The Houston Rockets have won four straight games, leaping the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz in the chase for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Rockets, who were in 11th place in the West a week ago, beat the Jazz on Sunday to skip ahead of Utah and stay in front of the Suns. Houston is now just 1.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot in the West, and a first-round date with the San Antonio Spurs.
Seven playoff hopefuls in the West remains bunched up within five games of each other. The Denver Nuggets, currently No. 5 in the West at 41-29, are locks to make the postseason, but the team's seed is up in the air. Denver has just a one-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 5 spot, and a 1.5-game lead over the No. 7 New Orleans Hornets. The Nuggets won't play the Blazers or Nuggets the rest of the season, but Denver does have dates with the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks and Thunder (twice). The Blazers have a tough road too, with two matches against the Spurs, two against the Thunder, and games against the Hornets, Lakers and Mavericks; Portland's remaining schedule is by far the toughest in the West.
The Hornets are done with the Spurs and Thunder, and have one game each against the Lakers and Mavericks. The Grizzlies, most at risk of falling behind the Rockets, Suns or Jazz, has a brutal three-game stretch this week, with road games at the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls followed by a home game against the Spurs. The Grizzlies also face the Hornets twice and the Blazers once in April.
Other than the Thunder, the Rockets have the easiest schedule remaining. With Luis Scola back from injury (though completely ineffective on Sunday), Houston should fare well against the lighter parts of its docket. But games against the Heat, Spurs and Mavericks loom.
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