After enduring a seven-game losing streak in the month of January, the Houston Rockets look to turn the page on the calendar and look towards an 11-game schedule in February.
What's in store for the Rockets in the shortest month of the year?
February is a quirky month on the NBA calendar. Both the All-Star break and the trading deadline make for a hectic month, despite fewer games than any other full month.
As the Rockets look to hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and possibly move up the ladder, seven of the 11 games they will play will be against teams that would make the playoffs if they started today.
The .541 (264-224) winning percentage of Houston's opponents points to a difficult month for Houston.
Each game will have its own challenges along the way.
The Rockets kick things off with perhaps their easiest game of the month, taking on the league-worst (11-33) Charlotte Bobcats.
The two teams met back on Jan. 21, and the Bobcats were just what the doctor ordered for the Rockets to end their seven-game skid. Houston beat Charlotte 100-94 on the road.
The Rockets overcame Kemba Walker's career-high 35 points, as James Harden poured in 29 points, and Marcus Morris had 21 points and a career-high eight rebounds.
At the time, the loss was Charlotte's 15th straight at home. That streak has since ended.
But the fact remains that the Bobcats are not a good team. They have won just six times on the road. The Rockets have 15 home wins.
PREDICTION: Rockets win 104-88 (1-0 in February)
As Jeremy Lin is telling us in the photo, Game No. 2 of the month of February is against his old mates, the Golden State Warriors.
This matchup would have looked a lot easier for the Rockets in years past.
But not so much this year.
Head coach Mark Jackson has got the Warriors playing very good basketball in his second year at the helm. After earning 23 wins in a lockout-shortened season in 2011-12, Jackson and the Warriors already have 28 wins this season and currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference.
Golden State is looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
The Rockets and Warriors have yet to play each other in the current season. They will meet twice in the month of February.
The Warriors boast All-Star David Lee, center Andrew Bogut, who returns from ankle surgery and guys like Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry who provide complementary production.
However, at this point in time, the main concern for the Warriors is the health of Stephen Curry.
Curry missed Golden State's game on Nov. 29th with an ankle injury. The words "Curry" and "ankle injury" have been in the same sentence far too often throughout his NBA career and is cause for concern. He is currently listed as day-to-day.
Don't expect low-scoring contests when these two teams lock horns. They are two of the 10 teams that average over 100 points per game this season.
But, with Curry possibly out or at least hobbled, the Rockets have the edge at home.
PREDICTION: Rockets win 109-104 (2-0 in February)
Despite a then career-high 25 points from Chandler Parsons, the Rockets fell to 3-4 on the young season. James Harden and Jeremy Lin combined to shoot just 36 percent (9-for-25) from the floor.
The rematch comes in Miami, where the Heat are 18-3 this season.
Houston will have to find an answer to slow down LeBron more than they did in the first meeting. Allowing him to score 32 in a half is unacceptable.
After getting off to a slow start and digging themselves a 15-point hole in the first quarter, the Rockets clawed their way back and had the lead. Unlike the defending champions, the young Rockets are still in the process of learning how to put teams away more consistently.
The Rockets could not do so against the Heat in November. The task will be even tougher in South Beach in February.
Houston has lost six in a row to Miami. Look for the streak to run to seven.
PREDICTION: Rockets lose 98-88 (2-1 in February)
Two things have occurred both times the Rockets have met the Trail Blazers this season:
2. Houston losses
The two losses came 13 days apart back in early to mid-November.
In the first matchup, James Harden scored "only" 24 points in the third game of the season after dropping 37 and 45 in his first two games in a Rockets uniform. Rookie Damian Lillard scored scored eight of his 20 points in the extra session, and the Blazers won, 95-85, in Houston.
The second go-around proved to be more of a shoot-out as the Blazers won 119-117 behind Lillard again, who scored 16 of Portland's final 21 points and finished with 27 points.
The mission is clear: stop Damian Lillard.
In two head-to-head matchups, Lillard has outscored Jeremy Lin, 47-24. That cannot happen.
The third battle is in Texas and will have ramifications. While Houston has the final playoff spot in the West right now (as of Jan. 30), Portland is just a game back and is the first team knocking on the doorstep.
PREDICTION: Rockets win 108-102 (OT) (3-1 in February)
The look on DeMarcus Cousins' face pretty much sums it up for the Sacramento Kings.
They are stuck in the middle of a political tussle between a new ownership group, the city of Sacramento and the city of Seattle.
