Race for the Playoffs: Despite Rockets Win, Is There a Cause for Concern?

Vikram DimbaCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2010

PHOENIX - JANUARY 06:  Aaron Brooks #0 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 6, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Rockets 118-110.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Rockets needed a win. Going into the game, the Rockets were 10-2 facing teams with under .500 records, and against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves at home, the Rockets had a win in their sights. It just wasn't supposed to be a triple overtime thriller, with an amazing shot by Corey Brewer to tie the game after regulation.

Nonetheless a win regardless of its fashion is a win. Brooks finished with a career high 43 points, and took over down the stretch. Hayes was a beast on the boards, and everyone else chipped in with their own contributions, Landry with 16 off the bench, or what would be the game clinching three by Shane Battier.

But despite the gutsy win, the Rockets have still lost four of their last six games, two of those wins coming against the aforementioned Timberwolves and New York Knicks. Not to take anything away from those teams, but the Rockets schedule, despite all those claims of their schedule getting easier will pick up.

This schedule includes a road game at San Antonio, and a four game stretch against the Hawks, Nuggets, Nuggets, and Suns to finish off the month. That doesn't include other capable teams such as the Bucks, or Heat.

What's concerning most about the Rockets recent losses is their collapse down the stretch. Against New Orleans, the game was all but done, until the Hornets made a rapid comeback and were able to pull out an improbable win.

Against both the Suns, and Bobcats, the Rockets possessed double digit leads in the second half, but the inability to maintain those leads resulted in two more losses that should not have been. 

In that six game stretch, the Rockets have given up over 99 points in five of those six games. They are now 18th in the league in opponents points per game, and 21st in opponents field goal percentage.

Normally, it's just a bad stretch, and the Rockets will pick it up. But in a even more tightly knit Western Conference, the Rockets can't afford to throw away games they have in their hands.

With the miraculous shot by rookie Sundiata Gaines, the Jazz and Rockets would have the same record. The Thunder are only half a game out, the Hornets one full game out, and even teams like the Grizzlies, and Clippers just two games out of that final playoff seed in the Western Conference. 

Ariza has shown no signs in his shooting progressing, still shooting 38% from the field, and 30% from distance, while leading the Rockets in shot attempts per game.On this current Rockets team, he should be no more than the fourth option, behind Brooks, Landry, and Scola.

The Rockets need to pick up their defense, and execute better down the stretch, and fast.

With one more bad loss, the Rockets could easily find themselves on the outside looking in. The same with the Thunder, Hornets, or Jazz. The Rockets play harder, and play more as a unit, but those three teams have their own advantages in possessing superstars such as Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, or Deron Williams.

One thing is for sure; it's going to be one heck of a finish.