Dallas Mavericks 88, Houston Rockets 86: Tombstone

With a grisly loss in a badly needed game against a less talented rival in the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets’ failure is complete. The tombstone has been delivered to the grave, and it reads as follows: “You earned nothing and deserved less than that. May your demise be a lesson to those who follow. You will not be missed. H&H Era Houston Rockets, 2013-2016.”

This was their last chance to gain some credibility, to make their way into the post-season, defeat a long-time rival and gun for at least the 6th seed and a puncher’s chance at the second round. Instead, they may miss the playoffs entirely, embarrassed themselves on national TV, and are clearly worse than the team they were clearly better than last playoffs… and the Mavs actually got worse since then. The Rockets are not just a fountain of shame, but a frustrating enigma. They’re so much worse than the sum of their parts that it’s hard to imagine this not being the result of concentrated effort. The Rockets had every opportunity to win, this game and this season. They accepted none, and now they lie buried.

What is there to be said about this game? Mavs guard J.J. Barea lit them up, as anyone who’s watched the Rockets could have predicted and did predict. The Rockets allowed only 88 points, but somehow their defense looked a lot worse than that. They had their requisite nightmare quarter in the second, and struggled to return from it. Unfortunately Dallas Mavericks rookies Salah Mejri and Justin Anderson proved too much for the Rockets to handle. Again. The Mavericks were missing Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams and clearly didn’t even miss them against a hapless Houston team. When James Harden wasn’t on the floor, the Rockets had no semblance of an offense. When Harden was on the floor, he had little semblance of an offense. He got blocked again and again, got into sets too late, and took stupid shots. He was the only player who could find the bucket in the fourth quarter, and then that fell off, too. The Rockets scored a mere 15 points in the last period, putting a perfectly pathetic cap on a perfectly pathetic season.

Oh, and James Harden is 3 turnovers shy of setting the NBA record for most turnovers in a season.

Admittedly, there are four more games. What the Rockets don’t have any more of, however, is dignity. The sixth seed is all but locked out to them. The first round, at best, consists of a drubbing at the hands of a San Antonio Spurs team that is their superior by any conceivable metric. The worst case, and the much more likely case, is to be the first sacrifice to our new gods, the first meal for the Golden State Warriors as they break forth from Zeus’ skull to begin their reign. To be destroyed by either the Olympians or the aging Titans is no choice, but yet this is where the Rockets stand. This is what their season has brought them to. Their choices have found them atop the altar, the knife already red with their blood, held in their own hands. Their tombstone has already been carved.

Even more terrifying for the organization is the possibility that they may miss the playoffs entirely, a path which would result in retention of their first round draft pick, but at a terrible cost. They could avoid consumption by the resident deities of the NBA at the cost of what shreds of credibility they had left. For this team, with no major health concerns, to miss the playoffs in this tepid Western Conference would be a trip directly to Hades with no return ticket. The Portland Trail Blazers have clinched a playoff berth tonight. Let that sink in. A Blazers team who just shed their entire starting lineup apart from Damian Lillard is better than this Rockets team. The young, untested Jazz and the old, crumbling Mavs are better than this Rockets team. The Memphis Grizzlies barely have an NBA-caliber player on their team and the Rockets haven’t made any headway on catching up to them.

To miss the playoffs would be the end of this franchise as a location with any shred of respect. Would that 12th pick in a weak draft be worth the epitaphs the NBA world would write for them? There are fates worse than death, and the Rockets may well find that out first hand. This game was theirs, but they couldn’t get out of their own way. Harden and Howard found moments of individual greatness, but seem unable to coexist any longer. This team is not just below expectations, they’re below ground. These last four games could have been a victory lap. Instead, they’ll be little more than a funeral procession. All we can do now is put on our black suits.

in game coverage
Follow Red94 for occasional rants, musings, and all new post updates
Read previous post:
I hope the Houston Rockets make the playoffs