Saturday , Apr , 19 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

It’s official: Rockets eliminated from playoffs as Suns clinch last spot

It wasn’t such a daunting task. All the Rockets would have to do in order to clinch the last playoff spot in the West is to win their final three games of the season (versus Seattle, Memphis and Denver). They also would need Phoenix to lose their remaining three games (versus San Antonio, Portland and Seattle). The Rockets beat Seattle Saturday night to put them 2 ½ games behind the Suns. But there was only one problem as the Rockets anxiously awaited the outcome of the Suns-Spurs game the next night: the Suns won.

So another season is lost. Yes, technically all was not lost due to the fact that the Rockets will have improved greatly on last season’s 28-54 tragedy of a season. Yes, they managed to find a legitimate center in rookie Yao Ming. Yes, they made millions in marketing as they were plastered all over national television and even has two participants in the All-Star game (Ming and Steve Francis). That is not the point. The point here is that the playoffs were a goal that were set for the season. It was understood that anything less than a playoff spot would be considered a disappointment. But what is perhaps most frustrating about this season is that there was little improvement as the season went along. This is a young team that one would expect to grow and mature as an 82-game NBA season went. That was not the case with these Rockets. There were numerous times where it seemed that the Rockets guards were actually annoyed by the fact that a 7’6″ giant stood in their way of scoring a basket…even if that 7’6″ giant was on their team. Francis showed little progress in maturing as a point guard. He often continued to dribble aimlessly throughout games before jacking up an ill-advised shot. And Cuttino Mobley? He only shot when he touched it. There were various games where the Rockets guards ignored Ming and looked for their own shots instead. All this despite the fact that they have one of the top five big men in the league. The coaching was porous as well. Throughout the season, Rudy Tomjanovich never rebuilt his offense to focus on Ming. He went with the same old isolation/ pick-and-roll offense that results in bad shots and turnovers. This confuses the loyal Rockets fan since Rudy T was referred to as a great offensive tactician by Sixers coach Larry Brown. Brown noted that Rudy had a great feel for adjusting his offense to accommodate his players. In the end, it all comes down to the Suns wanting it more. They wanted and desired that last and eighth playoff spot, and they played like it. The Rockets collapsed down the stretch and the Suns didn’t. It’s that simple. There needs to be a lot of changes for next season, and in my next few reports, I will analyze each position and player.