Poll: Final Western Conference Play-In Spot

Two weeks ago, when word broke that the Rockets would likely be without star center Alperen Sengun for the rest of the season due to injuries to his knee and ankle, it looked like we could safely pencil in the Western Conference’s 10 playoff and/or play-in teams.

At that time, the No. 11 Rockets trailed the No. 10 Warriors by five games in the standings, and with Sengun going down, it appeared very likely that Houston would be headed for the lottery, where the club would hope to get lucky and hang onto its top-four protected first-round pick.

Instead, the Rockets have been the NBA’s best team since Sengun’s injury, going 7-0 with a +15.3 net rating during that time.

After ranking in the middle of the pack in three-point attempts and pace of play for most of the season, Houston has been in the top five in both categories over the past seven games as the club has opted to play faster and spread the floor more by starting Jabari Smith Jr. as a small-ball center. Jalen Green, in particular, has thrived this month, averaging 27.8 points per game on .496/.409/.800 shooting in March.

The Warriors, meanwhile, have played up-and-down ball for much of the season, and the last few weeks have been no exception. Golden State (36-34) has lost six of its past nine games, including its last two, and now holds just a half-game lead on Houston (36-35) for the No. 10 seed in the West.

There’s some good news for the Warriors. For one, they hold the tiebreaker edge over Houston. The Rockets have also benefited from playing several of the league’s worst teams since Sengun’s injury, including the Spurs, Jazz, Trail Blazers, and Wizards (twice). Their schedule will get more difficult down the stretch — Tankathon says Houston has the seventh-most difficult remaining slate, while Golden State’s is 25th.

Still, the Rockets are on fire, and eight of Golden State’s next 10 games are on the road, including an April 4 matchup in Houston. The Warriors also can’t bet on passing another team to stay in play-in territory if the Rockets pass them in the standings, since they’ve fallen 2.5 games back of the No. 9 Lakers and are five games behind anyone else in the West.

The veteran Warriors are still considered far more likely than the upstart Rockets to participate in the play-in tournament, per BetOnline.ag, but it’s certainly no longer a lock.

We want to know what you think. Will the Rockets surpass the Warriors to claim a play-in spot, or will Golden State hang onto that No. 10 spot?

Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

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