After starting the season losing seven of their first 10 games, the Houston Rockets have won 12 of their last 16, including a seven-game winning streak in January.
If the Rockets keep playing the kind of consistent basketball fans have been enjoying over the last month, the team will be a serious playoff contender for the first time since Yao Ming and Ron Artest were wearing red and white.
In the following slides, I have selected 10 pivotal games remaining on the Rockets schedule that could ultimately determine the team’s postseason fate. I will also predict the outcome of each contest.
There is no mistaking that the Utah Jazz are a completely different team when they play away from the confines of Salt Lake City. The Jazz currently have a 13-11 record, with only two of those wins coming in an opposing team’s arena.
When the Jazz come to the Toyota Center in mid-February, the Rockets will be favored to win, barring any major injury. If the Rockets have hopes of staying relevant in the playoff picture, they must win the games they are expected to.
Prediction: The Rockets will beat the Jazz in Houston, where the team has won 10 of its first 13 contests.
This is one of those matchups on the Houston Rockets schedule that has “trap game” written all over it.
The Rockets game against the Raptors is their sixth straight home game and their first following the All-Star break. Let’s hope all of the home cooking and time off doesn’t lead to the Rockets losing focus against a team they should beat.
Prediction: It won’t. The Rockets will take care of business against the Raps before playing six of their next eight games on the road.
The Houston Rockets begin a five-game, seven-day road trip against the Boston Celtics at the beginning of March.
A good start to the road trip would set the tone for the entire roadie, which, in turn, could possibly set the tone for the team making the playoffs for the first time in three years.
Prediction: In his first trip to Boston as head coach of the Houston Rockets, Kevin McHale will lead his Rockets to a win over the organization he helped lead to three titles in the 1980s.
The Houston Rockets will be looking for revenge when they travel to Oklahoma City on March 13th. In one of their worst losses of the season, the Thunder beat the Rockets by 15 points in Oklahoma City.
The Rockets be looking to redeem themselves from their early-season loss. But this game will also serve as a good measuring stick. The Thunder are currently the best team in the Western Conference. Unless something drastic happens, this will likely remain the case for the rest of the season.
A late-season win against the mighty Thunder would not only bolster the Rockets in the standings, but it could give them tons of confidence going forward.
Prediction: Unfortunately, the Rockets will come up short once again in The Sooner State. But the contest will be much more competitive than the first.
During a stretch of games in late March, the Houston Rockets play four straight home games against Western Conference foes, including the Dallas Mavericks on March 24th.
No matter what the two teams' records are, whenever these two in-state rivals lock horns, it’s always fun to watch.
Both teams are relevant in the playoff picture for the first time in many seasons, making this showdown all the more savory.
Prediction: Behind a 40-point game from Kevin Martin, the Rockets sneak away with the hard-fought win.
At least the Rockets get to face the Bulls at the beginning of their road trip rather than the end. The team will still need to play near-perfect basketball to beat the Bulls in Chicago.
Prediction: After the game remains close for three quarters, the Bulls have a huge fourth quarter, winning the game by double digits.
The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers currently hold the fourth and seventh seeds in the Western Conference, respectively.
Assuming both teams remain in the playoff picture throughout the course of the season, their late-season showdown in Los Angeles could have a major impact on the conference’s playoff seeding.
Prediction: The combination of an Andrew Bynum playing the best basketball of his career and the Lakers playing at home (they are currently 11-2 on their home floor) will result in the Rockets’ second loss at Staples Center this season.
After playing in the high altitude of Denver, Colorado the night before, the Houston Rockets host the Nuggets in the second game of a home-and-home series between the two Western Conference foes.
A late-season game against any Western Conference team has to be considered an important game.
Prediction: After losing in Denver the night before, the Rockets return the favor at the Toyota Center.
In the only meeting between the two teams this season, the Houston Rockets travel to South Beach to take on the Miami Heat in the second to last game of the 2011-12 season.
I am sure the Rockets wouldn’t have minded this game being scheduled a little earlier in the season. There is no good time to play such a good team as the Heat, but playing them so close to the end of the season, where the games potentially hold more weight, could be the difference in the Rockets making the playoffs and sitting at home watching them.
Prediction: By this point, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat should be clicking on all cylinders, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the league. That includes the Rockets, who will come up short in this late-season showdown.
The Houston Rockets host the New Orleans Hornets in the last game of the 2011-12 regular season. Given the fact the Western Conference is so competitive year in and year out, how the Rockets play in their showdown against the lowly Hornets could ultimately determine their seeding in the Western Conference playoffs.
Or if they make the postseason at all.
Prediction: The Rockets will beat the Hornets, solidifying a playoff spot in the bottom half (5 thru 8) of the Western Conference Playoff bracket.