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Merry Christmas, Houston Rockets: Now Play Eight Games in 12 Days in the National Spotlight

James Harden and Dwight Howard Will Be Tested in the Final Week and a Half of 2013

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COMMENTARY | The Houston Rockets currently stand at 17-9. They own second place in the Southwest Division and currently stand in fifth place in the Western Conference.

Experts and fans alike seem to agree that the Rockets are pretty much where they should be, but the daunting stretch that awaits the team may push them down in the Western Conference standings.

In the next 12 days, the Rockets will be playing a whopping eight games.

On Friday night, the Rockets go up against the Indiana Pacers, who are arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference. Saturday night, Houston makes a short trip from Indiana to Michigan where it will take on the Detroit Pistons.

Starting Monday, December 23, Houston plays six consecutive games against Western Conference opponents with just three off days in between. Only two of the six games will be played on the road, but to consider the stretch anything but grueling would be inaccurate.

From December 23 to December 29, the Rockets play five potential Western Conference playoff teams in the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies (currently on the outside looking in), New Orleans Pelicans (ditto), and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Rockets will finish 2013 with a home game against the Sacramento Kings. The Kings defeated the Rockets 109-91 on December 15, which was one of the ugliest games the Rockets have played all year.

Honestly, if Houston were to finish 5-3 during this 8-game stretch, that would be satisfactory. The Rockets have taken down the Portland Trail Blazers and Spurs on the road this year, which were their two most impressive victories to date. We've also seen them lay eggs against the Kings and Utah Jazz, so there's no predicting how they'll come out on a given night.

Hopefully, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik will be able to suit up in the coming days, as both players serve important functions for the Rockets' second unit. Asik is out Friday night against Indiana, while Lin's status is unclear.

There's no denying that this stretch will help define Houston's season. If the team can persevere and win six out of the eight games, everyone around the league may cozy up to the idea of the Rockets being contenders.

Four of the eight games will be on national television (Indiana, San Antonio, Memphis and Oklahoma City). Between the die-hard Rocket fans who watch the team every night and the national audience who has only seen Houston a handful of times (or maybe not at all; some people don't start watching basketball until football season ends), many opinions about the new-look Rockets will be shared, changed or reinforced in the next week and a half.

M. De Moor is a basketball purist who has been a Rockets follower since childhood. He often wonders why left-handed shooters have such pretty shooting strokes.

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