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Wednesday April 6, 2011 1:07 AM

Kings Deal Rockets Cruel Blow

Houston's 104-101 loss leaves Rockets' playoff hopes on life support

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - The look on Chuck Hayes’ face said it all.

Awash in disappointment of the most agonizing kind, the Rockets’ locker room leader sat staring straight ahead, searching for answers he knew would never come.

Half an hour earlier, the Western Conference playoff door had cracked open for his club following Memphis’ surprising home loss to the Clippers. This was the opportunity Houston had been seeking. Here before them was the chance to finally reap the fruits of their fantastic post-All Star break labor by posting another win and really making the Grizzlies sweat. Topple the lowly Sacramento Kings and suddenly Houston’s long odds to qualify for postseason play wouldn’t look so improbable after all. The door to the playoffs was within reach.

Or so it seemed. Sacramento, playing much better of late, gave Houston all it could handle. And the Rockets, so shockingly and spectacularly good the last six weeks, suddenly couldn’t shoot straight or get stops at the other end. The end result: a bitterly disappointing 104-101 Kings win; one which left Houston’s playoff hopes on life support and its players at a loss for rational explanations.

“I guess we were just looking for somebody else to pick us up instead of picking up ourselves individually,” said a disconsolate Hayes. “We just didn’t get stops. We let everybody shoot a good percentage from the field. They started hitting a couple jumpers and then everything starts to fall. Then we get down and we don’t hit a jumper. I don’t know. I guess it just wasn’t meant for us to win.”

To be sure, Sacramento played well throughout most of the contest – at least until the final six minutes during which time the Kings very nearly self-destructed and allowed the Rockets to steal the game. And Houston was probably due for a clunker after playing at such an elite level for the past 20 games. Wide-open shots were missed, defensive assignments were blown and even Kevin Martin, a near 90 percent free throw shooter, could only connect on four of his eight attempts from the line.

Every once in awhile those things are going to happen, even to the best of teams. Far more difficult to fathom, however, was the Rockets’ lack of energy. Blame it on the bevy of uncontested 3s that simply wouldn’t fall or Sacramento’s size that wreaked havoc on both ends of the floor, but Houston never could find that extra gear which had helped the team overcome similar issues two nights prior against Atlanta. And the weight of that reality, with so much riding on every game, hit Hayes hardest of all.

“It was definitely an opportunity wasted,” he said. “We knew we had to win out. If we were going to go down, we didn’t want to go down like that: with a lack of energy and (no) sense of urgency.”

In truth, however, there are likely very valid reasons for the Rockets’ inability to rise to the occasion Tuesday night. This team has played nearly every game since late February with the do-or-die intensity of a Game 7. With their margin for error so slim, they had no other choice. And while Houston’s remarkable run has been a sight to behold, one wonders about the sort of emotional, mental and physical toll it has taken on the team.

Still, as Kyle Lowry was quick to remind after the game, the Rockets are in a hole of their own making. This loss is a killer, no doubt, but so too were defeats against the likes of Golden State, Washington, Toronto, Charlotte and Minnesota earlier in the year. In fact, if there’s a lesson to be learned in this experience, it likely lies in the realization that games in the season’s first three months matter just as much as those that take place in the final three. It’s far easier to dismiss December defeats because so much of the season remains. But they can be just as damaging as any other when all is said and done.

Every game counts. Every game matters. And as players and reporters filed out of the Rockets’ deathly quiet locker room Tuesday night, no one was more aware of that fact than Chuck Hayes. The evidence was written all over his face.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

It’s a tough loss. We just didn’t do enough at either end of the court. They had a lot of points in the paint. We missed a lot of wide-open shots. Missed free throws. We just didn’t what we had to do at either end of the court to win it.

There was one stretch where we got about three or four stops and we took some really tough shots. We didn’t move the ball like we talked about doing. We turned it over in the second half a number of times. You’re 12 down, you have to be perfect to come back and win the game. Even though they tried to let us back in it by fouling at the 3-point line, but everything had to go right at the end.

(tough when you have to play at such a high level for such an extended period of time?): Yeah, you’re going to have that and somehow you’re going to have to find a way and we didn’t find a way. This is a dangerous team to play no matter what their record is. They’re playing the season out, they’re playing free and easy and I don’t know if that was the reason but we had a lot of wide-open looks and we just didn’t knock them down and they usually fuel our fire. It didn’t happen tonight. Like I told the team afterward, we have to respond. With four games left, we have to see how we want to finish the season as well as we want to finish it and that’s what we’re going to try to do tomorrow.

KYLE LOWRY

I think we kind of didn’t take that game as seriously as we should’ve. We missed a lot of shots that we usually make. It’s tough. The last month we’ve been playing extremely hard and I think today, when shots didn’t fall, the frustration got to us a little bit.

It wasn’t running out of gas but when you hit those points where you miss shots that you usually make and things aren’t happening the way things had been happening, it hits you a little bit.

(exhausting when you know you have to win every game?): Yeah, but that’s the situation we put ourselves in. It’s one of those things where we know what we have to do every night and tonight we let one slip away. That’s a game we should have had.

CHUCK HAYES

(on lack of energy): I don’t know why it was tough. It just wasn’t there.

(wasted opportunity?): It was definitely an opportunity wasted. We knew we had to win out. If we were going to go down, we didn’t want to go down like that: with a lack of energy and (no) sense of urgency.

