A Look at the Houston Rockets' 2017-2018 Schedule

The NBA season is right around the corner, lurking in wait two weeks closer than ever before. As we exit the desultory nothingness of August and September to reach the basketball-rich fields of October, it’s time, at last, to do a deep dive on the Houston Rockets’ schedule for this season and figure out what to expect out of the 2017-2018 Houston Rockets.

This NBA season, despite consisting of 41 home games and 41 away games like every other season since 1967, is a little bit special. As noted, the start of the regular season has been moved earlier, kicking off on October 17th. This adds nearly two weeks of time to the NBA season, starting before October 25th for the first time since 1980. The intended effect of this move is to spread the games out slightly and use those extra days to eliminate pairs of back-to-back games and to destroy the hated “four games in five nights” entirely. This is good news for the entire NBA world, most especially for the bodies of the players and hopefully the longevity of their careers.

More immediately, this means that the Rockets have only fourteen pairs of back to back games, just under the league average of fourteen and a half. While the Rockets won an amazing thirteen of their fifteen games on the second night of a back to back last season, this kind of success is unsustainable and likely didn’t help their season-long slow shooting decline. Extra rest will be good for every team, but there’s some reason to believe it may be particularly good for the Houston Rockets. If they can avoid the slow tail-off of their three-point shooting this season, extra rest will play a large part in it.

In a more granular sense, this schedule is about as favorable as one could ask for. The first couple of months feature games against the Warriors (to start the season) and the Cavs, but apart from a game against the Raptors, every other game in October and November is against a team well below the Rockets’ tier. Perhaps the Raptors, Jazz,, Grizzlies or Nuggets can offer stiff competition. At best these are teams with large question marks up against a team with a lot of exclamation points.

A fairly soft early season should give the Rockets a chance to solidify their chemistry and system without dropping too many games in the process. They’re too good to have assumed losses against anyone but the Warriors, so the Rockets should be delighted to have a tray full of cupcakes to dine on. If all goes according to plan, they should have a hot start after probably losing to the Warriors on opening night, and that winning should help their chemistry.

The season does harden up, of course, and this happens in the middle few months. December in particular features a lot of the teams at or just below Houston’s likely level, and January and February aren’t much better. It’s always hard to stay focused in the grueling, bloated middle of the NBA season, and a slate full of quality teams will only make it harder. This is the price they pay, however, for the start and end of the schedule being quite easy, and it’s one they should be glad to pay. If team-building goes well at all, this should be them getting into rhythm and winning games with talent and coordination if not effort and hustle.

As noted, March and April allow the Rockets to tail off nicely, with the Spurs being the only scary opponent for about a month at the end of the season. As the Rockets will likely not be on an MVP chase, there’s little reason for them not to rest up and prepare for the playoffs while still winning games against lesser opposition.The benefits this rest could have in the playoffs are both self-evident and mission-critical. Nothing matters except playing basketball into June, and this schedule should help them move toward that goal.

My pure numbers analysis gives me 56 wins, and this is by a system that can at most predict about 65 wins. I suspect that this season will in fact be better than the numbers imply. My gut suggests something closer to 60 wins, as outlandish as that may sound. As ever, I’ll split the difference, giving a prediction of 58 wins for the Houston Rockets this season. That’s a very high number, but not even close enough to be the top seed in the conference, and possibly only good for fourth if a lot of other teams perform as well as they hope. The Rockets are going to be a top predator this season, but remember that there are other very big predators out there, too.

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