Tough one to swallow. Houston fell to New Orleans Wednesday night 101-93 with their slim playoff hopes disappearing. As a matter of fact, with this win the Hornets clinch their playoff berth, leaving Memphis and Houston as the two teams battling it out for the eighth and final playoff spot If you believe in miracles, there is STILL a chance Houston weasels their way into the 8th seed. It’s simple really. Houston needs to win their final three games whereas Memphis needs to lose their last four. I believe the great ESPN number-cruncher John Hollinger puts Houston’s postseason chances at 3.4% (Bad but you are saying there’s a chance!).
As for the game itself, it wasn’t pretty for Rockets fans. Jumping off to a commanding 20-4 lead to start the game, this game seemed locked up from the get go. Houston would carry this lead finishing the first quarter up 38-21, but from here things would only get worse.
For the most part, this Rockets-Hornets matchup was its typical back-and-forth battle. Opening the 2nd with a 10-0 run, New Orleans managed to crawl their way back into it. Not to be intimidated, Houston countered with a 13-4 run of their own capped off by a pair of Dragic’s threes to pull the lead up to 53-37. Continuing the see-saw battle, former Rocket Trevor Ariza and superstar point guard Chris Paul went on a run of their own bringing New Orleans within four by the break (55-51 Rockets at halftime).
As seen many times this season, Houston can sometimes live and die by the three ball. Shooting a well above-average 8-16 from behind in the arc in the first half, they would only manage 1-8 on threes in the final two quarters of play. In a span of the 2nd and 3rd quarters, Houston was outscored 53-33 anchored by the outstanding play of Ariza, Paul, and Jarrett Jack.
Houston had an unusual lackluster offensive performance. For a team that is 3rd in the league in scoring at 106 PPG, scoring 55 points in the final three quarters is all the more strange. Despite a typical solid night from Scola (8-11 FG, 16 Pts, 10 Reb) and Martin (7-17 FG, 21 Pts), Houston was still unable to muster any offense down the stretch. One bright spot, however, was a the play by recently acquired Goran Dragic, finishing 4-5 behind the arc with a solid 16 points.
On paper, Houston should have been able to score more than 55 in the final three quarters, but once again it came down to ball security and defense. The Hornets had 10 steals in the second half alone! When Chris Paul puts up a near triple double (28 Pts, 9 Reb, 10 Ast) this Hornets team can play with anyone in the league. And allowing Ariza to rack up six steals? You think Houston misses him now?
Houston’s remaining schedule consists of two home games vs. the Clippers and Mavs, and a season finale at Minnesota. As I said earlier, if Memphis somehow manages to lose four straight, then maybe just maybe could Houston squeak by into the 8th seed. But no expect much with the likes of Sacramento and LA Clippers on Memphis’ schedule in the coming days. Until then!