Do the Rockets need to secure the No. 6 seed to move past the first round of the playoffs?
Should Houston finish with the No. 6 seed, the Denver Nuggets would likely be its opponent in the first round—a matchup that would give the Rockets a fighting chance to move on to the next round.
All three potential first-round opponents feature dynamic offenses that can put points up in a hurry, and cause problems for opposing defenses. In fact, these three teams are in the top five in points per game, per ESPN.com.
And even though Denver recently demolished Houston, winning by a score of 132-114 on Saturday, April 6, the Rockets would be better off in a seven-game series facing the Nuggets than the Spurs or Thunder.
Denver doesn't feature a strong defense. This team allows 100.8 points per contest, which is the No. 22 mark in the NBA.
San Antonio (96.2 points) and OKC (96.6 points) rank No. 9 and No. 11 respectively in terms of points allowed, and both teams feature outstanding defenders who can clog up the lane.
If Houston is going to move on to the second round of the playoffs, it will have do so by lighting up the scoreboard. The Spurs and Thunder have defenses that are capable of clamping down on Houston's dynamic offense—especially in a seven-game series.
Down the stretch, the Rockets will host the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings and will then hit the road to face the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers. It's not an easy schedule, per se, but Houston must win at least three of the four and hope Golden State falters down the stretch.
Will Houston earn the No. 6 seed or stand pat at No. 7?
To accomplish this goal, Jeremy Lin must continue his outstanding play of late. Since the beginning of April, he's played in five games, averaging 18.4 points, 8.6 assists, two rebounds, one steal and 2.4 turnovers per game.
Lin and the Rockets have been on a hot streak of late, too, winning eight out of their last 11 games. This team is poised to make a strong run in the playoffs, but a first-round matchup against the Spurs or Thunder would likely squash all of this momentum in a hurry.
Stealing the No. 6 seed from the Warriors would allow Lin and the Rockets to keep the season going, potentially playing into the second round and beyond.
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