The surging Rockets threaten to crash an already turbulent West playoff race

Jalen Green
Jalen Green / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Don't look now but the Houston Rockets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA after initially looking as though they might be resigned to missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Carried by a red-hot Jalen Green, who's averaging a blistering 26.5 points and 5.9 rebounds, they are 9-1 in their last 10 games.

Better still, they are within 1.5 games of the Golden State Warriors and 3 games of the Los Angeles Lakers. That is a surprising development since it looked as though the Warriors and Lakers would make the play-in unopposed.

However, perhaps most surprising is that the Rockets have maintained their run while predominantly playing away from Houston. Prior to their six-game winning streak, including four wins on the road, they were just 6–24 away from home. Ironically, their road struggles were the main reason why they were on the outside looking in of the playoff race, even though they have been much better at home this season.

Can the rising Rockets make the play-in tournament?

Houston's new-found ability to win on the road should help them as they enter the final 13 games of the season. Their schedule is evenly split, with seven home games and seven road games remaining but a couple of their road games could be easy wins against the Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers during the final week of the season. Both teams may be looking to preserve or improve their lottery odds, potentially helping the Rockets. Still, Houston faces uphill odds to actually make the playoffs.

The Lakers hold a 3-game lead but split their season series against Houston. Nevertheless, the Rockets actually hold the tiebreaker at the moment based on the division record. Still, with less than 15 games remaining, time is running out for them to catch the Lakers. That leaves the Warriors, and while Golden State won the season series already, the two teams will meet on April 2nd in Houston and the Rockets can make up ground there, putting more pressure on them. 

Overall, the Rockets' late surge has made the Western Conference playoff race more interesting. While they face an uphill battle to even make the play-in tournament, a favorable schedule and a tiebreaker should help their cause over the final three weeks of the season.