Houston Rockets Struggle In Blown Opportunity Versus Dallas

The Houston Rockets surged early and faded in the second half as the Dallas Mavericks won the “I-45 Battle” for the sixth straight time, 90-81, last night.

Goran Dragic played well on his sore ankle, scoring 17 points along with seven assists, and Luis Scola, ever the stalwart, dropped a solid 22.

But Houston’s bench was outscored 48-17 —thanks in large part to the suddenly stellar Brandan Wright — and noted “Rockets Killer” Jason Terry scored seven straight points in a minute’s span during the third quarter to seize momentum and control from the Rockets, who were up 16 at one point during the first quarter.

The game was almost a complete reversal from the previous night’s, when Houston was flat coming out of the gate and slowly chipped away at the Sacramento Kings the entire game until the eventual victory in overtime. Tired legs played a role in Houston’s gradual fade as last night’s game progressed, and the shooting showed it — 28 percent from three, and only 12 points in the third quarter. Dallas, despite their struggles in 2012, is a difficult opponent to face on the road to close a back-to-back, and the Rockets’ starters were lagging after a gritty Monday victory that should have been a restful blowout. Here are five things to take from the game:

1) This next week will determine Houston’s postseason hopes. Tuesday’s loss was a big one for Rockets faithful. Kevin McHale’s team once again sits outside the playoff picture in the ever-rotating ninth spot, and with Denver playing Toronto tonight, it looks as if it will stay that way. To say Houston fans would be frustrated with a third-straight finish of “best team not to make the playoffs” would be a gross understatement.

In addition to winning all of the games against inferior opponents, Houston needs to eke out upset victories against teams like Dallas, which they did versus the Thunder and Lakers in previous weeks. That’s because the next four games include two must-win home contests versus the sizzling Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers followed by road trips against the Bulls and Lakers. Houston has a chance to improve its seeding and solidify a bid, or they could bury themselves into a nearly impossible hole.

2) Rockets fans just want Jason Terry to go away. We are all tired of Terry’s “Rockets Killer” moniker, but he won’t let us forget it. He only scored 12 points last night, but the stat sheet doesn’t reveal how crucial and soul-crushing each bucket was. They all seemingly came at moments when Houston needed to score or achieve a defensive stop. His seven points in a minute during a critical stretch in the third quarter effectively sealed the game for Dallas and gave the Mavericks all the momentum they needed to shut down a tired Houston team.

3) Lee and Patterson struggle. Maybe Patterson’s 24-point outing Monday night was really just inspired by playing his old college teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, or maybe Dallas’ Wright just gives him issues, because for the second game in a row versus the Mavs, Patterson was forgettable, shooting only 1-7 from the floor. Houston can’t afford no-shows from Courtney Lee, either, as the absence of Martin makes him the Rockets most dangerous perimeter scorer. Lee was 4-13 from the field last night.

4) Budinger’s face is next to “streaky” in the dictionary. Air Bud can put up points in bunches with his crafty transition game and penchant for spot-up threes, but when he is missing, he misses in bushels as well. In addition to missing the potential game winner versus Dallas on Saturday, Bud shot 3-9 last night, including a paltry 1-5 from beyond the arc. Houston needs those bench points from Budinger because there aren’t many other scoring options on the bench, and because most of his threes are wide-open by NBA standards.

5) Fortson, anyone? Earl Boykins is fun and all, but McHale needs to give former Arkansas Razorback Courtney Fortson a shot. Forston has bounced around the league this season — his long dreads, diminutive stature, and quick burst have quickly made him a 10-day contract favorite — but Houston finally signed him on for this season and the next. With the bench sputtering like they did last night, McHale needs to consider the youthful burst of energy that Fortson can provide.

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