Fight To The Finish
Despite fading playoff hopes, Rockets still seeking strong finishing kick
HOUSTON - The season is not over.
That was the message Rockets veterans Chuck Hayes, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola and Brad Miller hammered home to their teammates Friday afternoon following practice.
Forget about the faintly flickering playoff hopes. Ignore the accompanying ache of what might have been. Three games still remain. Three more chances to show the defining characteristic of this team; to reveal its resilience, its determination and, perhaps most importantly of all, its love for the game.
No question, back-to-back losses to Sacramento and New Orleans robbed the Rockets of much of the momentum they had acquired following a scintillating 15-5 stretch after the All Star break. Houston’s players and coaches knew it would take a spectacular finishing kick to get the club into the postseason and those two defeats likely doomed the Rockets to lottery status.
As it stands now, the Rockets rank as the longest of long shots: they need to win out while simultaneously hoping Memphis loses each of its remaining four games in order to qualify for postseason play, meaning the Grizzlies could officially eliminate Houston tonight if they take care of business at home against the Kings. But no matter how bleak the situation appears, the Rockets’ leaders refuse to let their team lie down the rest of the way.
“First of all, we’re not out of it yet,” says Scola. “Maybe you wouldn’t bet on us, but we’re not out of it. We have to fight until the last chance... It’s our job. We owe it to the fans and to the game and everybody else.”
“I’m also kind of prepared to finish the year strong and the right way. We have a lot of things to play for. The first and most important one is the playoffs – we have that to play for yet. The other thing is we can finish above .500 which I think is important. And we can finish better than last year which I think is important, too, because we all consider last year as a good year so if we can step forward instead of a step backwards, I think that’s a good thing.”
Given what the Rockets have shown all season it’s difficult to envision the team mailing in any performances the rest of the way. Even during the darkest of times this season, effort was rarely, if ever, an issue with this group. Amid injuries, shooting slumps, losing streaks and major change, Houston still found a way to be consistently competitive and much of that can be attributed to the club’s laudable work rate, an attribute Head Coach Rick Adelman says makes this team a “ pleasure to be around.”
“They’ve responded every time,” Adelman adds. “They haven’t caved in the whole year. Like I told them, I’ve had a lot of teams that have won a hell of a lot of games but this team has stuck together as well as any team I’ve ever been around and that’s why I want to see them finish the season strong. I don’t want to see them finish on a negative note.
“If it does end tonight, if Memphis wins and it’s over with, you don’t want to play like the season’s over with. You’ve done too much, you’ve worked too hard – that’s not who we are. We may lose these games, but we’re not going to lose because we’re not going out and giving our total effort. You set a standard that you’ve been doing since the season began, let’s live up to that standard.”
To that end, Adelman says he intends to manage Houston’s three remaining games the same way he has the previous 79. Now is not the time for experiments, tricks or tweaks. Winning basketball is still priority one. The Rockets found a formula for success in late February and that model – coupling an explosive, selfless offense with timely stops defensively – will be faithfully followed all the way through the team’s regular season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
His players wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We were going on these heroic efforts every night; guys playing unsung heroes and just playing great basketball,” says Hayes. “We’ve learned how to win in the fourth quarter – these last two games we didn’t. That’s what it came down to. We just couldn’t get it.
“We’ve battled all year. Starting 0-5, losing Yao, Aaron going down, worrying about the trade deadline, we had a few 5-game losing steaks. For us to be three games over .500 right now, that shows a testament to this team and to this character and really, no joke, it shows a true sense of accomplishment for the job our coaching staff does… We’re a true testament of our coaching staff. They don’t give up and neither do we.”