Just in case you were an eternal optimist, holding out one, small glimmer of hope in your heart that the Rockets could run the table, get a little help, and miraculously squeeze back into the playoffs, the team handed its fans out another wrenching gut punch in what has become the most mind-numbing of seasons.
The Rockets gave up 20 offensive rebounds that led to a 36-8 advantage (not a misprint ) for Phoenix in second chance points, and failed to stop anyone down the fourth quarter stretch on their way to a 124-115 defeat at the hands of the Suns that effectively ends their season with them out of the playoff race just one year removed from a Western Conference Finals appearance.
In a season which the Rockets managed to find numerous ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Houston uncovered a new one tonight, falling to the now 21-58 Suns despite shooting 56.8 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from deep. The huge Phoenix advantage on the offensive boards combined with the customary incessant Houston turnovers (another 18 of them tonight) pushed the Suns to a whopping 94-74 shot advantage, which was simply too much for the Rockets to overcome.
It was fitting that the Rockets gave up 124 points, a stark reminder of the lack of defensive effectiveness that has plagued them all season and was reason numero uno (out of many) for the vast slippage this year into the dark realms of the NBA abyss.
The Rockets also blew a 13-point second-half lead, reminding us all of their season-long inconsistency and inability to close the deal, and lost for the 15th time this season to a team with a losing record. Win even a handful of those, and we're possibly talking about a sixth seed instead of a lottery team.
James Harden did have a 30-point, 7-assist night on a glistening 10-14 from the field and 5-6 from downtown, but only two other Rockets scored in double figures, as Houston got 22 from Trevor Ariza and 10 from Dwight Howard.
The Rockets were torched by Mirza Teletovic, PJ Tucker, and Tyson Chandler, who scored 26, 24 and 21 respectively, and they also allowed Archie Goodwin (16) and Devin Booker (15) to score double digits to help lead the charge for Phoenix.
The positive is we can now officially turn our attentions away from the terrible train wreck we've been forced to stomach for the last 5 months. This team is officially dead and buried-- suffocated and strangled by dysfunction, lack of chemistry and focus, and poor coaching that they never could find an answer to.
The offseason brings hope, and if there's one thing that can be said about both owner Les Alexander and GM Daryl Morey, it's that they both want to win. Badly. And you can expect wholesale changes across the board, both in the locker room and in the coaching staff.
This year's version of the Rockets may have been a failure, but with a front office willing to spend and a GM always willing to wheel and deal, the glass-half-full vision has this team as a prime rebuild and reload candidate around James Harden in the offseason if the proper moves are made.
What exactly those moves should be is a conversation for another day, but rest assured, changes will occur.
There may still be three games left in the season, but let me be the first to say good riddance to the 2015-2016 Houston Rockets. You may have let us all down this year, but we'll all be back next year-- we always are-- eagerly anticipating and hoping for a different result.