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Can disappointing Rockets salvage season on road trip?

Houston has perhaps one last shot to save face and solidify its standing as a playoff team

POSTED: Mar 3, 2016 11:04 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


Houston's playoff hopes may be made -- or dashed -- after their upcoming five-game road trip.

— Here they are gassed up at the end of the runway and ready to take off on another season-saving trip to Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston and Charlotte.

The Wright Brothers didn't have this much trouble getting off the ground at Kitty Hawk.

James Harden says the Houston Rockets just need to find their niche.

Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff says they're still waiting for a spark.

So as what is evidently the longest training camp in NBA history continues, the league's most disappointing team in 2015-16 got themselves a spot in the record books Wednesday by shooting just 3-for-34 from 3-point range.

And won.

Pelicans vs. Rockets

James Harden scores 39 points, grabs 12 rebounds and hands out seven assists to lead the Rockets past the visiting Pelicans, 100-95.

You're tempted to say the 100-95 decision spoke more about the many shortcomings of the New Orleans Pelicans.

But since opening night back in October when the Denver Nuggets put a 20-point drumming on their inflated heads, this has been a season when the Rockets have rarely been able to measure up to any previous markings on the kitchen wall.

Before they finally squeezed the ugliest of wins out of the tube, there were Dwight Howard and Pat Beverley jawing at each other as they ran back down the floor early in the third quarter. They had to be separated by teammates during a timeout and Bickerstaff left them both sitting on the bench when play resumed.

"They had to finish a conversation," the coach said.

We got a month and half of basketball left before the playoffs start. So we got plenty of time. Plenty of games. Plenty of practice times. Individual work. We've got room for improvement. We've got six weeks to get it done.

– Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff

Nothing to it, claimed Howard.

"Just what happens during a basketball game," he said.

Yet this has been a season when talk has been cheap and the Rockets have rarely, if ever, been on the same page as a group.

Virtually the team that won 56 games and made it to the Western Conference finals a season ago, sits below .500 at 30-31 and hanging onto the No. 8 spot in the playoff race only because the Jazz have been falling faster of late.

Nightly Notable: James Harden

James Harden scores 39 points with 12 rebounds and seven assists to lead the Rockets to victory on Wednesday night.

"There's 22 games left," Bickerstaff said Wednesday's game. "We got a month and half of basketball left before the playoffs start. So we got plenty of time. Plenty of games. Plenty of practice times. Individual work. We've got room for improvement. We've got six weeks to get it done."

They don't play together often enough. They don't play defense consistently. They don't have any sense of continuity on the court or in the locker room.

Three-quarters of the way through the schedule, the question has to be: When did can't simply become won't?

The duo Harden and Howard bear the brunt of the responsibility as the de facto leaders of the team.

But general manager Daryl Morey struck out on his one offseason move to add point guard Ty Lawson to the roster. Lawson was waived this week and could cost the Rockets their first-round Draft pick in June. The GM panicked and fired coach Kevin McHale after 11 games. Then Morey had his trade deadline-day deal to get back a first-round pick rescinded when the Pistons wouldn't clear forward Donatas Motiejunas on a physical due to a back problem.

Now Morey has signed a former No. 2 overall Draft pick, Michael Beasley, for the rest of the season. If anything ever reeks with the scent of desperation, it's the welcoming of the much-traveled, much-troubled Beasley into the fold.

Bad chemistry has always been the problem with this roster and somehow the egos of Howard, Harden and the whirlybird Josh Smith teamed with Beasley, fresh off his stint as Chinese Basketball Association MVP with the Shandong Golden Stars, should re-establish stability? They will also be joined by Andrew Goudelock, a former D-League MVP. Well, that's two more MVPs than they had on the roster.

"I've been saying it a long time and I know it's hear," said Bickerstaff. "But we're just waiting for one spark. I think when that spark happens, great things will happen for this team. You'll finally see this team reach its potential.

"Obviously for anybody here or anybody involved, I don't think this season has played out the way we expected it to. We were planning on coming in and there was some momentum built from last season and we were planning on building on that momentum.

"But for whatever reason things, improvements, additions, changes, what have you in the system and the roster, they didn't pan out the way we expected them to. Again, we're here. But it's not too late. That's the message to our guys and that's what we keep saying. It's not over with. There's still opportunity to make something happen."

Before it all goes up in smoke.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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