Houston Rockets: How Far Will They Go in the NBA Playoffs This Season?

Vinny HardyCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2013

Jan 15, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (7) talks to head coach Kevin McHale against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second quarter at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets are sitting at 21-18 as the midway point of the NBA season approaches. In spite of their slide of late, they are still having a somewhat surprising season for such a young team.

The wave of momentum they were riding before this slide was really good to see. The flip side of being so young means that losing streaks will rear their ugly head as well from time to time. 

If they duplicate that record over the next 39 games, they will be 42-36 with four games left in the season—right about where I thought they would be at the beginning of the year.

This team just kind of had that 44-38 vibe about them, and that was prior to the James Harden trade. It would definitely be an improvement over last season's lockout-shortened 34-32 mark.

Making the playoffs isn't a guarantee for the Rockets. They are currently hovering around—more like clinging to—the No. 7 seed with the Utah Jazz getting larger and larger in their rear-view mirror.

For the sake of conversation, let's assume they break out of this slump, finish strong and earn a postseason berth.

How would they fare?

Probably not too well, to be completely honest. They could pull off a Golden State Warriors type upset, but it's not likely.

As of now, the top four spots in the Western Conference are occupied by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.

Houston's record against these teams is a combined 1-7. This trend doesn't exactly instill confidence if they were to face any one of them in a seven-game series.

The Rockets youth, a positive from a long-term standpoint, will be a detriment in the short term. All four of these teams have playoff experienced. They have all been there and know what it takes to win in the postseason.

Even the Clippers have won a grueling Game 7 on the road at Memphis.

Houston is the youngest team in the NBA, and the bulk of the team is playing together for the first time. They have had moments where things have clicked really well. There have also been times when things were rough. Some nights (at New Orleans on Jan. 9) the shots just aren't going to fall for them.

In the playoffs all of these things are magnified, especially the growing pains. The only way to gain experience is to go through the process.

A lot of times that means taking some lumps.

Opponents won't allow the Rockets to score as easily in the playoffs as they have thus far in the regular season. On the other hand, opposing offenses will have time to exploit Houston on the defensive end even more than they have at this point.

How will the young guys react when defenses take James Harden and Jeremy Lin away? Will Chandler Parsons or someone else be able to step up?

James Harden's playoff experience will be valuable, but it may not be enough to pull them through in their first go-round.

What if Omer Asik gets into foul trouble? Do the rest of the bigs step up and shoulder the load protecting the paint and cleaning the glass?

These and others are some of the questions that they will all face together as they gear up to make their first playoff run.

Again, young teams have to go through the process. No one said that it would be easy. It is quite possible that Houston's playoff grind will only last four or five games.

If that's the case, it would be still be a valuable learning experience for the young Rockets going forward.

All stats are accurate as of 1/16/13.