Ranking the 5 Must-Watch Houston Rockets Games in January

Vinny Hardy@http://twitter.com/VinnyHardyCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2012

Ranking the 5 Must-Watch Houston Rockets Games in January

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    The wave of momentum the Houston Rockets were riding has encountered a couple of snags. They can no longer be called winners of five straight.

    Now they are winners of five out of their last seven after suffering setbacks against the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

    After a Dec. 31 home date against the Atlanta Hawks, it will be time to close the book on 2012 and see what January 2013 has in store.

    Houston should take advantage, the schedule isn't loaded with elite teams in January. This will be a good chance for the Rockets to gain some ground and improve on their current playoff positioning.

    Here's a look a the five best games of the month.

    All stats are accurate as of 12/31/12.

5. Boston Celtics

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    The Houston Rockets travel to Boston to take on the Celtics on Jan. 11. It will be Kevin McHale's first trip to the place he spent his entire career as a player since he lost his daughter Sasha on Nov. 24.

    From a basketball standpoint, it is a game the Rockets should win. Doc Rivers' Celtics are struggling, currently clinging to the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    The Rockets are 5-1 against the Atlantic Division, and they defeated Boston 101-89 in Houston as shown on the video.

4. Denver Nuggets

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    The NBA regular season is too long, the games are meaningless. These are complaints that are frequently brought up by those who aren't thrilled with the 82-game grind that is the regular season.

    Two games within a week (1/23 at Houston, 1/30 at Denver) against the Denver Nuggets could prove very meaningful for the Houston Rockets.

    The two teams are currently tied for sixth in the Western Conference. Houston is only mere percentage points ahead right now.

    A couple of wins here could provide Houston with a little breathing room.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    I've said it before, I'll say it again. This should always be the game where the Houston Rockets carry a grudge and take things a little personal.

    Granted, Luis Scola is no longer a member of the Houston Rockets. However, Kevin Love is still with Minnesota, and it is on all of the Rockets' bigs to limit him and keep him off the glass when they make their second trip to Minneapolis on Jan. 19.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves kicked the Rockets in the face, literally and figuratively, in 2011-12 as they won three out of four games.

    Houston won Round 1 in 2012-13 by three, 87-84.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    It will be Round 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers when they come to Houston on Jan. 8. 

    The two teams have already split two games. The Lakers won 119-108 on Nov. 18. Houston evened things up with a 107-105 victory on Dec. 4.

    This will be the first time Mike D' Antoni and Steve Nash play a role in the game. Nash missed the two prior contests with a leg injury. D' Antoni did as well, he had been hired by the Lakers but was hobbled by knee surgery and made his L.A. debut a few days later.

    The Lakers are currently 10th in the Western Conference but only a game behind the Rockets. Every win is critical and will only become more critical as the season progresses.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Toyota Center will play host to the best team in L.A. on Jan. 15. That's when the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Lakers, come to town.

    Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and company are playing out of their minds right now.

    If they keep doing what they're doing, they would hit Houston riding a 24-game winning streak.

    They have some tough back-to-backs to start 2013. They play the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 14 before flying to Houston.

    This will be a big test for the Rockets. Their struggles against Western Conference foes are obvious and are one of the main reasons they are at the bottom half of the playoff bracket.

    A win over Lob City would be a big boost for their confidence.