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Rockets Slide Continues: Panic Button Is Close, But Don't Press It Yet

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Any time your team loses to the 2011-2012 Toronto Raptors, there's some cause for concern. And that's not to say this year's Raptors roll over and die whenever they take the floor — they've actually put a scare into plenty of teams — but they're an inferior opponent in most cases. Couple that with the Rockets' dire need of a win amidst a bad losing streak and you may be questioning your decision to leave Team Tanking.

However, we need to keep a few things in mind before we go searching for our panic room:

1) The Rockets needed a wake-up call.

Wake-up calls are weird. You'd think the loss in Utah could fill the role, but perhaps the Rockets considered it a minor setback — after all, the loss came on the heels of a four-game win streak. The games against the Clippers and the Celtics were so hard-fought and so damn close, perhaps Houston figured they could waltz into Toronto based off their previous play, and perhaps that same level of play against an inferior opponent would glide them to victory. I'm only assuming that these were the prevailing mindsets, but a loss to the Raptors should put an end to the guessing game. We now know. The Rockets now know. Moral victories are out the window. It's time to put up or shut up, and the winning needs to start now.

2) The game was at Toronto.

If a Rockets loss at the Air Canada Centre sounds familiar, you're on point. Houston hasn't won north of the border since 2006-2007, Shane Battier's first season in Rocket red. Yes, this is a different Houston team, and yes, Toronto's home record (7-13) doesn't excuse such a sound defeat, but keep in mind how difficult it can be for a South Texas team to travel all the way to Canada and grab a win.

3) The Rockets have some time to collect themselves and steal some wins.

Houston doesn't play until Saturday, which gives them a rare two-day break between games to sort out the problems, watch some tapes and re-evaluate their approach. New Jersey and Cleveland are no shoe-in wins on the road, but they're definitely beatable. They've also yet to play Houston, which bodes well for a Rockets team that doesn't exactly present an original scheme. Houston will also see Charlotte at home for a nice confidence boost before they hit the road out West.

4) This is the Western Conference.

The West is so wild that settling for the "Wild West" mantra won't do it justice. The race for the 2-8 spots is cluttered with similar records, so Houston could theoretically put together a three-game win streak and shoot up three to four spots. Unless the Rockets collapse and fail to win easy games, they'll have a chance to compete in the postseason all the way to the regular season's final days.

I could be wrong, but I've seen enough resolve from this team earlier in the year to the point that I expect them to bounce back. Once again, though, they'll have to prove they can beat the big boys in order to make life easier come playoff seeding time. Wins against lesser opponents alone won't be enough. They have to actually win those games, too.