Houston Rockets' Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for January

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2014

Houston Rockets' Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for January

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    The Houston Rockets' schedule for the month of January is weirdly fascinating. They’ll be facing either the best or worst the league has to offer, and how they navigate the month could ultimately have a big impact on their final seeding.

    Houston faces 17 foes in the first month of the year, with seven of those coming against winning teams. It has five games against clubs who have a 60 winning percentage or better, but it faces seven who are below 40 percent. It has 11 on the road, but only three of its opponents have won half their contests.

    In sum, it’s a month where the Rockets can entrench themselves at the top of the standings by winning the games they’re supposed to and splitting the hardest ones. However, there is also potential for too many lost trap games, and if Houston gets caught in those, it could spell disaster.

    This is a week-by-week look at the specifics of the Rockets' schedule, highlighting the most important game of each week. A brief preview and prediction will accompany each of the other games.

3 Things to Watch

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Before getting into the specifics of the schedule there are three things to watch for which can impact the Rockets’ New Year’s start—for better or for worse.

    1. Mixing in the New Kids: The Rockets added Corey Brewer, Alexey Shved and Josh Smith at the end of December (more on that later). How well they blend in and learn the system is going to impact how the Rockets play, particularly on defense, where missed assignments were part of the reason for the back-to-back losses to the San Antonio Spurs (Dec. 28) and Washington Wizards (Dec. 29).
    2. Health: The Rockets are finally getting healthy. While Terrence Jones is still out with a peroneal nerve contusion and Shved has a sprained ankle, the team is basically healthy for the first time this season. If they stay this way, the Rockets could put together a run of wins.
    3. James Harden’s MVP run: While I can’t definitively quantify this, it seems that typically the MVP race gets dwindled down to two names before the All-Star Game. Oh sure, there will be MVP Ladders which have 10 names, but it’s usually an “either-or” conversation by the beginning of February. How well Harden plays—and how much the Rockets win—will determine whether he’s one of those two players.

January 1-7

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Jan. 2, 8 p.m. EST: at New Orleans Pelicans—The NBA’s two furriest-faced MVP candidates, James Harden and Anthony Davis, square off, but the Brow gets the better of the Beard in this one. Pelicans win.

    Jan. 3, 8 p.m.  EST: Miami Heat—The Miami Heat are floundering, and the Houston Rockets will be in big need of a win. It’s a blowout at home for the Rockets.

    Jan. 5, 8 p.m. EST: at Chicago Bulls—Featured

    Jan. 7, 7 p.m. EST: at Cleveland Cavaliers—The Cleveland Cavaliers have no rim defense, and the Rockets have Dwight Howard, Donatas Motiejunas and Josh Smith as well as the hard-charging Harden. The Rockets abuse the Cavs inside, and the Rockets get the much-needed win.

    Featured

    The matchup between the Chicago Bulls and Rockets has everything you can want except a national audience. Two outstanding head-to-head matchups make it must-watch League Pass viewing.

    Harden and the Bulls’ breakout star, Jimmy Butler, are arguably the two best shooting guards in the league, and they both like to get to the line. If either can get the other in early foul trouble, it could spell trouble.

    Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard are in two of the best centers and defensive players in the league. While both have had their injury problems early in the season, each is coming out of it now. By the time this day arrives, either could have his big breakout game for the season against the other.

    Of lesser note is a potential matchup between two dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidates, Kostas Papanikolaou and Nikola Mirotic, who are both European combo forwards. They may well end up guarding one another.

    Josh Smith vs. Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose’s offense vs. Patrick Beverley’s defense and the coaching matchup between Kevin McHale and Tom Thibodeau are just more reasons to tune in. The Bulls win in a drawn out fight that leaves everyone hungering for more.

    Weekly Record: 2-2

    Monthly Record: 2-2

January 8-14

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Jan. 8, 8 p.m. EST: at New York Knicks—Featured

    Jan. 10, 8 p.m. EST: Utah Jazz—Gordon Hayward has been proving he’s worth his contract, and Rudy Gobert is just plain fun to watch. But the Jazz won’t even be in this game. Blowout, Rockets.

