Rockets welcome February full of home games

The Rockets completed January with a home game and will fill February with eight of 10 games at home. That offers an opportunity to get on a roll, although they cannot assume playing at home will automatically mean winning at home.

"Every game now at home is important," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We've set ourselves up to have a great run, but you have to do it. It's not enough just to talk about it. These next two games, Thursday and Friday, even though there might be some distractions with Super Bowl week, we have to take care of business.

"They know what's at stake and they see the All-Star break coming up. So they can gut it out the next couple of weeks and have the All-Star break to refuel. And it's great to come home to Houston, here it's sunshine and 70 degrees after going through snow and stuff. Spring is around the corner. Most times players, when they feel the home stretch coming in, they perk back up."

The Rockets are one game into a four-game homestand and have another in March. They have only one road trip as long as three games left this season.

"It's so nice ... to be back home," Rockets forward Ryan Anderson said. "It's nice to be done with these crazy back-to-back stretches, and long road trips, and all this stuff. It's just good to have an actual night in bed and then play a game the next day. It kind of felt like a vacation almost."

The Rockets still have not practiced at Toyota Center since Jan. 14 and won't have a practice until Sunday or Monday of next week. But they said just getting away from travel helps.

"Home is always good," Rockets guard James Harden said. "Just to get rest and prepare for games, is important. We've been on the road forever. We need to take advantage of these home games we have."

Photo: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle

Wizards could stay hot with home-heavy February schedule

Since starting the season 7-13, theWashington Wizards have been the league's second best team, going 21-7 since Dec. 8. They have the league's sixth best offense and fifth best defense over the last six and a half weeks.

At the close of January, the Wizards are tied for fourth place in the East and holding the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Atlanta Hawks. And their February schedule should help the Wiz hold onto a top-four seed.

Before the Wizards became a very good team, they were a very good team at home. And now, they've won 15 straight games at the Verizon Center. They've played four more games there (26) than they've played on the road (22), but that imbalance will continue this month.

The Wizards will play seven of their 10 February games at home. They do play six of their 10 February games against teams with winning records, but five of those six games are at the Verizon Center. The only road game against a winning team is in Indiana on Feb. 16 (the last day before the All-Star break), and the Pacers will be playing the second game of a back-to-back.

The Wizards are one of two teams (Portland is the other) that doesn't have a back-to-back in February. And the game in Indiana is one of three where their opponent will have played the night before.

At the end of the month, the Wizards will have played 33 home games and just 25 road games. They'll certainly pay for that imbalance in March and April, but don't expect them to slow down over the next 28 days.

Some more Eastern Conference notes from the February schedule...
  • Only a half game separates the Celtics (30-18) and Raptors (30-19) for second place in the East, and they'll play twice in February. They meet in Boston on Wednesday (the second game of a back-to-back for Toronto) and again in Toronto on Feb. 24.
  • The Hornets begin and end the month on the West coast. Right now, they're finishing up a three-game trip with games at Golden State (Wednesday) and Utah (Saturday). And they'll be in the middle of a six-game trip as February comes to a close.
  • The Bulls enter January with the 19th-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense. They may move toward the middle of the league on both ends of the floor in February, with six of their 11 games against top-10 offenses and six against bottom-10 defenses. In general, it's a pretty tough month. They begin the month with a six-game trip through the Western Conference, and then finish their pre-break schedule with home games against the Raptors and Celtics. After the break, they have a visit to Cleveland on the second night of a back-to-back.
  • Like the Bulls, the Cavs don't play any February games against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively.
  • The Pistons and Bucks currently sit in ninth and 10th place, respectively, but have a chance to climb into playoff position with easier February schedules than both Chicago (seventh) and Charlotte (eighth).
  • The Pacers begin the month against three of the seven worst offenses in the league (Orlando, Brooklyn and Detroit), but still play a league-high seven games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, including six straight going into the break.
  • The Heat, winners of eight straight games, rank sixth in defensive efficiency. And with a league-high seven February games against bottom-10 offenses, they should be in the top five at the end of the month.
  • The Magic play just one February game (fewest in the league) against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 defensively.
  • The Sixers are 11-5 since Dec. 30, but their February schedule won't help them if they're serious about a playoff chase. They have the East's toughest February schedule, with eight of their 12 games on the road and three back-to-backs. Two of their four home games are the first night of a back-to-back.
  • After leading the league in offensive efficiency through mid-January, the Raptors have been a bottom-five offensive team over the last two weeks (with DeMar DeRozan missing four of the last five games). Their February schedule could help them recover a bit, as they play seven of their 11 games against bottom 10 defenses.
The LA Clippers will be without point guard Chris Paul for all of February (unless his return comes earlier than his 6-8 week timetable - starting Jan. 17 - projects). They do have Blake Griffin back, but are 0-2 with since Griffin's return and 3-9 in their 12 games without Paul.

As Griffin gets his legs back, the Clippers should get better. But their schedule over the next four weeks isn't going to help them turn that 3-9, Paul-less record around.

When you take opponent strength, location and rest into account, the Clippers have the league's toughest February schedule by a pretty wide margin. Seven of their 11 February games are against teams currently over .500 and six of those are against the eight teams currently over .600. After losing to the Golden State Warriors by 46 points this past Saturday, the Clippers will see the Warriors again on Thursday and once more on Feb. 23. Two of the Clippers' four games against teams under .500 in February are against the 23-26, eighth-place Charlotte Hornets.

More Western Conference notes for February...
  • The Mavs play only two of their 11 February games against teams currently over .500, and both of those (against Utah and Boston) are at home.
  • The Rockets have the league's easiest February schedule by a pretty wide margin, with seven of their nine games at home, seven against teams currently under .500, and only one back-to-back. They don't play a single February game against a team that currently ranks in the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
  • With Staples Center preparing for the Feb. 12 Grammy Awards, the Lakers begin the month with a five-game trip through the East.
  • The Timberwolves' longest homestand of the season (six games) goes from Feb. 4-14, maybe their best chance to get into playoff position. They've won six of their last seven games at the Target Center.
  • After playing 12 of their 15 January games on the road, the Thunder will play nine of their 11 February games at home.
  • The Blazers are the only West team that doesn't play a back-to-back in February and are one of two teams (Houston is the other) with only nine games this month. But six of those nine games will be on the road and two of their three home games are against good teams (Boston and Atlanta).
  • The Kings are tied with Oklahoma City for the most home-heavy February schedule, which starts with a six-game homestand (after returning from an eight-game trip to conclude January). In total, they'll play nine of their 11 February games at the Golden 1 Center.
  • It's rodeo time, and the Spurs have the league's most road-heavy February schedule, with only two of their 10 games (the first two games of the month) at the AT&T Center. They'll be on the road for their last six games before the All-Star break, and then start their post-break schedule with two games in Los Angeles. One positive is that they have just one game (fewest in the league) against a team (Memphis) that currently ranks in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.

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