While the San Antonio Spurs have secured home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs, things remain up in the air for the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets will try to lock up the No. 4 seed in the West and home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason with a victory over the Spurs on Monday night.
Following fifth-place Portland's 119-117 overtime win over Golden State on Sunday night, Houston (53-27) sits just a half-game ahead of the Trail Blazers (53-28) heading into its final two games of the regular season.
The Rockets and Blazers are assured of facing each other in the opening round, and the only thing left to be determined is where the series will begin.
A victory over San Antonio would settle things since the Rockets won the season series with Portland 3-1 to claim a potential tiebreaker. Houston concludes the regular season Wednesday at New Orleans, while the Blazers host the Los Angeles Clippers.
Two losses and another win by the Trail Blazers will send Game 1 to Portland.
Closing their recent three-game road trip with a pair of losses put Houston's chances of opening the playoffs at home in serious jeopardy. Portland has been on a roll with eight victories in nine games while the Rockets dropped five of their previous nine.
However, they returned home Saturday with a crucial 111-104 win over the Pelicans.
"We needed this win more than anything," said James Harden, who had 33 points and 13 assists for Houston, which trailed by 10 entering the fourth quarter.
The Rockets were given a boost by the returns of Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley, who both missed the previous eight games with injuries. Beverley had 20 points in 33 minutes and Howard played 29 and scored 13.
"They both said they were feeling fine and wanted to win the game and we needed that win," coach Kevin McHale said.
Houston may face a juggled lineup against the Spurs (62-18) if coach Gregg Popovich decides to rest his aging trio of stars over the final two games. Tim Duncan is 37, Manu Ginobili 36 and Tony Parker 31, and Popovich will want fresh legs for the postseason.
Duncan and Ginobili, however, already sat out a 112-104 victory over Phoenix on Friday and will have had four days of rest since the last time they played.
Even if they do sit again, the Spurs' deep rotation is nothing to overlook. Danny Green scored 33 points against the Suns and Kawhi Leonard added 18. Throw in solid role players like Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter and San Antonio still poses a challenge without its longtime big three.
The victory over Phoenix gave the Spurs home-court advantage throughout the postseason and was their 15th straight at home. They are 32-8 this season in San Antonio.
"It's a big plus," Green said. "It's not something we were focused on, but we know it will help us. We'll be at home for most of the playoffs. The biggest thing for us is to stay healthy and to build chemistry. Winning games in the process helps and we get home-court advantage. That's just the extra bonus for us."
San Antonio hosts the Los Angeles Lakers in its regular season finale Wednesday.
The Rockets, who won the first three meetings with San Antonio, have a chance to pull off a rare sweep in the season series. It hasn't happened since Hall of Fame centers Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson were battling in the middle in 1992-93.
Houston's season series win against the Spurs is also its first since '96-97.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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