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Houston Rockets Could Play Spoiler Come Playoffs

Most everyone in basketball circles agrees: the Houston Rockets have what it takes to upset a team, a much better team then themselves on paper, in the postseason. The trouble? They have to get there first.

The Rockets have been maddeningly inconsistent this season, showing flashes of brilliance followed by stretches of inept basketball. Like all teams that live and die with their shooting, they’re performances are streaky, particularly on the defensive end, where they’re one of the worst teams in the NBA, giving up 103.6 points per game, the 29th such mark in the league. While they can score with anyone, they can’t get a stop to save their lives. That was nowhere more apparent than in their two losses this week, a 105-103 loss at the Washington Wizards, and a 110-107 home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on a last-second Monta Ellis three-point heave. The Rockets have dead patches in their play that have resulted in them hovering right around the eight-seed in the West.

“They went inside a little bit more,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said after the Washington loss. “But really we had turnovers. We had empty possessions. … We did not have a good second half. We shoot a lot of 3s as a team, but I think we got a little 3 happy. We didn’t get enough penetration and enough ball movement.”

However, their streakiness is also the reason why they could be such a devastating playoff spoiler. When they’re going, nobody is more offensively dangerous in the league; they’re ranked second in the NBA in points per game with 106.4, and sixth in assists per game with 23.4. They get up and down the floor faster than any team in the league not named the Denver Nuggets, and when they’re feeling it, like they were in a wild 122-119 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder last week, they can beat absolutely anyone. But they’re just too inconsistent.

“It was a bad loss,” said Chandler Parsons after the Rockets loss to the Wizards. “There is no way around it. There is no way we should have lost that game. These are the ones you look back on and these are the ones that cost you so you can’t do nothing else now. It is what it is so hopefully we learn as a team and get better from it. We need to focus on the Magic on Friday night. We can’t look ahead, we can’t keep looking at the standings. Who cares about the Lakers? We control our own destiny right now. So I don’t really care what they’re doing or who they play as long as we focus on who we’re playing.”

“If we took care of business, we could be the seventh or sixth seed right now, and we’re not,” said Houston’s second-biggest offseason acquisition, point guard Jeremy Lin. “So that really hurts, and we can’t expect that other teams are going to give us a chance to climb up the rankings, we have to go do it ourselves.”

However, Houston turned things around somewhat in a 118-110 win over the Orlando Magic on Friday night. The Rockets were favored by 8.5 points, so they didn’t cover the spread, but it was still a promising win for them. If they can string together a few more wins like it (and stop allowing miserable teams like the Magic to score 110 points against them), the Rockets have a chance to do something come playoff time.

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