    Jan. 12, 7:30 p.m. EST: at Brooklyn Nets—The Nets have been starting Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee over max-contract guys Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Whether this experiment will still be in effect when the Rockets get to Brooklyn remains to be seen, but the Nets and Rockets are clearly headed in different directions. Blowout, Rockets.  

    Jan. 14, 7 p.m. EST: at Orlando Magic—There are some fun young guys to watch here like Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris. But the Magic are a limited team, and the Rockets should make them look like muggles. If there’s a trap game in this mix, though, it’s the Magic, who come out hard and feisty every night.

    Featured

    This week’s featured matchup is more about where the Rockets are playing than who. Madison Square Garden is still one of the premier locations to have a star performance, and with the Knicks giving up the 26th most points to opposing shooting guards, per HoopsStats.com, Harden could be in for a monster night.

    The Rockets will be riding a hot streak, and he’ll need an MVP statement game. Look for him to top at least 40 and perhaps even top 50 in the NBA’s mecca.

    On another note, the schedule-makers did the Rockets no favors giving the Rockets a home game between the Knicks and Nets games.

    Weekly Record: 4-0

    Monthly Record: 6-2

January 15-21

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Jan. 15, 8 p.m. EST: Oklahoma City Thunder—With both teams healthy now, don’t expect the winning team to score 69 like Houston did on Nov. 15 when these teams last met. This game will be a thrilling leadoff to an intense week for Houston. The Rockets fall on a Kevin Durant game-winning three.

    Jan. 17, 8 p.m. EST: Golden State Warriors—Featured

    Jan. 19, 5:30 p.m. EST: Indiana Pacers—There’s massive trap-game potential. The Rockets fail to fire here. A fourth-quarter comeback proves to be too little, too late.

    Jan. 21, 10:30 p.m. EST: at Golden State Warriors—Featured

    Featured

    I couldn’t figure out which of the Golden State games to make the featured one, so I’m just lumping them together. Both of these will be critical, hard-fought and evenly contested throughout.

    The Warriors won both of the earlier contests (Nov. 8 and Dec. 10), so the Rockets will need to sweep the latter two to have any shot at home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Rockets are getting healthy finally, and the Warriors are cooling off. The Rockets have also added key pieces—Shved, Smith and Brewer—since the first two contests.

    Smith’s value becomes apparent as he shuts down Draymond Green. While Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson do their damage, Harden and Howard do even more, and ultimately, the Rockets come away evening out the season series.

    Weekly Record: 2-2

    Monthly Record: 8-4

January 22-31

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Jan. 23, 9 p.m. EST: at Phoenix Suns—Eric Bledsoe makes life difficult for Harden, but the Rockets’ bench is the difference in this one. Rockets win close. 

    Jan. 25, 9:30 p.m. EST: at Los Angeles LakersKobe Bryant tries to prove he’s still the best shooting guard in the league and fails miserably. Harden lights him up for 35, and the Rockets roll to an easy win.

    Jan. 28, 8 p.m. EST: Dallas Mavericks—Featured

    Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m. EST: at Boston Celtics—The Celtics bigs, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, keep hitting from three, and the Rockets are helpless to do anything about it. C's get the upset.

    Jan. 31,  7:30 p.m. EST: at Detroit Pistons—Mad about the loss to the Celtics, the Rockets come out and abuse the Pistons to end the month. Josh Smith is the story of the game, scoring 28 against his former team.

    Featured

    This rivalry doesn’t need new storylines to make it even more interesting, but why should that stop it from happening? If the whole in-state rivalry isn’t enough or that Chandler Parsons left Houston for Dallas didn’t do it, there’s one more narrative: These are the two teams who have done the most to help themselves with in-season additions.

    The Mavericks acquired Rajon Rondo in a trade with the Boston Celtics on Dec. 18, but before you could finish saying Daryl Morey, the Rockets traded for Brewer and Shved on Dec. 19 and five days later signed Smith off waivers.

    By the time this game rolls around, all the players will be comfortable in their new environment, and we should be in for an exciting showdown.

    I think it will come down to what happens in the paint. Both Howard and Tyson Chandler have been known to get into foul trouble, and whichever one is able to be on the court for the most minutes will win the game.

    The Rockets get a little home cooking and the win.

    Weekly Record: 4-1

    Monthly Record: 12-5