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At the end of the day, the Rockets did a lot of things right. A first-round exit is a bad look—especially against a beatable opponent like Portland—but it says less than some (understandably) emotional fans suggest.
This is a good, serious team that happens to be finding itself in a ridiculously competitive conference. The Rockets took a huge leap forward this season and hit their worst growing pains against a more cohesive, better prepared Blazers team.
"We are close off the court, but we have to be that way when we're on the floor at all times. We've got to have each other's back," Howard said to Sean Pendergast of the Houston Press. "Going back and watching the film and how that Portland team was, it's something that [our] guys can learn from. [The Blazers] were together: Their bench, their coaching staff, every play, they looked like they were all in it."
Still, nearly every game was a tossup—the only convincing victory of the series, in fact, was the Rocket's 108-98 victory in Game 5.
Give the Rockets another year, and they may correct their initial flaws enough to become above such fickle turns of fate, laughing at the memory of this sour defeat.