Moral victories are really starting to suck.
Playing without Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, and down 15 early in the third quarter, the Rockets came storming back, took the lead, but struggled down the stretch, falling 89-84 to the Kings.
With the loss, the Rockets have dropped 7 of their last 9 and fall below .500 at 7-8.
Nearly 40 points a night was missing from the lineup, and it showed. The Rockets shot just 36% from the field, and missed 15 of their 20 three-point attempts.
Most disappointing had to be the play of Glen Rice. The game was televised on TBS and announcer Danny Ainge commented that he had played against and coached against Rice, and he has never seen him look so slow and unathletic. Ainge mentioned that Rice's feet looked to be in pain and he has very little behind his shot.
Rice was just 3-10 from the floor for 10 points in nearly 40 minutes. So far, he has been a very expensive flop for the Rockets, and without a doubt, Les Alexander (who hesitated in making the deal for Rice) can't be happy right now.
Kenny Thomas had a strong game, busting his ass when he was in there. 18 points, 19 boards -- including 7 on the offensive glass -- and 3 blocks marked a very solid game for KT. Oscar Torres, playing in place of Mobley, scored 20 points to lead the Rockets, but could hit just 6-15 from the floor.
Moochie Norris added 19 points and 6 assists and was huge in the third quarter, scoring 12 points, to help the Rockets come back from being down 15. But down the stretch, he missed two key buckets that would have tied the game, and both were bad shots.
Strangely, Kelvin Cato got the bulk of the minutes, with Kevin Willis playing sparingly off the bench. Cato grabbed 13 boards and blocked 3 shots in 34 minutes.
Peja Stojakovic (damn this guy is good) led the Kings with 24 points.
Without Francis and Mobley, the Rockets stayed in it in the first quarter thanks to a strong showing by Oscar Torres, who scored 11 points on 3-4 from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe. After one, Sacramento 29, Houston 27. Bibby, Stojakovic and Christie combined for 25 of the Kings' 29.
Then the offense went from decent to downright ugly. The Rockets missed 8 straight field goals and Sacramento shot out on a 7-0 run.
One sweet highlight was the block Kenny Thomas had on Bobby Jackson. Jackson went for the breakway layin and Thomas got out ahead of him and tossed his weak stuff into the third row.
Tierre Brown came in and his style of play was pretty electric, and that got the fans in to it somewhat. He had a couple of steals and some nice, behind-the-back passes, but he also truend it over twice in the 2 minutes he played.
But no matter what the Rockets tried, their offense couldn't get going, and when the Kings missed, they simply outhustled Houston to the ball. No play capture the ugliness of the Rockets' offense quite like the final 19 seconds of the half. After Bibby nailed a jumper, Moochie brought the ball up and virtually did nothing until time ran out. He dribbled the ball for 15-16 seconds from about 27 feet out, moved to his left and as the clock expired he threw up a no-look prayer.
The fact the Rockets could do nothing to set up their offense, and for that matter not even pass the ball, showed they are a team in trouble.
Halftime: Kings 52, Rockets 41.
Torres missed all 3 of his attempts in the second half, but he still led the Rockets with 11. Bibby led the Kings with 14 while Stojakovic added 11. Sacramento shot 49% in the first half to the Rockets 32.5%.
Stojakovic and Bibby each hit jumpers to start the third and the Kings were up 15.
Then the Rockets got a boost -- Moochie hit a jumper, Kenny Thomas got a hoop underneath and a foul (missed the FT) then Moochie drove and made a cirus, double-pump layin over Divac. Kenny Thomas rejected Bibby on a fast break layup, and when Moochie hit a 16-footer, the run was 8-0, closing to within 58-53 with 7:05 left in the third. The Kings had to call timeout (Rick Adelman was livid, got a technical, but the Rockets missed the freebie).
Moochie scored again on a fast break layup off a feed from Rice, then after he hit 2 freebies, the Rockets were within 2, and Moochie had 12 in the quarter (15 for the game). The Rockets had a chance to tie, but a questionable charge call was made on Kenny Thomas, and Stojakovic responded with a 20-footer on the other end.
But Kenny Thomas slammed home a miss, and when Oscar Torres hit a 13-footer with 2:12 to go in the third, the game was all knotted up at 64.
When Kenny Thomas got a step on Funderburke and converted a three-point play, Houston had their first lead at 67-64. But Funderburke scored the final two baskets of the period, including picking up an offensive rebound (with 4 Rockets under the basket) and banking in a fadeaway with 0.9 ticks left.
After three: Kings 68, Rockets 67.
Sacramento built their lead up to 5, but Houston kept it close throughout the fourth.
With just over 3:30 to go, Moochie hit two free throws to cut the lead to two. The Rockets forced a miss, but on the other end all they could get was a Cato 18-footer, which is guaranteed death. He missed, but after working the clock, Divac missed a 17-footer top of the key.
With 1:50 left, the Rockets called a 20-second timeout.
This was not Moochie's finest moment. He dribbled out most of the shot clock and forced up a bad shot, but Kenny got the offensive board. Then after wasting more time, Moochie threw up another bad shot and missed and Pollard got the board with just over a minute to go.
Stojakovic was fouled, and made 1-2 at the line with 50 seconds to go. The Rockets made a major blunder on the other end -- Torres rushed a very bad shot, airballing a long three-point attempt. Sacramento got the board, was fouled, and made both FTs.
Rice missed a jumper (the 9th straight missed FG attempt by the Rockets), but Torres stole the ball and found Rice for a slam with 20 ticks left.
But Sacramento didn't miss their free throws in the final seconds, and that was it.