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Game Day: Rockets at Kings

Analysis and observations from Houston's 106-91 loss to the Sacramento Kings

SACRAMENTO - It was a Murphy’s Law kind of night for Houston.

Injuries, awful shooting, foul trouble, questionable decision-making, an efficient Rudy Gay – you name it, the Rockets succumbed to it Sunday in Sacramento. And as one might expect, that toxic combination culminated in defeat as Houston dropped a 106-91 decision to the Kings.


The day began badly with news that Jeremy Lin would miss the game due to back spasms that resulted from a blow he took Friday night against the Warriors, and that Terrence Jones would be a game-time decision because he was battling severe flu-like symptoms.

Then the game started and the Rockets’ Sunday rapidly transitioned from bad to worse. The Kings are royalty when it comes to box-of-chocolate status (read: you never know what you’re going to get) and Houston spent the vast majority of the evening mimicking Sacramento’s frequently mind-boggling miscues. The Rockets turned the ball over with reckless abandon, frequently falling off the balance beam that separates positive aggression from foolishness. And when their shots started clanking and their defense began springing leaks, the team’s final fate was ultimately sealed.

“I didn’t think we were ready to play tonight,” said Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson who filled in for head coach Kevin McHale for the third consecutive game.” Tonight, I didn’t think it was a good effort and it was very similar to the Utah game. At some point we’ve got to learn, no matter who we play, that we’ve got to be ready to play and have the right mindset going in. We’ve let too many of these games slip away.”

Dwight Howard agreed with that assessment while adding a rather salient statement about how his club must move past its tendency to fall flat against some of the league’s lesser lights, as it has this season in losses to Philadelphia, Utah and, now, Sacramento.

“We can’t have games like this and expect to be great,” he said. “You look at the great teams like San Antonio … when they play against teams that they should beat they put them away early. That’s no knock on Sacramento, I think they’re a very talented young team, but we’re striving for greatness and to reach greatness we have to look at those teams before us, like San Antonio, and they hit guys first and that’s how they play, and that’s why at the end of the year they’re always No. 1 or No. 2 in the West and they’re in the Finals. We’ve got to take that approach if we’re going to be a great team.”


- With Jones ailing due to flu-like symptoms, Omer Asik still out with a thigh contusion and Greg Smith making his return after missing a month with a knee injury, the last thing Houston needed today was frontcourt foul trouble. So naturally it took less than five minutes for Dwight Howard to get nailed with his second foul of the game, forcing him to take an early seat on the bench.

That brought Smith onto the court for his first action since sustaining a knee sprain during the Rockets’ November 14 game against the Knicks and the third-year forward made a positive early impression by immediately grabbing an offensive rebound, converting the put-back and then playing some solid low-post D on the other end of the floor. But by the end of the first period, Smith had picked up three fouls of his own, putting Houston in a precarious position going forward.

- On the more positive side of the ledger, Chandler Parsons was an absolute monster in the first quarter, racking up 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor. He took full advantage of the wide-open driving lanes and the Kings’ obvious lack of rim protection – a point of emphasis for Houston coming in, knowing full well that Sacramento opponents had hit 65.5 percent of their shots from the restricted area this season – the second-highest mark in the league in that category. All told, Houston drained 11 of its 16 shots inside the arc in the opening period, the vast majority of which came right near the hoop.

- The second quarter, however, was not nearly so kind to the Rockets and it was largely a mess of their own making. Indeed, the most contagious thing floating around Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena was not Jones’ flu, but rather the Kings’ oft-curious decision making. The Rockets were bitten by the bug big time in the first half, racking up 11 turnovers, including one three-possession stretch during which they coughed up the ball every time, each turnover zanier and more head-scratching than the next.

Also not helping matters: Houston hit halftime with a less-than-sparkling 10-of-20 mark from the free throw line which included an ignominious stretch that saw the team miss nine consecutive freebies at one point. Little wonder, then, that the Rockets were forced to endure a 4:31 run without scoring a single point despite the fact they were facing one of the NBA’s most porous defenses. Suffice to say, Houston had to be feeling at least somewhat fortunate to only be down eight at the break.

- The silver lining from that mess of a second quarter: Despite the fact Howard had two fouls, Sacramento spent a huge chunk of the period settling for outside jumpers, ensuring Howard safe passage to the third quarter.

- Any feelings of relief from the sentiment expressed in the previous paragraph were fleeting, however. As if Houston needed any more handicaps, James Harden, who had scored 17 points in the first half, rolled his left ankle stepping on Ben McLemore's foot en route to the basket to start the third quarter. He returned to the game at the 5:26 mark of the period, but by then the Rockets trailed 73-61 and Howard had been saddled with four fouls.

- Houston trailed 81-71 heading to the fourth quarter. Turnovers, poor free throw shooting, an abundance of missed open 3s, poor D, injuries, sickness, pestilence and other assorted plagues ... You'll be shocked to know that's not a winning combo.

- Sunday’s winner for moment that best symbolized the kind of game it turned out to be for the Rockets: Amid all the other issues adversely affecting the team, Smith dislocated his pinky in the final frame, then was forced to stand there and grimace through the agonizing pain as the team’s Head Athletic Trainer Keith Jones worked for a good 20 seconds (that surely must have felt like 20 hours) to pop it back into place. Good times. And also: gross.

- Houston never truly threatened the rest of the way. The Rockets finished with 17 turnovers leading to 20 Sacramento points while shooting an anemic 58 percent from the free throw line, 26 percent from 3 and getting outscored 52-42 in the paint. That combo will get you killed just about every time.

- Rudy Gay, meanwhile, shot 50 percent from the field for the second consecutive game with the Kings. Take note: that’s only the third time he’s hit that mark all season. Yeah, it was that kind of night. He finished with 26 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals.

- Safe to say the Rockets can’t wait to get home after ending their west coast road trip like this. Up next for Houston: a couple of severely needed days off before hosting the Chicago Bulls at Toyota Center Wednesday night. They won’t be able to get comfortable, though: the team heads right back on the road after the Bulls game for a brutal back-to-back that will take them to Indiana Friday night for a date against the NBA-leading Pacers before battling the Pistons’ plethora of frontcourt beef on Saturday.


After the game, Sampson said Lin may very well miss Houston’s next contest, too. Houston’s point guard began feeling severe back pain during the second half of Friday’s game against Golden State and has been receiving treatment for the ailment ever since.

Sampson was less sure about Harden’s status going forward. The Rockets’ All-Star shooting guard described his ankle as “very, very, very painful” afterwards and would not speculate on how much time, if any, he might miss due to the injury. He hoped that an extra-tight tape job could get him through tonight’s game but, as with the rest of Houston’s hopes this evening, that aspiration was quickly whisked away by a rather harsh dose of reality

“He was not effective (after the injury),” Sampson admitted. “I probably should not have put him back in but he wanted to go back in so we let him try. When he sprained his ankle, his night was basically over.”

Added Harden, who finished with a team-high 25 points: “It was throbbing, so I just tried to tape it up real tight to see if I could go out there and move, but it wasn’t working so we shut it down.”