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- Calvin WatkinsESPN Staff Writer Close
- Calvin Watkins covers the Houston Rockets and the NBA for ESPN.com. He joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers as well as colleges, boxing and high school sports.
James Harden, the MVP candidate, dismissed the notion with a shrug.
Patrick Beverley, the heart and soul of the team and a candidate for NBA all-defensive first-team, was more quotable.
"No, hell no, you see what type of team we got," Beverley said. "We're a badass team, man. Just because we lose two that don't mean nothing. A lot of teams are scared of us and ain't nothing changed with us. We still got the swag and we still got the confidence. Not to sound cocky, teams get afraid when we play them."
Houston's 115-108 loss to Utah on Wednesday night reduced its lead as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference to just three games over the Jazz with 17 to play.
The deficit seems small and if Utah and Houston finish in a tie at the end of the regular season, the Jazz would win the tiebreaker after winning two of the three games.
The Rockets don't seem worried.
For the majority of the season, Houston has played at an elite level and suffered three two-game losing streaks this season.
After such an emotional loss in San Antonio on Tuesday, the Rockets lacked the necessary energy at the start of their game against the Jazz.
"You come off an emotional game like we had a couple of days ago, I just don't want to take anything from [Utah]," Mike D'Antoni said. "They played well, they beat us and again, we know what we have to do. We're still in third place and the sun will come up tomorrow and we got to go to Chicago and win. We got to get as many wins as we can."
A few days ago, D'Antoni didn't believe the Rockets had enough time to catch the top-two seeds in the West. The distance between the Rockets and the No. 1 seeded Warriors (nine games) and the No. 2 seeded Spurs (seven games) is too great. D'Antoni's mindset is to maintain what he has by winning games.
Houston is just 4-3 since the All-Star break and continues to search for a level of consistency. Going into Wednesday's game, Houston led the NBA in offensive efficiency rating since the All-Star break. However, the Rockets have just the 18th-best defensive efficiency rating.
"You know these are good teams [they're playing]," D'Antoni said. "So yeah, we played pretty well. I would have to look exactly what our record is from the All-Star break, but it's not bad. But we can get better and we will."
Utah is such a good team at challenging the Rockets' 3-point shooters, getting back on defense after missed shots, and converting drives into buckets.
Of the 115 points, the Jazz scored 40 in the paint on 30 shots. Houston, which scored 50 points inside, had no real choice but to drive with their outside shots failing. For the game, Houston made just 25 percent of its 3-point field goals (8-of-32) The Rockets are 0-5 this season when they make fewer than 10 3s. Harden went 0-for-8 from 3 and Lou Williams was 2-for-5. Ryan Anderson, who ranks 10th in 3-point field goal attempts (423) in the NBA, missed the game against the Jazz with back spasms. Not having him hurt the Rockets somewhat and with D'Antoni resting center Nene, it shortened their bench.
"They're a really good defensive team," Harden said. "We still had our looks, we still had opportunities, we just couldn't knock them down."
Houston remains in good shape heading down the stretch and given the difficulty of the schedule this past week — San Antonio on Monday, Jazz on Wednesday, at Chicago on Friday and Cleveland on Sunday — every victory and loss is magnified to some degree.
The confidence level remains high for the Rockets. How could it not be given where they are right now?
"We just got to get accommodated with everybody and get our defensive principles to stay solid," Beverley said. "I think for the most part we defended well. We defended well in San Antonio, we defended well [Wednesday]. Give [Utah] credit, they made a lot of shots and we didn't. Take our hat off to them for one game."