The Houston Rockets are missing two key players right now: Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard. While Beverley is just a second year guard playing for a figure ending with ‘K’ and not ‘M,’ his absence is more damaging. The Rockets have no real Plan B for defending the backcourt. Jeremy Lin is a passable defender in a sense that sandpaper is a passable bath tissue, and James Harden opts to save his energy for offense any time an aggressor breaches 5mph. That is why the Rockets have lost their last two games, allowing Chris Paul & Jamal Crawford to combine for 52 on Saturday, and allowing Joe Johnson & Shaun Livingston to combine for 49 just last night.
The Portland Trail Blazers (having won four straight) are now just 1.5 games behind the Rockets for the fourth spot in the Western Conference. If they can overtake the position, they will have earned homecourt advantage in the upcoming playoffs. This would be a huge development for the Trail Blazers who have lost only 9 games at home this season. They’ll need every advantage they can get, as the Rockets are easily their worst matchup and most probable opponent in the first round.
While Beverley (meniscus) is likely to return this year, it is unlikely that he will be back during the regular season. The Rockets have 9 games remaining on their schedule (4 home, 5 away) in which to stumble for the Trail Blazers’ benefit. Remember, they are also without Howard (ankle) for the time being, so their chances of victory are slimmer than their reputation would indicate. Here is how it all breaks down for them:
April 2nd @ Toronto Raptors (42-32)
April 4th vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (54-19)
April 6th vs. Denver Nuggets (32-42)
April 8th @ Los Angeles Lakers (25-49)
April 9th @ Denver Nuggets (32-42)
April 11th @ Minnesota Timberwolves (36-37)
April 12th vs. New Orleans Pelicans (32-42)
April 14th vs. San Antonio Spurs (58-16)
April 16th @ New Orleans Pelicans (32-42)
They have three truly difficult games left (Raptors, Thunder, Spurs), five soft ones that are still very losable (Nuggets x2, Timberwolves, Pelicans x2), and one that they should win pretty handily (Lakers). There is a good chance that Beverley will be absent for most, if not all, of them. Howard’s availability, on the other hand, remains very much up in the air. He has already been ruled out of tonight’s matchup with the Raptors after having his ankle drained a second time, and there has been no word regarding a return date. Every Houston defeat is a Portland victory.
The Trail Blazers have only 6 games remaining (5 home, 1 away):
April 4th vs. Phoenix Suns (44-30)
April 6th vs. New Orleans Pelicans (32-42)
April 9th vs. Sacramento Kings (26-48)
April 11th @ Utah Jazz (23-52)
April 13th vs. Golden State (46-28)
April 16th vs. Los Angeles Clippers (53-22)
They have two truly difficult games (Warriors, Clippers), both of which are at home, two soft ones that are still very losable (Suns, Pelicans), both at home again, and two that they should win pretty handily (Kings, Jazz). In order for the Trail Blazers to pass the Rockets for the fourth seed, they have to win at least two games that the Rockets lose and then hold even. Given the injury situation and the strength of schedule discrepancies, this is entirely possible, but it will come right down to the wire. Every game matters for both teams now.