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Play-In Crashers: Red-Hot Rockets Looking to Steal a Spot

In early March, a glance at the standings revealed a few noticeable items. Among them was the perceived notion that the Western Conference top 10 was all but sewn up, and it was just a matter of positioning to see where the 10 teams fell.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and there’s an intriguing development in Houston, which is threatening to sneak in the back door. Here’s an NBA basketball update with three factors that are fueling the Rockets’ race toward a postseason bid.

Play-In Crashers: Red-Hot Rockets Looking to Steal a Spot
Jalen Green #4 of the Houston Rockets/Tim Warner/Getty Images/AFP

 

Play-In Spot, Here we Come!

After the action on the first day of March came to an end, Houston was seven games out of a play-in spot in the West with 23 games to play. And the Rockets weren’t even 11th in the conference, but actually 12th behind Utah. Indeed, the Rockets were just a blip on the NBA news and rumors page.

However, they slowly worked their way past the Jazz and are now within striking distance of both the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, who have the 10th and ninth spots, respectively, in the conference.

When Golden State visited Los Angeles over the weekend, there were plenty of takes on how it was a preview of an upcoming play-in matchup (the No. 9 and No. 10 teams play a do-or die game before moving on to play the loser of 7-8 game for the right to get into the actual playoffs). It was Steph and LeBron and, oh, what great fun it’ll be when these two legends square off with everything on the line in mid-April.

The No. 9 team hosts that win-or-go-home contest, so there was plenty at stake in standings when Curry’s squad went to LA, leaving with a hard-fought win.

Meanwhile, that very same night, the Rockets were quietly (comparatively speaking, of course) in the process of dismantling a solid Cleveland team 117-103. It was the fifth of what is now six consecutive wins and all part of an 8-1 surge that has Houston just 2½ games behind the Warriors. And the Rockets get to open a three-game homestand on Thursday that features Chicago, Utah and Portland.

Perhaps this winning streak gets up to nine in a row by the end of the homestand, and perhaps you can continue to lean on Houston at the sportsbook. The Rockets are a West-best 23-10-1 against the NBA lines at home, so you can feel pretty good about a bet online during this stretch.

 

Jalen Green is Coming of Age

Many have expected superstardom in Jalen Green’s career at some point, but he seemingly took a step back earlier this season with some uninspiring play. Of note was a nine-game stretch in December in which he averaged 11.6 points – roughly half his 2022-23 ppg – on a brutal 30.5% mark from the floor.

Green had another mini-slump bridging the All-Star break, but he might just be the hottest player in the league ever since. Starting with a 34-point performance at Phoenix on Feb. 29, he’s averaging 27.3 ppg over a 10-game stretch. Not always the most accurate fella from the arc, he’s hit a respectable 40.2% of his 3-pointers in that span.

The 22-year-old Green was honored with an NBA Player of the Week award for the West on Monday and marked the occasion with a monstrous 42-point, 11-rebound effort vs Washington on Tuesday. And he isn’t done yet – not with the Warriors and Lakers in his sights.

“We are chasing a goal to get into the Playoffs and Play-In Tournament,” he said after the win. “I am going to keep putting my head down and keep working.”

 

Lakers-Rockets Has to Happen

As much as the NBA world would love a Steph-LeBron matchup for all the marbles (or at least the marbles that go to a play-in winner), having James and his crew go up against the Rockets would be more intriguing. If that sounds odd, then you haven’t seen what’s transpired between youthful Houston and veteran-laden LA this season.

These two squads have had a bunch of very chippy moments this season, with their last encounter featuring another in a long line of LeBron-Dillon Brooks clashes. Brooks slapped James across the face during that 135-119 Houston win, leaving LeBron on the floor for several minutes while the training staff attended to him.

 

When asked about the flagrant foul after the game, James replied, “Next question,” clearly annoyed with another Brooks-induced incident.

Earlier in that same game, LA forward Jarred Vanderbilt was ejected for going after Brooks. Clearly, the Rockets antagonist has the Lakers’ attention.

So, too, does Houston head coach Ime Udoka, who had a back-and-forth with LeBron that led to his own ejection in an early December clash. The audio of that moment tells the story better than we ever could, so enjoy this recap.

This is a budding rivalry that could reach another level if they match up in a play-in scenario.

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Questions Of The Day

What else is working for the Rockets?


So much of Houston’s game is clicking (albeit against several lesser opponents). Most notable is the dominance in the turnover department. The Rockets are averaging just 10.7 during their six-game winning streak, compared to 13.3 for opponents.

What’s on the horizon for this team?


After the upcoming homestand, Houston plays three of its next four on the road, including visits to Oklahoma City and Minnesota. There is a home game against Golden State on April 4 that could have some massive implications.

 

 

The odds and predictions in the article are based on the time of writing and publication. They may differ as to when the actual event takes place.

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