GAME OVER: Heat drops Rockets out of playoffs for 3rd straight year


After being in 6th in the West just a few weeks ago, Goran Dragic and the Houston Rockets cemented their fate Sunday with their loss in Miami and will miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

The nail was finally drilled into the coffin on Sunday. Needing nothing short of a miracle (winning their final two games, Utah losing both of its two, and Phoenix splitting its two), the Rockets could have extended their season for at least a few more days when they visited Miami to play the Heat, who were without Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Instead, Miami posted a 93-85 comeback win in spite of falling behind by 13 in the first half and trailing by 6 with 6:31 left, putting the Rockets’ season out of its misery for good.

In what has been par for the course during this horrific skid in which they’ve dropped seven of eight games and fallen from 6th to 10th in the West in a matter of weeks, the Rockets – again – collapsed. Terribly. They were outscored 31-19 in the final stanza, falling prey to LeBron James and a cast of has-beens and wanna-bes. It was the kind of year in which a second-round draft pick, Chandler Parsons, paced the Rockets in a do-or-die game. Fitting, no? Parsons posted a career-high 23 points and played admirable defense on James for most of the game, drawing incredulous praise from the Heat television broadcasters. But it was not enough; ironically enough, Parsons was the lone highlight in the game, just as he was one of few this season. The Rockets shot 46 percent to Miami’s 41 percent; however, the Heat had a distinct advantage in free throws made (22-11) and outrebounded Houston 48-37, including 17-7 on the offensive glass. Same story, different chapter.

So, Houston will once again be watching the playoffs from home, likely ending up – again – 9th in the West, which is good, but not good enough. The mediocrity continues as they will miss the postseason for the third straight year in spite of boasting a record of at least .500. Yes, 2012 goes down as yet another failed try with owner Leslie Alexander’s ill-fated “rebuilding without tanking” premise, in which hopes of keeping the Rockets competitive means keeping fannies in the seats. Just for Mr. Alexander’s knowledge, the Rockets’ ranking in the NBA in attendance the last few years: 22nd this year, 20th in 2010-11, 19th in 2009-10. He’s not even fooling the lukewarm fanbase. So as Rockets fans look to point fingers for blame, the primary culprit is Alexander, not Morey. Not even coach Kevin McHale’s laughable rotations or shoddy knowledge of X’s and O’s can be pointed at. The failure of this season starts and begins with Alexander, who refuses to do the only sensible thing, getting better sooner than later by bottoming out and starting from scratch, which, really, would allow Morey to do what he does best: build a team at a sensible cost.

The issues for the Rockets are pretty much the same as they were when this season started, meaning little was done to actually address the needs. There remains no true go-to offensive player, a lack of interior scoring, shoddy rebounding and porous frontcourt defense. This year’s version was the epitome of mediocre: 13th in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and 17th in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). And you get the feeling the team realized their ultimate fate even before the Miami game, when two of its top perimeter threats in Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry were declared out for the rest of this season. Certainly that gave a good indication of where the thinking was amongst the Rockets’ braintrust.

So where do we go from here? Well, with only one game remaining against New Orleans at home on Thursday, the Rockets will begin looking toward the future. Marcus Camby and Goran Dragic will be unrestricted free agents. Courtney Lee will be a restricted free agent. The futures of Luis Scola and Martin in the red and silver have never been more uncertain. McHale will be closely scrutinized. As talented of a motivator as he is, he failed remarkably in preparation down the stretch, never making the adequate adjustments (or adjustments at all) and showing poor handling of his rotations.

There is a common thinking that this summer is the year the Rockets will finally do something with all of their acquired assets and acquire that star players they so desperately need. The most popular names floating around are Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Eric Gordon. The team will have two picks in the middle of the first round. Options are available for Houston. Rockets fans have said the last few summers have been the most important for the franchise, only to be let down with the lack of activity, or, more importantly, the lack or urgency. But with the Rockets again having failed for the playoffs, and with this bitter end to the season in which they were charging for homecourt advantage through the first round of the playoffs just a few weeks ago, it can be assumed that GM Daryl Morey will act once and for all.

One can only hope.

Rockets fans: What would you like to see done this summer? Which direction should the team go, and how would you want this team to look next season? Do you fire McHale? Should Morey be gone? Should Scola and Martin be traded? Should Lowry be gone as well? What do you think?