The fight is on in the West

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
11:15
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Since their big trade for Kevin Martin, the Rockets have been pretty hot. A recent four-game winning streak -- they're 7-3 in March -- positioned them ahead of the Grizzlies as the first team breathing down the necks of the teams positioned to take the last playoff spots in the West.

Right? Somehow ... not really. For all their winning, the Rockets have barely improved their likelihood of making the playoffs, and will need a major stumble from an opponent to avoid the lottery.

That's because five teams ahead of the Rockets -- the Jazz, Thunder, Suns, Spurs and Blazers -- have all been tearing it up.

Heading into last night's games, those five teams were a combined 36-11 in March. That group has been so good this month that, with an ordinarily impressive 7-4 record this month, the Jazz are the laggards. Every one of those teams has had a winning streak of at least four games at some point in the last three weeks.

Which is part of what makes last night so meaningful. At 7-1, the Blazers had been the hottest of these teams in March, but they met another of these teams -- the Suns -- and lost. At the same time, the Spurs just barely fell to the Hawks, while the Thunder learned hard lessons in Indiana.

Which makes last night a great night for the Suns, who gained valuable ground against three teams in a standings struggle where the loser gets to face the Lakers in the first round.

The Rockets won last night, too. But that'll only matter if one of those other teams really cools off.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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