Rockets

Competing Hard No Longer Enough, Rockets Must Win Down Stretch

By TERRANCE HARRIS, SportsRadio 610
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Rockets coach Kevin McHale speaks to point guard Kyle Lowry. (credit: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rockets coach Kevin McHale speaks to point guard Kyle Lowry. (credit: Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – As unbelievable as it seems but just a week ago the Rockets were in control of their playoff destiny.

But that isn’t necessarily the case anymore.

Following Monday night’s crushing 105-102 home loss to Denver – their fourth straight defeat – all the Rockets can do now is win out these last five remaining regular-season games and hope that’s good enough. After falling out of the all-important top eight seeding in the Western Conference by a half game following back-to-back losses to Denver, the Rockets can’t afford to slip up again.

The mood after Monday night’s loss was in stark contrast to a week earlier when the Rockets were ending a four-game road trip on a high after going 4-0 against and seeming in control of their playoff destiny.

“We have five games left we’ve gotta go win some, simple as that,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale, whose team heads to Dallas for a must-win game Wednesday night. “Does it hurt? Yeah. We played hard tonight. The guys went out there and they busted it.

“The guys are hurting right now. We’ll regroup and we’ve got to go to Dallas and find a way. We just have to find a way to win some games. We were sitting good a few games ago and now we’re not sitting so good. So we just have to go and take care of ourselves. That was a game I thought we competed hard.”

True enough, the Rockets did compete Monday night. But that is nothing new. They always compete hard.

What is different are these third-quarter lulls that have done the Rockets in all four losses during this current streak. After taking a 51-44 lead into halftime, the Rockets were outscored 31-23 in the third to allow the Nuggets to take a one-point lead into the fourth.

And with no sure-fire scorer on the floor, it was an odyssey from there. The Nuggets worked hard to deny Goran Dragic the ball and then played a soft zone, almost banking on Courtney Lee, Chandler Parsons, Chase Budinger, and Kyle Lowry to all continue to struggle from the outside.

Yeah the effort was better than the Utah game, which started this current slide, but it still ended in a loss the Rockets could ill-afford to have.

“I would feel somehow well if we would have played this type of game against Utah after the really good trip that we had, so that you get home with the feeling that, ‘OK, we lost, but we’re going to win games if we play this way,’” said Luis Scola, who finished the night with 14 points. “But right now it’s difficult because we just blew away our margin for error and the season is now four games shorter. Right now playing well and being close is not enough.”

The Rockets simply have to win. There is very little room for any of the final five teams fighting for final three playoff spots in the West to mess up. Only a couple of games separate them.

A week ago, the Rockets were in the sixth-seed spot in the standings but Monday’s night’s loss saw them fall out of the top eight into the ninth position. Phoenix is now occupying the eighth seed by virtue of a slightly better conference record than the Rockets.

It would seem that Wednesday night’s matchup against Dallas will be an impossible task. But you have to consider the Mavericks are coming off back-to-back overtime losses to the Lakers and Jazz and they are 5-5 in their last 10 games just like the Rockets.

“We’re still there, it’s just painful because we lost four games in a row against teams who are right there behind or in front of us,” Scola said. “It really hurts because we could have been clinching the playoffs right now. Instead we are just seeing what’s going to happen with Phoenix to see if we’re going to get in the playoffs or not. We still have a lot of chances to make the playoffs, we just need to find a way to win games. If we don’t win games we’re not going to make it.”

Contact Terrance Harris at terrancefharris@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @Terranceharris

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