The Houston Rockets overhauled their team last offseason and have seen 20 different players suit up to play for them this season. Four of their five starters this season weren't even on the team last year, and they have the lowest payroll in the entire league.
However, they've found themselves with the seventh-best record in the Western Conference and three games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers in the win column. Barring an incredible meltdown in the last five games of the season, the Rockets are basically a lock to make the playoffs.
This slideshow will break down and analyze the Rockets' potential first-round matchups and predict the chances the Rockets have of defeating the opposition.
This matchup features two teams with very similar styles of play. The Denver Nuggets love to get out into transition and run their opponents out of the building, and their 35-3 home record is evident of just how difficult playing in the Mile High City is.
We saw a glimpse last night in the game between these two teams, where the Danilo Gallinari-less Nuggets were able to storm back after the first quarter with a balanced attack. The Nuggets' depth is one of the biggest advantages they have over the Rockets, and they abused it with full force yesterday.
Even without Gallinari, the Nuggets still have seven players who average nine or more points per game. Combine their balanced scoring with the Rockets' 19th-best defense in the league (per Hollinger's Team Stats), and it seems to be a very lopsided matchup.
Ty Lawson is the leader and best player on the team, but Andre Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee and even Andre Miller are all capable of recording monster performances.
The Rockets, on the other hand, possess the only true superstar between both teams—James Harden. The Nuggets have been a great regular season team for the past couple of years, but the Rockets will have the advantage in a half-court set primarily because they have a player who could score at will.
Chances of winning a playoff series: 4/10
The Rockets are 1-2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, with the losses coming at an average of 26 points.
The Rockets did beat them once this season, but it required a 46-point performance from Harden and a 29-point performance from Jeremy Lin to get it done.
Thabo Sefolosha is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and he certainly bothered Harden in the losses. In the first two meetings, Sefolosha held Harden to just 9-for-33 from the field, which isn't a small feat considering that Harden is one of the most efficient scorers in the league this season.
The point guard and small forward matchups will be the ones to watch. Chandler Parsons is an underrated defender, but nobody in the league could shut down Kevin Durant on a consistent basis. Lin is also a capable defender, but he won't be able to keep up with Russell Westbrook for the entire game.
Harden will have to put together a string of Hall of Fame-worthy games for the Rockets to have any shot of defeating the reigning Western Conference champions, but it will come down to how effectively the Rockets could slow down Durant and Westbrook.
Chances of winning a playoff series: 2/10
The Thunder are only one win behind the first-seeded San Antonio Spurs, so it's very likely that the Spurs could drop down to the second seed, especially if they rest their starters at the end of the season like they normally do.
The key for the Rockets in this series is finding a way to slow down Tony Parker.
In four meetings this season, Parker has averaged 24.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists on 57.6 percent shooting from the field as he led the Spurs to a 3-1 series victory. It's been obvious in those games that the Rockets' team defense is rather weak, and Parker took full advantage of this opportunity.
This Spurs team is also seventh in the league in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency. There's a reason why they have the best record in the Western Conference, and they are simply a better team than the Rockets right now.
In order for the Rockets to beat the Spurs, they will need their role players to step up. Harden will get his numbers, but he cannot carry this team to victory in a grueling seven-game playoff series.
Parsons is the most important player in this series. He has a size advantage against all opposing Spurs' small forwards, and he can defend up to three different positions. It's likely that Parsons will be on Parker at times, and his length and quickness could provide for a much better matchup.
Chances of winning a playoff series: 3/10