The Rockets schedule for the last month has been fairly soft, but it's about to get a lot tougher. They surged past the .500 mark with games against the lesser teams of the league like the Pistons, Kings, and Wizards, but they're next 11 games are almost all against playoff contending teams. Starting tonight, they face the Grizzlies (2x), Thunder, Jazz (2x), Timberwolves, 76ers, Nuggets, Clippers, Raptors and Celtics; only two losing teams during that stretch, and one of them, Minnesota, has beat them twice already. I wrote a couple of features early in the season about how tough their first 10 games were and this 11 game stretch is arguably tougher. The Rockets went 3-7 during those first 10 games; I'd be happy with 5-6 during their next 11.
The biggest challenge during this stretch of tough games will be facing teams like the Jazz and Grizzlies who have a size advantage on the Rockets in the post. The combo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap in Utah combine to average 34 points and 19 rebounds, while Marc Gasol of Memphis averages 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. More than the stats though, teams built like Utah and Memphis seem to nearly always out-muscle and
out-physical the Rockets. During their December 30th game, the Grizzlies out-rebounded the Rockets 42-33, out-scored the Rockets in the paint 56-36, and had 3 more blocks. I love Luis Scola's offensive game, but he's an average rebounder and a poor defender. To battle with the size of Utah and Memphis, I'd like to see Coach McHale give Jordan Hill and Patrick Patterson more playing time over Scola.
There's been a lot of debate recently on whether the Rockets are an actual contender that can win a playoff series, or if they're just a 7th or 8th seed to be sacrificed for Oklahoma City. This upcoming stretch of 11 games should give us the answer.