Bound for their first playoff appearance in four seasons, the Rockets have their sights set on the sixth seed in the Western Conference. They haven’t quite nailed it down yet.
The Rockets will look to take another step toward doing so Monday night when they visit the Suns, who continue to slide down the stretch to one of the worst finishes in franchise history.
The Rockets (45-35) have already clinched their first postseason berth since 2009 and can finish as high as sixth — the place they currently occupy. The Warriors are also 45-35, but Houston holds the tiebreaker with a 3-1 advantage in the season series.
The Rockets also hold a 2-1 advantage against the Lakers, but that could be evened in Wednesday’s season finale at Los Angeles. Should Houston lose to Phoenix and the Lakers, Los Angeles would be seeded higher based on its better record against Western Conference teams.
But with wins in six of their last eight games after a 121-100 home victory over the Kings on Sunday, the Rockets appear poised for a strong finish.
“I think we’re clicking at the perfect time,” said Chandler Parsons, who had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists after sitting out four games with a strained right calf. “We’re playing so unselfishly, we’re playing for each other, we’re all on the same page and know our roles and our responsibilities. I think we can’t be playing any better than we are right now.”
James Harden, who had 29 points Sunday before sitting out the fourth quarter, averaged 29.7 points on 53.3 percent shooting — 52.2 from 3-point range — as Houston took two of three games from Phoenix earlier this season.
Even as he caps the best season of his career, Harden has his eyes on some subtle improvement down the stretch.
“It’s about improving our small things, little detailed things,” Harden said. “I don’t think the home-run plays are going to get us over the top. I think the small things are going to help us be successful in this postseason.”
The Suns (24-56) sit at the bottom of the conference and are already guaranteed the second-worst record in franchise history, finishing ahead of only the 16-66 mark in the team’s expansion season of 1968-69.
They’ve dropped 15 of 17 after a 105-93 loss at Minnesota on Saturday in which they committed 28 turnovers. Coach Lindsey Hunter’s club is averaging 17.5 turnovers over its last 17 contests, the most in the NBA during that span, and opponents are scoring 21.3 points per game off of those mishaps.
“We turned the ball over entirely too much,” Hunter said. “It wasn’t complicated turnovers; it was simple passes that we tried to be too fancy or tried to thread the needle too thin.”
Wes Johnson has been one of the few bright spots for Phoenix as the season winds to a close, averaging 14.7 points on 44.8 percent shooting and knocking down 39.3 percent of his shots from long distance over his last 10 games.
He averaged 6.0 points while hitting only 28.4 percent from deep through his first 38 contests.