I guess the whole team didn’t have it. I guess we were just looking for somebody else to pick us up instead of picking up ourselves individually. We just didn’t get stops. We let everybody shoot a good percentage from the field. They started hitting a couple jumpers and then everything starts to fall. Then we get down and we don’t hit a jumper. I don’t know. I guess it just wasn’t meant for us to win.

KEVIN MARTIN

I think tonight, from the tip, we just didn’t seem to have our energy that we’ve had the past couple of months. It’s a bad time of year to not play like we’ve been playing the last couple months. For whatever reason, we just looked really tired and out of sorts tonight.

(exhausting when you know you have to win every game?): No, because I think we’re all healthy right now, ready to play basketball. I think it was just that we dropped our level tonight. We’re a good basketball team but we were playing like we feel we’re the Lakers and we can just turn it on at any point. And as you can see, we’re not that good.

COURTNEY LEE

(On what happened) “The free throw shooting and the Kings getting on a roll (are what happened). The (Kings) hitting every shot and we missed a lot of shots that we usually hit. We had a lot of unforced turnovers at the end and we really didn't execute to the ‘T’ like we've been doing.”

(On winning the remaining games) “That was our only choice before this game and now it's definitely our last choice now so we just have to continue to win and if anything, finish the season strong.”

SACRAMENTO KINGS COACH PAUL WESTPHAL

(On his team’s play) “We are playing hard and together as a team. We finally have our team together and we like what we see. I give our players credit for their continued improvement. The players are making a statement that they care about things.”

(On the game) “All three of our bigs (Cousins, Dalembert and Thompson) had a major impact on the game. Our bigs were taking care of the glass. Marcus ( Thornton) has a knack for making big shots and he is very hard to guard. We lost our poise a lot during the stretch but we didn’t dwell on it. Then we still found a way to win the game.”

DEMARCUS COUSINS

(On the key to the win) “Defense was the key. We did a good job after they made a run of not losing our poise. We are playing together and trusting one another. We are playing to win. Marcus came in during the season and has become a big part of our team. We have five options that we can go to at any point.”

SAMUEL DALEMBERT

(On the game) “We got going early and controlled the boards and we are doing a lot of good things. We let them come back and make a run on us. We saw we could attack the basket and crash the boards. Our bench came in and good job.”

MARCUS THORNTON

(On his play down the stretch) “I felt I needed to be more assertive on the offensive end of the court and my teammates found me for good shots. We are a young team. We fought hard and played a good game. My teammates have confidence in me. We’ve been playing good on the road and we stole the game tonight against Houston.”

NOTES

Houston dropped a 104-101 decision to Sacramento tonight, snapping its four-game winning streak over the Kings.

The Memphis Grizzlies also lost tonight by an 82-81 count to the L.A. Clippers, keeping the Rockets three games out of the eighth seed with four games remaining for each team. The Rockets head to New Orleans tomorrow night to take on the Hornets, while the Grizzlies face this same Kings club on Friday.

The Rockets, who finished 26-of-27 (.963) from the stripe in the last meeting at Sacramento (3/7/11), went just 14-of-21 (.667) from the free throw line tonight. Houston missed a total of just 13 free throws over the previous five games combined (.890, 105-118 FT from 3/27/11-4/3/11).

The Kings hit 44-of-83 (.530) from the floor tonight despite going 1-of-11 (.091) from beyond the arc. Houston has now allowed its opponent to reach .500 from the field in six of its last seven games (Rockets record: 4-3).

Kevin Martin registered 30 points (12-25 FG, 4-8 FT) tonight, giving him three 30-point performances in a row: 33 points vs. San Antonio (4/1/11) and 35 points vs. Atlanta (4/3/11). He also had three consecutive 30-point outings earlier this season with 30 at Cleveland (2/23/11), 30 vs. New Jersey (2/26/11) and 33 at New Orleans (2/27/11). Martin now has 20 or more points in 11 of his last 12 games, which includes five 30-point outings.

Luis Scola posted 18 points (9-16 FG), 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals tonight. Scola, who actually owns three career 20-point, 10-rebound outings against the Kings, now has 18 double-doubles overall this season.

Kyle Lowry recorded 15 points (4-15 FG, 2-7 3FG, 5-6 FT), a game-high nine assists and two steals tonight. Lowry has reached double-figure scoring in a career-high 19 consecutive outings (2/26/11-4/5/11) and has hit at least one trey in 18 straight contests (2/27/11-4/5/11). He also made 26 free throws in a row (3/23/11-4/511), snapping his string on his fifth free throw attempt tonight.

Samuel Dalembert finished with 21 points (8-12 FG, 5-6 FT), 15 rebounds (14 defensive), three steals and three blocked shots tonight. Dalembert now has 13 double-doubles and four 20-point games on the season.

Marcus Thornton also netted 21 points (9-16 FG) tonight. Thornton entered this game averaging 22.8 points (.463 FG%, .383 3FG%, .828 FT%) in the previous 13 games.

DeMarcus Cousins posted 15 points (6-8 FG, 3-4 FT) and 15 rebounds (13 defensive) tonight. Cousins has now scored in double figures in 18 of the last 19 games and has recorded nine double-doubles over that span.

Tyreke Evans added 18 points (7-16 FG, 4-4 FT) and five assists tonight. Evans averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 assists in the previous six games, which came after missing the prior 19 games (plantar fasciitis, left foot).

Jason Thompson, who had 15 points (5-10 FG, 5-5 FT) and 10 rebounds in the last game at Houston (12/14/10), had 14 points (7-10 FG) and six boards tonight. Thompson has now shot .654 (34-52 FG) from the field in the last seven games.

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