Jazz Tighten Playoff Picture, Beat Rockets 103-91

February 29, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Houston Rockets power forward Luis Scola (4) battles for position against Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) during the second half at Energy Solutions Arena. The Jazz defeated the Rockets 104-83. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

In a four game stretch of must-wins, the Rockets managed to sweep their road trip, positioning themselves well for a run at home court advantage in the playoffs. After a tough loss to Utah tonight, the team has more pressing concerns than home court on their mind.

From the tip, this game seemed doomed. The Jazz and Rockets went back and forth in the first quarter, with the unlikely duo of Gordon Hayward and Marcus Camby trading baskets for long stretches. Despite the fact that the game was in Houston, the Jazz seemed to keep the game in their hands the entire time. DeMarre Carroll, the former Rocket, was all over the court and outplayed the Rockets shiny new toy, Chandler Parsons.

As the game advanced into the second and third quarters, the Jazz seemed unwavering in their decision not to miss a shot. The Rockets, on the other hand, decided that tonight would be a good night to tighten the rim on their side of the court, and could not get a shot to fall.

Chase Budinger, a leading force on two of the road trip's wins, went 2-11, missing all but one of his seven three point attempts. Courtney Lee and Goran Dragic played similarly, combining for a healthy 7-24 from the field. The only player who could hit anything, Marcus Camby, sat out most of the second half as McHale employed the Scola-Patterson front court to no avail.

After a horrible stretch in the second and third quarters, the Rockets seemed to have the light turn on in the fourth. A few shots started falling, the Toyota Center started to sound less like an funeral procession, and hope sprung anew. Kyle Lowry led the team to as close as five points, but the Jazz always had an answer. Predictably, the Rockets fell, 103-91.

Four Closing Thoughts

1. Kyle Lowry Is Still Awesome

If you had any fears that Kyle Lowry wouldn't be the same after the bacterial infection, they have hopefully been allayed after seeing Lowry in action these last few games. Lowry sparked a 4th quarter run with his aggressive play, coming within a few Chase Budinger misses of completing an unlikely comeback bid.

He's still very skinny and doesn't have the same bounce in his step yet, but otherwise he looks great. 15 points on 8 shots, along with 5 assists and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes is another great step in the long road back.

2. Patrick Patterson Is Slumping

Most discouraging of all the poor performances was Patrick Patterson's. A few easy layups and dunks allowed his shooting line to look respectable at 5-12, but it's beginning to be the time where we talk about how disappointing of a season he's had. BD34 wrote a great piece about his struggles, and tonight it just boiled down to a simple lack of touch around the rim.

Big men need to be able to score around the rim, and that's an area where Patterson is in desperate need of improvement. Let's hope a full off-season to get strong and healthy will help him next year.

3. These Things Happen

Nights like this happen. There will be nights when not a single player shoots 50% from the field, when the team shoots 20% from behind the arc, and your best bench scorer goes 2-11. At the same time, there will also be nights when a sub-30% three point shooter will go off for 29 on 4-5 from distance. Part of that is defense, but a lot of it is just luck.

Unfortunately, both of these events coincided perfectly tonight. The Rockets couldn't make a shot and the Jazz made everything they looked at, especially for the first three quarters.

4. These Things Cannot Happen

The bad shooting is excusable. Chase Budinger doesn't get a wide open shot and then miss it because he's lazy. Goran Dragic's shots weren't all flat because he decided he wasn't into the game.

What isn't excusable is the complete lack of effort for three quarters tonight. Until Kyle Lowry invigorated the crowd with a tremendous run in the middle of the fourth quarter, not a single Rocket seemed into the game. Whether the Rockets were attacking or defending the fast break, the Jazz always seemed to have numbers.

When there was a ball on the floor, not even Luis Scola seemed willing to go and get it, and when the Jazz pumped their lead to nearly 20, not a soul was fighting through picks like they were just a few days before against Los Angeles.

Perhaps this was inevitable. The team is tired, they just had a great stretch, but the Rockets can't afford to rest on their laurels and hope for help from the other teams in the playoff hunt. If the Rockets have many more performances like that, they could be kissing the playoffs good-bye very quickly.

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