Even if you are a very good basketball team, the Western Conference is brutal. The Houston Rockets found that out the hard way last night.
Down one against the Spurs with six seconds remaining, James Harden’s game-winning layup attempt was blocked by the ageless Tim Duncan. (Ignore Houston’s dumb homer announcers whining “he just hammered him.”) It was a weird game all around. Harden went 5-19 with just six free throw attempts, and just about any time Josh Smith touched the ball in the second half the Spurs intentionally fouled him, leading to a 12-26 free throw performance.
With a win the Rockets would’ve been in third place in the Western Conference, but instead they’re sixth. In part, these extreme jumps are due to the NBA’s quirky playoff seeding rules. By record alone the Trail Blazers are the sixth best team in the West, but because division winners are guaranteed a top four spot, they’re the fourth seed. The teams with the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th seeds are separated by just one game, meaning that the playoff picture—with three games left for most teams—is far from set, and home court advantage is not yet lost for the Rockets.