The Houston Rockets just missed a chance to move up in the Western Conference standings. If they don't take care of business in their next game, they might be stuck in their current position.
Houston closes out its home schedule Sunday night with the Sacramento Kings making their lone visit to the Toyota Center.
After clinching their first playoff berth since 2008-09 on Tuesday, the Rockets (44-35) lost for just the second time in seven games on Friday, 82-78 to Memphis. A victory would have given them a one-half game edge for the sixth seed over Golden State (45-35), which fell 118-116 at the Los Angeles Lakers.
"We wanted to win, obviously, but I think we did some good things down the stretch,'' said Jeremy Lin, referring to the Rockets rallying from 19 down in the first half and holding the Grizzlies to 33 points after halftime. "We gave them a couple of different looks, a couple of different plays and things we've been working on. Hopefully, this will better prepare us for the future.''
Houston lost three of four regular-season matchups with Golden State, so it has little room for error its last three games if it wants to move up from seventh. If the Rockets match a season high with a second consecutive home loss, one more defeat or Golden State win would lock Houston into the seventh seed and a first-round matchup with San Antonio or Oklahoma City.
James Harden, fifth in the league with 26.0 points per game, doesn't seem too concerned about who the Rockets play, especially if they can lock down teams like they did in the final 24 minutes on Friday.
"We get so much credit for our offense (averaging 105.8 points) but when we want to lock-in and play defense, we're a very good defensive team as well," he said after scoring 30 points.
Houston has allowed 98 or fewer points in three of its last four games. The Rockets, though, have given up an average of 109.5 while splitting two matchups with Sacramento (28-51).
The Kings' defense has been a season-long issue - they're surrendering 107.9 per game over the last 29 games and a league-worst 104.8 overall - but hitting some shots early on Sunday could actually help them on the defensive end. Sacramento made just five first-quarter field goals in Friday's 108-101 loss at the Spurs and were playing catch-up all night.
"Sometimes when you don't make shots you don't have that backup to say, 'OK, next time we get it and get a lot of defense going,'" coach Keith Smart said. "When young teams and veteran teams miss a couple of shots right away, they drop their shoulders.''
The Kings led 29-17 after the first quarter in their last game in Houston, but they lost for the ninth time in 11 road games in this series, 113-106 in overtime on March 26, 2012.
DeMarcus Cousins, who had a then-career-high 38 points and 14 rebounds in that defeat, has 20 points in both games versus Houston in 2012-13.
Harden's 51 points lead the Rockets in those matchups, followed by Omer Asik's 36 and 22 rebounds. Chandler Parsons scored 29 of his 34 points in a 112-102 victory on April 3.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale expects Parsons to play in two of the last three games after missing the previous four with a strained right calf.