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As Rockets creep closer to play-in race, Ime Udoka focused on execution, not standings

Houston Rockets head coach Ime Udoka doesn’t consistently check NBA standings, but he is well aware of where his team stands with 16 games left to play in the 2023-24 regular season.

Courtesy of their 135-119 home victory over the Washington Wizards on Thursday, the Rockets (31-35) inched closer in the standings to the Golden State Warriors (34-31), who now have a 3 1/2-game lead for the final spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament spot for the 2023-24 playoffs. The two teams will meet at Toyota Center on April 4, and the game could have playoff implications.

“I know we are a few games behind some teams, so we want to continue to play this way, and regardless, we will live with the results,” Udoka said in Thursday’s postgame. “We will need some help, obviously, but as far as that, it was somewhat self-inflicted with the games we gave away early (in the season). This is what we were searching for, more consistency across the board, like this.”

Houston is on a four-game winning streak, which is its longest of the 2024 calendar year. They won six games straight in early November and another five in a row in December. The Rockets are 6-1 in March, with the only loss coming to the Los Angeles Clippers — in a game they led by 20 points during the first half.

Houston will play nine of its next 16 games against teams currently in the playoffs or play-in field. They will need to play almost flawlessly to make the postseason.

That task would be more doable for the young Rockets team if it were fully healthy. Unfortunately, third-year center Alperen Sengun (ankle), rookie forward Cam Whitmore (knee) and second-year forward Tari Eason (leg) are all out of the rotation.

“Unfortunate that Alpi (Sengun) and Cam go down in a time when we are really making a push,” Udoka told reporters Thursday. “Others will have to step up, and I think they have done that. More than talk about standings, we are just going to try and continue to play good basketball and see what happens with the others.”

The Rockets look to keep their playoff hopes alive Saturday with a 4 p.m. Central matchup versus the Cavaliers. Led by Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland (42-24) is third in the East standings and should present a significant challenge to Udoka’s Rockets.

Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire