After advancing to the Western Conference Finals last year, the Houston Rockets, if the season ended today, would not make the playoffs. The Rockets (38-39) trail Utah (39-39) by a half game for the 8-seed, Dallas (39-38) by one game for the 7-seed and Portland (42-37) by three games for the 6-seed.

But if the Rockets, who face losing teams in four of their final five contests, can make the playoffs, they could actually pose a problem for the Western Conference elite. Yes, when Houston is focused, it has the potential to be a dangerous team.

A very dangerous team.

“Look, that’s the book on them,” Kurt Helin, Blogger-in-Chief of NBCSports.com’s ProBasketballTalk, said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “They’ll probably get somebody like San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round. No one thinks they’re necessarily going to win that series, but they’re not going to roll over. When they’re focused, they’re a pretty good team. They just can’t sustain that for any length of time. They’re going to have these lapses where you’re like, ‘Where did that quarter come from?’ But they’re going to win a game, and possibly two, in the first round and make somebody work harder than they have to – or harder than they want to, I should say, to get into the second round.”

Houston almost assuredly would not win a first-round series, as Golden State (69-9), San Antonio (65-12) and Oklahoma City (54-24) have the three best records in the NBA, and the Rockets are just 17-22 on the road. Still, any team with James Harden is not a team you want to see in the first round of the playoffs. Heck, Harden went off for 41 points in a 118-110 win over Oklahoma City on Sunday.

“I think the top four teams in the West are way better than the bottom four,” Helin said. “But remember, before the season, we thought Houston might be (a contender). They were on that list of, hey, if they get Ty Lawson to work out and stay healthy, that’s a really dangerous team.”

Lawson averaged 5.8 points and 3.4 assists in 53 games with Houston before getting waived in March, this after being suspended twice for alcohol-related violations. Lawson, 28, signed with Indiana a few days later.

“Obviously Lawson didn’t work out and there’s still some flaws (with Houston’s team),” Helin said. “But when they’re focused, that’s a dangerous team.”

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