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Recap: Rockets vs. Nuggets, April 16, 2012

Monday April 16, 2012 11:59 PM

Rockets Drop Heartbreaker To Denver

Nuggets sweep pivotal home-and-home set thanks to 105-102 win in Houston

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - The Rockets played with the sort of passionate desperation that had been so sorely lacking from their effort the past few games. They competed as if their playoff lives depended on the outcome, scrambling and diving for every loose ball right from the opening tip. Players stepped up, made big shots, left everything they had on the floor and undoubtedly adhered to every other sports cliche that’s used to describe the all-out performance of athletes in pressure-packed situations.

But while the effort was there, the desired end result remained elusive to Houston yet again. Denver outlasted the Rockets 105-102 in front of a packed, playoff-caliber crowd at Toyota Center Monday night, sweeping the two teams’ pivotal home-and-home series, while sending the Rockets to their fourth consecutive loss.

It was the sort of heartbreaking defeat that hurts on multiple fronts: the sting from the game itself and its potential postseason ramifications first and foremost; but also because it served as a bitter reminder of the opportunity wasted last week when the team was unable to take advantage of the cushion earned from its 4-0 road trip.

“I would feel somehow well if we would have played this type of game against Utah after the really good trip that we had, so that you get home with the feeling that, ‘OK, we lost, but we’re going to win games if we play this way,’” said Luis Scola immediately after the game. “But right now it’s difficult because we just blew away our margin for error and the season is now four games shorter. Right now playing well and being close is not enough.

“We’re still there, it’s just painful because we lost four games in a row against teams who are right there behind or in front of us. It really hurts because we could have been clinching the playoffs right now today. Instead we are just seeing what’s going to happen ... to see if we’re going to get in the playoffs or not.”

But bleak as Houston’s postseason prospects may appear on the hellacious heels of a four-game losing skid that has seen the club drop out of the Western Conference’s top-8 for the time being (Phoenix, tied with Houston at 32-29, currently owns the tiebreaker due to its superior conference record), the Rockets can draw at least a small degree of comfort from the fact that they still almost certainly control their own destiny. Making the playoffs may require running the table over the course of their final five games. Perhaps it will take a 4-1 mark, or maybe they’ll receive some good fortune and “only” need to win three more from here on out.

Point being, as much as Monday’s contest had the feel of a do-or-die affair, the Rockets still have life despite losing, just as they would still have work to do if they had escaped with a win. And if any team should know how quickly fortunes can change in the NBA, it should be the Rockets who have been on a non-stop roller coaster ride through hot and cold spells all season long.

The biggest takeaway of all, however, is that this is how Houston must play the rest of the way. Whether shots are falling or rimming out, regardless of whether or not the calls are going their way, they can let nothing prevent them from playing with passion and pride for the full 48 minutes of each of their remaining five games. It wasn’t enough to secure victory Monday in a hotly-contested game that could have gone either way. But it may still be enough to earn this club a playoff berth.

“We have five games left -- gotta go win some, simple as that,” said Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale. “Does it hurt? Yeah. We played hard tonight. The guys went out there and they busted it.

“The guys are hurting right now. We’ll regroup and we’ve got to go to Dallas and find a way. We just have to find a way to win some games. We were sitting good a few games ago and now we’re not sitting so good. So we just have to go and take care of ourselves.

And 1s: Marcus Camby missed Monday’s game with a sore back. His status will be day-to-day going forward. Kevin Martin, meanwhile, was in uniform for the first time since aggravating a shoulder injury March 11 that forced him to miss the Rockets’ last 18 games. He did not play Monday night, however; McHale said before the game he would only consider playing Martin Monday if the Rockets needed to make free throws in the final minute, given the fact Martin has still not been able to practice with the team since sustaining his injury.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(did you think about bringing Dalembert back in the 4th quarter?): A little bit, but they went small. That’s a tough matchup for us. Gallinari and Harrington are a tough matchup because Sammy is drawn to the rim and they’ll spread it out. Harrington has made some 3s. I was thinking about (bringing Dalembert back) if we could get a more favorable matchup but (it never materialized).

We had better ball movement tonight; the ball moved around. We had a lot of looks. I hate to say that I like us shooting 29 3-pointers but they packed the paint on us and that’s what was open.

(what did you say to the guys after the game?): We have five games left 鈥