Sunday , Apr , 06 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

Rockets-Suns race tightens as season draws near end

As judgment day nears for the NBA, the Rockets and Phoenix Suns continue to engage in a close battle for that coveted and final eighth playoff spot in the West. The Rockets still have a little more easier schedule the rest of the way. Lately they have collapsed in some key games, losing to New Jersey and Milwaukee badly before recovering to win an important game against the Sixers. However, thanks to the consistent play of their two stars, the Rockets continue to be a favorite for the eighth playoff spot.

Rookie center Yao Ming went on a little slide before picking up his play the last four games.  Ming has averaged 17.5 points/game and 5.8 rebounds/game over the last four games while shooting 51% from the floor.  He has had some help as well, as guard Steve Francis has continued his great all-around play, averaging 18.8 points/game, 7 assists/game and 6.5 rebounds/game over the past four contests.  Against the Sixers, the Rockets were able to get out on the break and get some easy baskets.  They were also able to score down inside over the overmatched Sixers, scoring 42 points inside the paint, opposed to just thirty for the Sixers.  It would not be exaggerating to say that that Sixers game was the season’s biggest game for the Rockets, especially considering that they
were coming off horrendous losses at Milwaukee and New Jersey. 

 I have the Rockets going 4-2 in the remaining six games, to put them at a final record of 43-39.  They face Orlando, Portland, Utah, Seattle, Memphis and Denver.  I think that they will lose to Portland and Seattle.  Phoenix, on the other hand, is facing Murderer’s Row.  They face the Lakers, Denver, Dallas, Golden State, San Antonio, Portland and Seattle.  I have them going 2-5 over those seven games, to put them at a season record of 42-40.  What this means is that Houston can slip against Utah or Memphis and still be tied with Phoenix.  If that’s the case, then they still enter the playoffs due to the fact that they won the season series against the Suns 3-1.  The Rockets can be thankful that Ming and Francis are elevating their play at such a crucial point of the season, but they will need some help.  Either Mobley, Posey or Taylor have to be a consistent third scoring option.  Their success the rest of the season depends on that factor.  But one thing is certain: by the time I write another article, the playoff picture will be more clear and hopefully, it will be the Rockets who will be extending their season.