Lowered Expectations

When the Houston Rockets lost Yao Ming to a season-ending injury two weeks ago, many observers speculated that they would fall out of the playoff race in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets have responded to the injury by winning seven straight in Yao’s absence – and 19 straight overall – to pull within a game of the Spurs and Lakers for first place in the West.

With wins over the Hawks and Bobcats in their next two games, the Rockets would own the second longest winning streak in NBA history. Only the 1971-72 Lakers’ streak of 33 straight wins would be longer.

Despite beating their past 10 opponents by double digits, skeptics question the quality of teams the Rockets have beaten during the 19-game winning streak. Highlights of the streak, which began Jan. 29 against Golden State, include home and away wins against both Cleveland and New Orleans as well as victories against Denver and Dallas, albeit without Dirk Nowitski. But 11 of the wins have come against teams with losing records.

Still, you can’t fault the Rockets for beating the teams on their schedule. They have a 19-game winning streak and 19 games remaining. While a 38-0 finish to the season isn’t going to happen, it’s hard to picture the Rockets missing the playoffs at this point. A look at their schedule drives that point home. Even if they were finish by losing against every other team with a winning record and beating only teams with sub-.500 marks, Houston would be 52-30.

Using those same criteria (wins vs. losing teams, losses vs. winning teams), here’s a breakdown of the lowered expectations final win-loss record for all nine Western Conference playoff contenders.

  • Houston Rockets: 52-30 (9 cupcakes)
  • Utah Jazz: 51-31 (9 cupcakes)
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 51-31 (7 cupcakes)
  • San Antonio Spurs: 51-31 (7 cupcakes)
  • New Orleans Hornets: 49-33 (7 cupcakes)
  • Dallas Mavericks: 48-34 (7 cupcakes)
  • Phoenix Suns: 48-34 (7 cupcakes)
  • Denver Nuggets: 46-36 (9 cupcakes)
  • Golden State Warriors: 46-36 (7 cupcakes)

Clearly these teams won’t lose every game against winning competition. And what they do in head-to-head matchups will certainly shape the playoff picture. But it’s interesting to note that based on current record and cupcakes (games vs. teams with losing records) alone, Houston has the inside track on claiming the West’s top seed.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

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