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Rockets fail to sweep, but no reason to panic... for now

One poor game is no reason for worry in Houston, but what is a concern is an issue that wasn't entirely unexpected going into the postseason.

J.J. Barea giving Pablo Prigioni the business
J.J. Barea giving Pablo Prigioni the business
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets didn't quite have the mental fortitude to bring the brooms out in Dallas and failed to become the fourth team to win by sweep in this yet young 2015 postseason.

There was plenty out there to make Rockets fans retch and writhe, but as we've all heard numerous times in the last 48 hours, no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA Playoff history, and don't expect that to change even after last night's ostrich-sized egg laying in Dallas. But boy, things sure did get ugly.

The Rockets 121-109 loss was low lighted by a slew of Dallas series bests. Their 54 percent shooting from the field, their 21 second chance points, their 16 offensive rebounds and their 52 total rebounds.

The Rockets performance, consequently, featured a slew of series worsts. Houston shot only 22 percent from downtown, snagged only 7 offensive rebounds and 38 total rebounds, scored only 4 second-chance points and shot only 65 percent from the line, including an abhorrent 3-13 performance from Dwight Howard.

Cause for concern you may ask? One game does not make a trend, and the Rockets are still taking a commanding 3-1 series lead back to their home floor for another chance to move on to the semis.

It took a sequential arrangement of major firsts on both sides for the Rockets to lose their first game, something that is very unlikely to happen again this series. And even then, the Rockets were within striking distance in the fourth quarter, using a Josh Smith-led rally to cut a 24-point deficit down to 9 before finally running out of steam.

Even the Mavs' overall scoring outbursts these last two games are not necessarily reasons for concern. The Mavs were the fifth-best offensive team in the NBA this season, and Top 5 offensive teams are sometimes going to score and score in bunches.

After consecutive 30-plus point games, the streaky Monta Ellis is now due to John Starks another one away (Ellis shot a combined 28-46 in games 3 and 4 after shooting 13 - 39 in games 1 and 2) and does anyone really expect Al-Farouq Aminu to better his 16-point, 12-rebound performance? This is a career 6 and 5 guy.

But the Rockets ultimate failure, and perhaps the one to be most concerned about biting them again in future games and/or series, is best summed up by Kevin McHale's words to TNT Sunday night.  Words no coach of a team with legitimate championship aspirations should ever be muttering in the post season.

"We've got to find a way to get J.J. Barea under control."

In the two games since Rajon Rondo's epic meltdown, Barea has averaged 14 points, 11 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1 steal on 50 percent shooting from the field, feasting on a back court defensive mess we all saw coming from light years away.

Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni, below average defensive guys for their career, both rank in the bottom quarter of all NBA players in defensive rating this postseason and have found it mostly impossible to keep Barea in front of them.

JET and Pablo couldn't even counter Barea's Tasmanian-Devil-style offense by making him work on the defensive end. The two Houston point guards combined for 3 points and 8 assists and shot a mere 11 percent from the field. Game 3 against Barea saw them combine for 10 points and 5 assists on 40 percent shooting. Barea has put the Houston point guards through the ringer, ran a clinic on them or whatever other cliched phrase standing in for "complete domination" you feel applies here.

Things aren't about to get any easier when the Rockets advance. The Western Conference semifinals will have Terry and Pablo matched up against either Chris Paul or Tony Parker, who have been busy doing this while the Rockets point guards struggle to score on and contain a career backup. Barea's dominance has me even in fear of what Patty Mills may do to poor Terry and Prigioni should the Rockets see San Antonio next.

Luckily for the Rockets, they've mostly been able to cover their point guard problems through stellar play in the paint by their bigs (game 4 notwithstanding) and have also been helped by the inability of the short-handed Mavs to put enough pressure on other areas of the Rockets defense (again, game 4 notwithstanding) to exacerbate the Houston point guard black hole.

And while the rest of the Western Conference field is likely chomping at the bit for a chance run at and run right past Terry and Prigioni, the Rockets will, in the meantime, likely close out the Mavs in short order despite not earning a sweep.

After all, no NBA team has ever blown a 3-0 series lead in the history of the NBA post season, and the Rockets aren't about to start now....