HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Heading into last week’s four-game road trip, there was that sinking feeling the Rockets and their playoff hopes were in real trouble.
They were coming off a mind-boggling overtime loss at home to Indiana and getting set to face the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento and Portland on the road with their playoff hopes on the line. This had the potential to end badly for the Rockets who were 8-17 away from Toyota Center before last week.
But as has been the case all season, the Rockets were masterful in giving us what we didn’t expect in completing their four-game road swing a perfect 4-0 after defeating the Trail Blazers 94-89 on Monday night.
Now, instead of being on the edge of the Western Conference playoffs, the Rockets are holding strong at the No.6 speed spot ahead of Dallas and Denver with two big home games coming up this week against Utah and Phoenix.
“It was a great road trip for us,” point guard Goran Dragic said to reporters in Portland following Monday night’s win. “Before this road trip nobody was thinking we were going to win four in a row. We played really well. Now we have to take advantage at home, try to beat Phoenix and Denver – those are going to be two huge games for us. If we do that, it’s going to be 100 percent that we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Doing what the Rockets just did on the road certainly brings the possibility of the playoffs into clearer focus. Heading into the road trip, the likely goal that everyone would have been happy with was a 2-2 split. Perfection wasn’t even in the thought process.
“When you looked at the schedule you went ‘oof.’ You said, man, we’re going to have to find a way to win some of those games, and we won them all, which is great for us,” said first-year Rockets coach Kevin McHale, whose team is now 12-17 on the road with four critical road games left in the final nine regular season games. “Now we have to go home and we have four huge games coming up.”
The Rockets certainly come home with a lot of momentum and confidence as they make the push toward the playoffs. They went out the road and beat a Chicago team that has the best record in the NBA and Kobe Bryant’s playoff-bound Lakers.
But it’s still a difficult road ahead with not a lot of margin for error with Dallas and Denver just a game behind the Rockets (32-25) in the final two playoff spots. The Rockets are just two games ahead of Phoenix, which is on the outside of the playoff race right now. This could come down to the very last game of the season.
Veteran Marcus Camby, who was traded from Portland to the Rockets last month, likes where the Rockets are but understands just fragile the situation is with so many teams having reasons to be competitive down the stretch.
“It feels good, but I felt when I was here we had a team that could make the playoffs, also,” said Camby, who made his first return to Portland on Monday since the trade. “We’re definitely two teams going in two different directions right now. Our spot in the playoffs is not solidified, so we have a lot of key games coming up and we’re going to need a lot of help from a lot of different teams.”
The good sign for the Rockets right now is they seem to be playing their best basketball at the most critical time. They have won six of their last eight games. And they have move a step closer to being a full-strength with point guard Kyle Lowry returning to the lineup Sunday night after missing 15 games with a bacterial infection.
We’ve gotten to see what it’s like to have Lowry and Dragic work off each other and even play together these last two games. It will be interesting to see how leading scorer Kevin Martin blends back in after missing the last month of action with a strained shoulder.
In the absence of their two best scorers, the Rockets seemed to come together as a team. Dragic came into his own during the stretch, while defense and hustle became staples.