They don't know where they will be playing this season and look like they're lost this season. Cousins is up to his usual antics
At 17-29, the Kings have not had the pleasure of facing the Rockets this season.
This matchup will be the first of five road games in a six-game span for the Rockets. Like the first game of the month against the Bobcats, this is a very winnable game for Houston.
As of Jan. 30, Sacramento has lost four of its last five games and does not match up with the talent level of Houston.
PREDICTION: Rockets win 110-92 (4-1 in February)
They meet again.
The same bullet points exist in this matchup as the one earlier in the month.
With an extra week behind them, the Warriors may very well have Stephen Curry back in the fold. Also, Andrew Bogut may be in playing shape and be able to play in consecutive games.
Both hopes point to Golden State being closer to full strength. Being back in Oakland for this matchup also favors the Warriors.
PREDICTION: Rockets lose 104-99 (4-2 in February)
In the final game before the All-Star break, the Rockets travel to Los Angeles to take on the Clippers.
While the Rockets have played the Lakers three times already this season, they have only met the Clippers once.
That came on Jan. 15 and was the middle game of Houston's seven-game skid. The Clippers won, 117-109, in Houston behind Jamal Crawford's game-high 30 points.
More important is the fact that Los Angeles won without the services of Chris Paul. The All-Star point guard has missed the last seven games for the Clippers (as of Jan. 27). He is expected back possibly in the next two weeks.
The Rockets have already lost to the Clippers at home without Paul; playing the Clippers with Paul in the lineup in Los Angeles on the last day before the All-Star break that Houston will host will be a tough task for the Rockets.
PREDICTION: Rockets lose 102-85 (4-3 in February)
Nothing says welcome back from the All-Star break like a visit from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
James Harden and the Rockets have had two meetings with Harden's old team this season. Both have resulted in the Thunder scoring at least 120 points and blowing out the Rockets.
Oklahoma City has won by an average of 26 points, and in a battle of headline acts, Kevin Durant has outscored Harden, 63-42.
The Thunder are where the Rockets want to be; they are a contender year after year now, and they know what it takes to advance deep in the playoffs.
The Rockets are not there yet. But they are putting the pieces in place to get to that point, including hijacking one of the main reasons (Harden) that Oklahoma City got so far the past couple seasons.
Oklahoma City is still the master, and Houston is still the pupil.
PREDICTION: Rockets lose 105-96 (4-4 in February)
Less than a week ago, the Rockets hosted the Nets and pulled off an impressive 119-106 win over a surging Nets team. Houston outrebounded Brooklyn, 50-31, and won the battle for points in the paint, 60-24.
Since P.J. Carlesimo took over for the ousted Avery Johnson, Brooklyn has gone 13-4.
The key to victory for Houston will once again be if they can get inside and score down low.
With James Harden and Jeremy Lin, Houston has two guards that like to drive and score on penetration. Omer Asik is a center who is going to rebound down low and score in the paint, largely due to a lack of ability to step outside the paint and be a scoring threat. And with an up-tempo style, Houston as a team likes to get out, run and score easy buckets in transition.
All those factors point to Houston being successful when they can score inside.
The Rockets will travel to Brooklyn to take on the Nets this time around. With the ease Houston showed in getting inside on Brooklyn the last time out, the Rockets will find a way to repeat the performance and get a big road win over the Nets.
This is the signature win of the month for Kevin McHale's club.
PREDICTION: Rockets win 104-102 (5-4 in February)
Back on Dec. 12, the Rockets edged the Washington Wizards, 99-93, at home.
James Harden scored 31 points and turned in one of his 13 games this season of 30 or more points.
The Wizards as of late, though, are playing inspired basketball since the return of their third-year point guard, John Wall. They are 6-4 with Wall in the lineup following offseason knee surgery and have won seven of 11 overall entering their game against Philadelphia on Jan. 30.
That means seven of their 11 wins on the season have come in a three-week span.
Even so, the Rockets have the more talented roster, and they will find a way to win this one on the road.
PREDICTION: Rockets win 106-93 (6-4 in February)
The Rockets round out the month of February with a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Rockets outscored the Bucks, 30-14, in the third quarter of a 14-point road win in early January.
One thing Houston has done best this season is take care of Eastern Conference foes. Through January, the Rockets are 16-5 against the other conference.
A win against the Bucks gives the Rockets a 7-4 month and probably does enough to at least keep them in the eighth spot in the West, if not bump them up a spot or two.
PREDICTION: Rockets win 94-87 (7-4 in February)