First step first, the Rockets need to clinch a playoff spot. Currently sitting in the seventh slot in the Western Conference, Houston is just a game ahead of the ninth seeded Utah Jazz, while trailing the sixth seeded Portland Trail Blazers by a half game, tied in the loss column. With the top four seeds being essentially decided, the difference for Houston will be between facing the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors or Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, if they were to face the Spurs, the odds of winning would be minimal. Afterall, the Spurs still have Gregg Popovich running the show, Kawhi Leonard has emerged as one of the premier players, LaMarcus Aldridge is getting into his groove while the fossils of Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are still playing and contributing. Avoiding the Spurs would be needed at all costs.
Same goes for the Golden State Warriors, who are on pace to surpass Michael Jordan's 72-10 Bulls side record, with only seven current losses and a dozen games remaining on the slate. Like with San Antonio, Houston may sneak out one game, possibly two, but taking the series is as impossible as cheating death for a couple of millenniums.
That leaves the Oklahoma City Thunder as the Rockets best chance of sneaking into the Western Conference semi-finals before facing off against the two juggernauts. And the Thunder are a side that the Houston Rockets could visibly upset in a seven game series.
The two sides have faced off twice this season, with Houston winning by six at home, and the Thunder by eight in Oklahoma. Tonight will be the third showdown, before the finale on April 3rd in Houston. A great chance to see how the two match-up prior to a potential first round series.
Behind the play of Russell Westbrook, turning into a triple-double machine, and Kevin Durant regaining to his scoring form, the Thunder have, arguably, two of the league's top five players, making for one of the greatest duos in the past decade or so. After that, is when things get questionable for Billy Donovan's side, causing the inconsistent play throughout the campaign. Winners of four straight, the Thunder will look to erase all doubt prior to the post-season.
In order to upset any Oklahoma City, the Rockets need James Harden to be on point and continue getting to the line at will, questionable or not. Dwight Howard needs to step his game up and control the paint, on both ends of the floor. Grabbing rebounds and hitting free throws, while swatting shots. In reality, I see Oklahoma City still winning the series, but the Rockets will win two, potentially forcing a game seven.