Kyle Lowry watched his layup careen off the rim and collapsed as if the moment signaled the finality the Houston Rockets never wanted to come.
His would-be game-tying floater danced around the cylinder until gravity stopped the music and exterminated the team’s postseason hopes.
The New Orleans Hornets, unlike the Sacramento Kings the night before, were not in the mood to give away the game late. Led by Chris Paul’s near triple-double, the Big Easy bees rallied from 17 down to clinch a playoff spot after a 101-93 victory.
All the Rockets could do was watch the celebration and lament the many botched opportunities that necessitated they sweep April.
Even doing that guaranteed nothing. Houston needed help its competitors were not inclined to provide. The same fans who still covet Paul, a superstar floor general, wanted him to tank and not play hard, so the woebegone Rockets could taste mid-April action again.
The final week of postseason contention, much like the season, became a mess of mistakes and stirring runs too tardy to make the difference. The Rockets could still get in if they won out and the Memphis Grizzlies dropped their final four contests. The players were resigned after Wednesday’s heart-wrenching defeat to consider that scenario impossible.
Houston, despite a furious March push, will watch the playoffs from home for a second consecutive April. Saturday’s home joust versus the L.A. Clippers presents a chance to lock up a winning record and nothing more. All the Grizzlies needed to do to murder the Rockets’ mathematical window for the eighth seed was handle the Sacramento Kings at home. Who the hell likes math, anyway?
Memphis levied that last lethal blow in the final minutes Friday night, preventing another improbable sports miracle. Many H-Town fans damned Zach Randolph and his teammates for competing, too.
Instead of gearing up for a first-round date with the San Antonio Spurs, the Rockets will spend another offseason trying to make the roster a bit more like the one up I-10 that ran away with the Western Conference’s best record.
GM Daryl Morey gets another crack at an under-whelming lottery crop. Can he unearth another Patrick Patterson?
Rick Adelman must decide whether he wants to stay, retire or auction off his services to the bidder with the best offer. Leslie Alexander must decide whether he has the guts to dispose of a Hall of Fame coach with the highest winning percentage in franchise history.