HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – All season the Rockets have been defined by their grit and toughness much more so than their talent.
But somewhere during this critical final stretch the Rockets have lost their Mojo. Now they are on the verge of losing any realistic chance of making the Western Conference playoffs with five games remaining in the regular season.
It seems like they have no chance after coming home last week off a momentum grabbing four-game road winning streak and promptly laying down four straight losses with their playoff chances on the line. The edge and the chip on the shoulder that had turned this motley NBA crew into playoff contenders has suddenly disappeared.
The great mystery is where did it go? And the even greater mystery is will that edge return in order to salvage what had been impressive season considering some rather raw circumstances.
“I’m out there playing so I’m not sure but we were rolling for a minute and then when we came back home we took a let off,” said guard Courtney Lee. “We’ve got to find that momentum again and get back on that high horse and ride it.”
The ride continues Wednesday night with a virtual must-win road game at the Dallas Mavericks, who are ahead of the Rockets by 1 ½ games in the Western Conference playoff race. The Mavs, like seemingly every team in contention for the final three playoff spots, holds a tie-breaker edge over the Rockets no matter what happens Wednesday.
But a win Wednesday not only stops an ill-timed four-game losing streak by the Rockets (32-29), but it restores some confidence as they look to climb back into one of the top eight seed positions. They are currently tied with No.8 Phoenix but the Suns have the tie-breaker edge because of a better conference record.
Apparently Rockets coach Kevin McHale broke down for his team what it needs to do to make the playoffs these last five games in terms of raw numbers and percentages. According to the coach, if the Rockets win three then their percentages of making the playoffs are 66 to 67 percent. Winning four of five dramatically increases their chances to a virtual guarantee.
We can argue the flaws in those numbers for days because now in addition to winning the Rockets also need teams like Denver, Dallas and Phoenix to lose games.
McHale, of course, wasn’t about to get into his numbers and percentage theories with the media after Tuesday’s practice.
“We just have to win (Wednesday night),” he said. “The rest of that stuff I have no control over. We have to go to Dallas and find a way to win.”
But for some reason that has been extremely hard for the Rockets to do this past week. It’s hard not to question if toughness hasn’t become an issue.
Consider that the last four games have come against teams that are all bunched up with the Rockets for the final three playoff spots, so the sense of urgency was the same. Utah, Phoenix and then Denver on back-to-back nights all toughed out wins with strong second-half performances while the Rockets wilted.
McHale can’t explain what has happened to his team’s sense of urgency and neither is he sure it will return Wednesday night.
“I thought I expected to see a sense of urgency four games ago,” he said. “We’ve been telling the guys `It’s all in our hands.’ Four games ago before this losing streak we told the guys, `This is the time where you really amp it up and get separation.’
“It wasn’t like we played poorly, we just didn’t have an edge.”