HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The aftermath scene at the Toyota Center practice gym has become kind of common place as of late.
There just seems to be more blank stares than answers as the Rockets attempt to explain what has led them on this late-season six-game losing streak.
After yet another disheartening and deflating loss, the Rockets seemed completely dumbfounded on Friday when trying to make sense of this late-season slide that has slammed the door on any realistic chance of making the Western Conference playoffs. No one seems to be either able to or willing to pinpoint this current six-game slide that has many questioning everything from the Rockets desire to win to Kevin McHale’s ability to coach his team during pressure situations.
“It’s tough to say,” said forward Chase Budinger, who attempted to explain what has gone wrong. “We played against a lot of hungry teams and they came out and they made more shots than we did, especially in the second half where we’ve kind of been letting up. That’s really where our downfall has been, especially in the third quarter where we go into halftime mostly with a lead and then we always give up a lead pretty quickly in the third quarter.”
It’s almost a microcosm of the Rockets season. They started out good, gave us enough hope in the second half of the season but ultimately we are headed for a certain fall. The most cruel part about this late-season fade is the Rockets actually still have a chance to make the playoffs in these final three regular season games.
You’d be wise not to hold your breath. Not only is this team just not playing well enough to win three straight games, but the stars that would need to align to make it happen aren’t orbiting in that direction.
The Rockets would need both Phoenix and Utah to lose two games each in these final three (the Suns and Jazz actually play each other once during this stretch) while they go 3-0 the rest of the way. If the Rockets were playing okay it might not seem so impossible considering two of three are against non-playoff bound Golden State and New Orleans and you aren’t likely to see LeBron James or any member of the Big Three on the floor when the Rockets travel to Miami on Sunday.
But there is little reason to believe we will see any better effort from the Rockets during this stretch than we saw during Thursday night’s mind-boggling loss to New Orleans. Losing to Dallas, Phone, Denver and Utah during this stretch was one thing considering they were all in the fight with the Rockets for the final three playoff spots, but the Hornets were just playing for fun and still managed to win.
A little over a week ago the Rockets were coming off a 4-0 road trip and seeming like a lock to make the playoffs. Now they have dropped out of the top eight in the West into the 10th slot and they seem much more likely to fold than to play with the determination that once got our hopes up.
“I’ve seen it before. Is it shocking? Yeah,” McHale said of the collapse. “But it’s also sad because on the night where we beat Portland we were in great position to lock this thing into the playoffs. Now we’re on the outside looking in. But it doesn’t change the fact we have to go play (Saturday night).”
It’s hard to say what’s worse: Having to watch another almost certain meltdown against Golden State or the fact that we have to pretend the Rockets are seriously playing for something because mathematically they still have a playoff lifeline.
“Anything can happen. Anything is possible,” Patrick Patterson said following Friday’s practice. “If we win the rest of the games, who knows, a team may lose the rest of their games in order for us to creep back into the eighth spot.”
That would be the equivalent to cruel and unusual punishment. And not to just the Rockets fans but to the team as well as now it seems the book on stopping them is owned by everyone. Throw bodies at Goran Dragic to stop his penetrations and make the rest of the Rockets beat you on the perimeter.
It doesn’t seem like Kevin Martin is about to come off the bench and save them save them this season.
You have to know a team like San Antonio would make easy work of the Rockets in a playoff series. Two weeks ago they would have at least had a fighting chance, but these Rockets don’t seem to have much fight in them anymore.
“Everything was going good then next thing I know we took a 180-degree turn and things just weren’t going our way,” Patterson said. “We weren’t playing good basketball.”
Yet the Rockets still have something play for. They will tell you it’s the slim-to-none chance of making the playoffs. But really it’s about playing well, finishing strong and having something to build on for next season at this point.