Chase Budinger and the Rockets were rejected in their attempt to overtake the Mavs for fourth place in the West.
WHO: Mavericks 101, Rockets 99 (OT)
WHAT: This one hurt, not only because Chase Budinger’s game-winning 3 attempt fell short in what would have been a dramatic buzzer-beater, and not only because refs bailed out the Mavs twice in the final minute of OT, but because of the consequences. The Rockets (26-23) entered Saturday’s contest a game back of Dallas for 4th in the West. Now Houston sits in 9th in the West, out of the playoff picture altogether at the moment with 17 minutes left. Houstion is a half-game behind Denver for 8th, and 1 1/2 behind the Clippers for 4th. It was just the seventh home loss in 23 games for the Rockets, and it doesn’t get easier. After hosting Sacramento (5-5 in its last 10 games) on Monday to close the four-game homestand, they’re back at it against the Mavs Tuesday in Dallas, where the Mavs are 18-8 this season. That doesn’t bode well, as the Rockets are a putrid 8-16 on the road. In the end, it’s just one game, but a game that knocked the Rockets out of the playoff race with the clock ticking, while putting them further back for homecourt advantage through the first round of the postseason.
WHAT HAPPENED?: It was the usual when it comes to Rockets-Mavs: Too much Dirk Nowitzki (31 points, 7 rebounds). Too much Jason Terry (24 points, 9-16 shooting). In spite of Houston pretty much controlling this game (outrebounding Dallas 52-38, outscoring it in second-chance points 25-7, making the same amount of field goals), it all came down to shooting. The Mavericks, No. 1 in the league in opponents’ field goal percentage, held Houston to 38 percent shooting while connecting on 46 percent of their own shots. But it was also about Terry, the league’s top fourth quarter scorer, who again gave Houston fits. Through Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman and now Kevin McHale, the Rockets have had no answer for Terry, who lights up whenever he sees the red and silver. Terry averages 16 points on 47 percent shooting off the bench against Houston. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and OT, hitting clutch buckets in the process. The Rockets gave Dallas fits as well (Goran Dragic had 24 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, and Luis Scola had 19 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists), and Chandler Parsons (responsible for forcing OT with a dagger 3) and Courtney Lee all played admirably, but Houston just did not have enough in reserve. Literally. A normally potent bench only managed an uncharacteristic 13 points. Dallas’ bench? Forty-four points. The Rockets were timid in the paint, blowing several chances around the basket, and no one consistently stepped up late like Nowitzki and Terry did for the Mavs. And it’s even tougher when you’re playing 5-on-8 in a tied game late in OT. That, too.
NOTHING FREE: I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but after winning two straight and outshooting their opponent at the free-throw line (a rarity this season), the Rockets shot just 16-of-18 on free-throws, two attempts fewer than their season average. The Mavericks made 21-of-24 from the charity stripe. And in a two-point game, those five points loom big, especially with the way the Rockets shot from the field.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: Rookie wing Marcus Morris did not see the floor Saturday, and was a DNP-CD (Did Not Play: Coach’s Decision). Not too surprising, as McHale seems set on a nine-man rotation, really eight considering backup PG Courtney Fortson does not see the floor for long stretches.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: The Rockets have 17 games remaining. After hosting Sacramento Monday, they embark on an absolutely brutal stretch that will define their season: @ Dallas, vs. Memphis, vs. Indiana, @ the Lakers. Right now, the Rockets are looking up at Memphis (6th in the West), Utah (7th) and Denver (8th), and they will get plenty of cracks to knock those teams down. They play Memphis one more time (Friday), Utah one more time (April 11) and Denver twice (April 15 and 16). In all, 10 of the Rockets’ 17 games are against teams currently in position to qualify for the playoffs. Nine of those 17 games are on the road. Not only do the Rockets have to win games they should (they play New Orleans twice more, Sacramento twice more and Golden State once more), but they have to pull off upset wins and take down an Indy, Chicago, Lakers, and/or Denver. Another note of concern: 15 of the Rockets’ games remaining are against the West. Houston is just 16-18 against teams in its conference this year.