Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 4/17/12
The voice lurched up to the tip of his tongue and sort of just fell off the edge. Kevin McHale's voice wasn't easy to hear and his eyes weren't exactly lighting up the room either. They were pointed down most of the time. He was a man who had lost a basketball game. He was a man in agony. That was Monday night, after the Houston Rockets had lost to the Denver Nuggets, a game Houston needed. They fell to ninth place in the Western Conference standings, one spot away from the playoffs, with five games to play, three of them on the road. Hope wasn't dead, but they were calling the family. But then McHale snapped to it. "We gotta find a way to win, that's all," McHale said. "Gotta find a way to win some games." McHale and the Rockets desperately want to make the playoffs. That seems like a statement of the obvious. They're on the team. Of course they want to make the playoffs. This is sports, and you want to win, you want to keep playing as long as possible, each game as if it's your last. All that. And it is certain this is the way the Rockets feel about it. But there is warm feeling and there is cold reality, and the latter is this: Even if the Rockets make it, their stay is likely to be short. Unless you believe the Rockets, without home-court advantage, are going to take a series from the Spurs, Thunder or Lakers, then hoping for a playoff berth is hoping for something that is exciting, but ultimately inconsequential and potentially harmful; if they miss the playoffs, at least they're in the draft lottery. If we can agree that the goal is to win an NBA championship and we can further agree the Rockets are not capable of doing so as currently constructed, then we can also agree that any event which reduces the probability the Rockets will acquire a great player this offseason is a negative event, then we can agree that making the playoffs is a negative event. That's the cold way of looking at it. But sports are not cold. They are not rational. Not always, and never entirely. Sports are bliss and pain. They are teams. They are identities. They are trust and hope. They are stacking one good day on top of another, and finding a way. The Rockets are not good enough to win the NBA championship this year, but they are good enough to make the playoffs, and at some point the phrase "Houston Rockets" needs to mean something again. It can't just mean a collection of assets, surging and retreating in value, standing with one wobbly leg on the beam the separates success and failure. The Rockets need to make the playoffs if for no other reason than to establish themselves as the kind of team that makes the playoffs. That's where winners go, over and over again. Losers go into the lottery, usually over and over again. Kevin McHale has lost a lot of games as an NBA head coach, but Kevin McHale is not a loser, and that's why he looked and sounded like he did Monday night. Because sports are not cold, and you've got to find a way to win some games.
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