The Houston Rockets know there’s hardly anything they can do about the two teams they’re chasing for one of the final Western Conference final playoff spots.
Right now, though, they’re doing an awfully good job with what they can control.
Eight wins in 10 games have the Rockets within three games of a playoff spot, but there remains little margin for error in a final stretch that begins with a visit from the improving Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.
Houston (41-36) was in 11th place in the jumbled West on March 14, but the playoff picture has become a bit clearer over the past three weeks.
Phoenix and Utah have fallen out, while the ninth-place Rockets have surged to stay within striking distance. Houston fell behind by 14 against Atlanta late in the second quarter Sunday, but rallied to win 114-109 and remain within three games of New Orleans and Memphis - the teams holding the seventh and eighth seeds.
“Ever since after the (All-Star) break, we can say what we want to say about this team and dissect wins how we want,” said guard Kevin Martin(notes), who had 35 points. “But at the end of the day, we’re just a pretty (darn) good basketball team.”
The Rockets play New Orleans on Wednesday, and Houston can earn a tie of that four-game season series. The Hornets, though, would win a tiebreaker, as they have a better record than Houston within the Southwest Division.
That leaves Memphis, which has won seven of eight, as the team Houston can more realistically hope to catch. The Rockets took the season series from the Grizzlies, so they’ll only have to finish with the same record to win a tiebreaker.
“We just keep hanging in there,” coach Rick Adelman said. “That’s all we can do.”
Martin’s certainly been doing his part. Houston’s leading scorer has averaged 28.5 points over his last eight games while getting to the free-throw line 84 times - making 80.
The Rockets are 17-8 when he scores at least 28 points.
Martin hasn’t had any huge games against his former team, as he’s averaging 17.0 points and shooting 33.3 percent, but Houston hasn’t needed one from him. It’s won its three meetings with Sacramento (22-54) by an average of 14.6 points, the most recent a 123-101 road rout March 7.
The Kings didn’t have Tyreke Evans(notes) healthy for that meeting, and since he’s returned after missing 19 games with plantar fasciitis, his team has looked much different. Sacramento won the final game without him and has run off four victories in six contests since his return, most recently beating Utah 106-97 on Sunday behind Evans’ 24 points and 10 assists.
“He has been playing great,” said Marcus Thornton(notes), who has averaged 21.6 points since becoming the starting shooting guard March 5. “He’s still not all the way healthy so when we get him back to 100 percent we’re going to be a dangerous team. We’re just trying to bring this momentum into training camp and next season.”
Houston has won eight of its last nine home games against teams currently below .500.