Houston Rockets officially eliminated from playoffs

The Houston Rockets couldn't answer for Luka Doncic's Mavericks last night.
The Houston Rockets couldn't answer for Luka Doncic's Mavericks last night. / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

It's over - and this time, we mean it.

When the Houston Rockets recently lost to the Warriors, we knew that their odds of qualifying for the playoffs were slim. Now, they're zero. The Rockets have officially been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Dallas Mavericks put the final nail in the coffin. The Rockets didn't go gently into the night. The Mavericks needed an extra frame of basketball to send them to Cancun.

Houston Rockets get hot start

Early on, it looked like the Rockets would keep their hopes alive. The team's outlook was optimistic after stunning Dallas with a 42-27 first quarter.

The veteran Mavericks ground them down. They responded by winning the second quarter 39-29. From that point, the Rockets would fight to maintain a lead until the final three minutes of regulation.

How did they let this one get away?

Houston Rockets' inexperience shows

The Rockets wanted their fortunes to be in the hands of their young players. That high-stakes experience is crucial for their development. On Sunday evening, the moment was a little too big for them.

The Rockets could have iced this game with eight seconds left in regulation. They had a three-point lead, and Jabari Smith Jr. was at the foul line. If he'd hit either shot, the Rockets would still be making a playoff push.

He missed both. Moreover, Smith Jr. made a mental error on the other end of the floor after those misses. He collapsed into the paint, leaving a wide-open Dante Exum to splash a triple that sent the game to overtime.

Smith Jr. wasn't the only young gun to fall short against Dallas. Jalen Green had a sensational first quarter and remained passive throughout the rest of the contest.

That's a nice quarter. Green finished the game with 21 points on 6/15 shooting from the field, 2/7 shooting from long range, 8 assists, and 5 turnovers.

Green had a fine game. When his shot stopped dropping, he stopped hunting it. There's merit in that approach, but perhaps he should have been more aggressive.

That's fine - and so is Smith Jr.'s late-game breakdown. These are young players in their first competitive NBA season. They will learn from the mistakes they made against the veteran Mavericks.

Houston Rockets have learned a lot in 2023-24

For what it's worth, the Mavericks needed a season-high 48 points from Kyrie Irving.

That's kind of the entire point here. Irving is an NBA champion and a superstar. He knows how to rise to the occasion. The Mavericks are firmly in win-now mode, and they took care of business.

The young Rockets couldn't do the same. Fans of the team should not lament. This was a successful season.

Now, it's time to start thinking about 2024-25.