious problem for this team. Houston already had size issues even with Anderson playing, and this team unsurprisingly has had bigger problems collecting boards and fighting big men like Jusuf Nurkic, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds against the Rockets.
On top of those physical issues is the reasonable concern that the Rockets may check out for the season. With practically nothing to play for at this point, the Rockets can afford to take it easy and rest key players like Harden down the stretch. But at the same time, Houston cannot afford to nap and then be caught flat-footed and lethargic when the playoffs start.
There are still about two weeks left in the season, which is plenty of time for the Rockets to clinch the third seed, rest a bit, and then get pumped for the postseason. Rockets fans should not overreact if this team does lose three games in a row. But if this team cannot get healthy, crash the glass, and improve their defense, then they could find themselves in a bad situation and quickly wreck their surprising championship hopes.