How Will the Rockets Approach the Seeding Games in Orlando?

Michael Shapiro

In a traditional season, the Rockets’ final eight games of 2019-20 would likely feature a true race to the finish line. 

Houston currently sits No. 6 in the Western Conference at 40–24, tied with the Thunder and one game back of the Jazz. The Rockets are additionally in danger of slipping to the No. 7 seed, entering the NBA restart 1.5 games ahead of the Mavericks. The West’s jumbled standings would provide some serious late-season drama in a traditional season.

We’re now, of course, by no means in the midst of a normal year. 22 teams are quarantined in a mass bubble in Orlando, with home-court advantage effectively eliminated in 2020. And that fact could drastically impact the Rockets’ performance in their next eight contests. 

Houston is unlikely to care a great deal about whether it plays Denver, Utah or Oklahoma City in round one. Perhaps the Rockets don’t want to slip to the No. 7 seed, but they’ll likely have to beat the Clippers at some point to advance to the Finals. Perhaps catching Los Angeles in round one is preferable. 

It doesn’t seem as though Mike D’Antoni and Co. have paid much thought to their seeding in Orlando. And with Houston’s seed largely irrelevant, D’Antoni could opt to be cautious with his top assets. Russell Westbrook is likely to play between 30 and 34 minutes on Friday vs. Dallas, per D’Antoni. No other player has a noted restriction, though that could change as the postseason approaches. 

“You want to stay away from the heavy, heavy minutes,” D’Antoni told the media on Friday. “Sometimes a game like tonight that’s really important you would really push, but we like to keep them in a certain range.”

The Rockets will hope to get out to a fast start in Orlando on Friday, squaring off against a Dallas team that sports some serious offensive firepower. But don’t be shocked if D’Antoni takes the foot off the gas in spurts during the seeding games. With a potentially lengthy postseason run ahead, health is paramount for the Rockets. Pushing too hard before the playoffs could be a major mistake.