HOUSTON – With 15 games remaining, the Houston Rockets’ primary target for the normal season is nicely within attain. The fast reward may not be all that desirable, on the other hand.
The Western Conference’s major seed is Houston’s to drop at this stage. The Rockets (53-14) bumped its direct around the Golden State Warriors to two online games by cruising to a 109-93 win Monday evening around the struggling, undermanned San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets also personal the tiebreaker in excess of the Warriors, so Houston fundamentally has a 3-video game cushion in the battle to protected homecourt edge for the West finals.
The greatest record in the NBA may well receive the Rockets a first-spherical day with a substantially upgraded version of the Spurs, whose struggles without the need of their celebrity SF Kawhi Leonard have set their playoff hopes in major jeopardy. San Antonio could be a heck of an opening hurdle if Leonard can return to All-NBA type after a prolonged absence because of to his mysterious quadriceps ailment and aid transform the Spurs back again to their two-decade norm of excellence.
“It doesn’t issue exactly where you are, you happen to be going to get a fantastic group,” D’Antoni explained in advance of the blowout. “So, whichever.”
It truly is understandable that a likely playoff collection with Gregg Popovich’s Spurs just isn’t a favored topic of dialogue for D’Antoni. People coaches have achieved five occasions in the postseason, with D’Antoni’s teams staying eradicated just about every time, which includes the Spurs knocking out the Rockets in six online games throughout very last season’s West semifinals despite Leonard’s absence in the sixth and deciding video game of the series.
The Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Rockets teams with D’Antoni on the sideline had a blended 6-20 file in playoff games in opposition to the Spurs. Then again, with all owing regard to the Steve Nash-run Suns, none of these groups had been nearly as dominant as these Rockets, who have won 19 of the final 20 games and are a preposterous 35-2 when James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela all engage in.
And these Spurs – even with LaMarcus Aldridge (sore knee) and Manu Ginobili (relaxation), who sat out against the Rockets – look nothing at all like the perennial contenders who have created the playoffs just about every of the preceding 20 seasons, the third-longest postseason streak in NBA record. In simple fact, the Spurs obtain themselves on the outside the house on the lookout in at the playoff photo this late in the period for the initial time since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997, in accordance to the Elias Sporting activities Bureau.
Not that Pop plans to mention that to the Spurs, who could have Leonard back in the lineup as shortly as Thursday.
“Not at any time in any 12 months did we mention, ‘This is the place we are in the playoffs’ or ‘This is wherever we want to be,'” Popovich mentioned pregame. “We just you should not do that. … You never think they know where we’re at? Do you assume they’re idiots? C’mon.”
The Spurs uncover by themselves in this overseas territory because they’ve been frankly terrible for the final 6 months. The Spurs are 3-11 because the start of February, supplying them fewer wins than every NBA team except for the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies.
It is a great deal to question Leonard, who has been confined to nine games so significantly this time due to right quadriceps tendinopathy and a restoration timetable that has annoyed the Spurs, to arrive to the rescue. But a previous Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Calendar year with a pair of top-five MVP finishes is a pretty rare species. And undoubtedly not 1 even the NBA’s finest group would want to see to start off the playoffs.