As the NBA season gets closer to its finale, the playoff races become a lot clearer. In the Western conference, there’s a three-team competition for two spots between the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. The two Texas teams seem like they don’t even want to make it in.
Obviously, that’s not true. They’re simply not very good. The Rockets have been up & down, below and slightly above .500 all season long. James Harden has been putting up big numbers, but it’s not like he’s not part of the breaking down system, that is doing horrifically on defense with the role players around him not doing their job and Dwight Howard crashing his stocks just when he’s about to become a free agent. Suddenly, opting out might not be such a good idea.
Things are a bit different for the Mavs, who have crashed over the last two months, and are now playing without Chandler Parsons. It isn’t his first injury this season, but now it’s for good. They’ve gone 7-16 over the last two months, including just two wins in their last 12 games. It might be an opportunity for Dirk Nowitzki to show old players can carry their teams with some impressive numbers, but it’s not getting the Mavericks into the playoffs.
The Rockets latest performance of messing up late in a game came against the Indiana Pacers, who have their own worries in the East. James Harden had 34 points, but the defense continues to be atrocious for the Rockets. A team without any chemistry or what looks like any kind of affection for each other. Just a bunch of guys going out there, not liking their two biggest names and sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. They’re now 36-38, losing four of their last five and have gone 11-16 since their peak moment of the season in late January, going three games above .500.
The Mavericks aren’t out of it yet. One win and their tied with the Rockets at 36-38. Houston are 8th in the West right now, 0.5 games ahead of Dallas, 0.5 games behind Utah, who might be on something of a hot streak right now, but their inconsistent offense has been known to put them in difficult situations. After years of the Eastern Conference being something of a joke by putting in playoff teams with a losing record, the West might have two of them getting in this season. In recent years, 50 wins was barely enough to make it in the top 8.
How does it end? Probably with Dallas missing out, although any guesses and predictions seem like a risky endeavor. Without Parsons, there just isn’t enough on a team that’s bad defensively and needs a little bit more on offense. The Rockets can win games based on Harden having good days and the others following him sometimes. The Jazz seem to be the actual team in this situation, and while defense doesn’t always get you very far and frankly, finishing 7-8 this season in the West could mean a clean, painful sweep at the hands of the Warriors and Spurs (although San Antonio have a problem with Houston), picking up momentum right now seems like it gives Utah the edge, while Houston simply aren’t as bad as Dallas. When you give up 133 points against the Kings, the situation is critical.